By Piya Sinha-Roy and Rollo Ross
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With a new band of rebels and a high-stakes journey, "Star Wars" ushered in a new chapter on Saturday by bringing a galaxy far, far away to the heart of Hollywood for the "Rogue One" premiere.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, "Rogue One" is the first standalone film in Disney's "Star Wars" reboot. It stars a brand new cast in a storyline that does not follow the third trilogy that started with last year's hit, "The Force Awakens".
Ben Mendelsohn, who plays Imperial Commander Orson Krennic, described "Rogue One" as "the really tough cousin" to previous "Star Wars" films.
"People are going to understand exactly where it lives in the 'Star Wars' world and timeline, and I feel like this is a much grittier, harder-edged film and it really packs a hell of a wallop," Mendelsohn told Reuters on the red carpet, which featured a life-size Rebel Alliance X-Wing jet.
"Rogue One", in theaters on Dec. 16, follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of a weapons specialist who has been in hiding under another name for years. Her fate is quickly tied in with Rebel Alliance pilot Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, and Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook, played by Riz Ahmed, who defects from the dark side.
The trio band together with more rebels to fight the evil Darth Vader's plans for intergalactic domination.
Jones described Erso as "a bit of a tomboy", saying she had prepare intensely for the role's physical demands.
"I had to be in the gym for far too long, which I have to say is not enjoyable. But for the sake of 'Star Wars', I was prepared to do it," she said.
The movie explores the journey preceding the events that launched George Lucas' intergalactic saga with 1977's "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope".
The audience at Hollywood's Pantages Theater were among the first to see the full movie, and cheered as homages and references were made to the previous films.
The diverse cast boasts Mexican actor Luna, British-Pakistani actor Ahmed, Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen and Chinese actors Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang.
"All my friends ... said 'We're so excited for you. You're the first Chinese actor that's going to be in the 'Star Wars' universe,' and everything just dawned on me," Yen said.
"This is history making here, so I'm so glad that I'm standing here in front of the camera."
(Editing by Louise Ireland)