This post contains MINOR SPOILERS for Rogue One
One key way Rogue One: A Star Wars Story differs from the other seven live-action films in the franchise is that it marks the first time Jedi Knights are not present in a movie. There is a passing reference to Obi-Wan Kenobi and the striking image of a collapsed Jedi statue on Jedha, but none of the characters use the Light Side of the Force. The hokey religion still has a part to play in Rogue One, and the Dark Side is well-represented by Darth Vader, but this is a time period in galactic history where the Jedi are all but extinct.
This element helped underscore the theme of desperation that permeated through Rogue One, as the spinoff did away with the Chosen One trope and instead revolved around a team of everyday people working together to fight back against ultimate evil. Things undoubtedly would have been quite different if Jedi Knights were there to help the Rebels steal the Death Star plans, and as it turns out, there was a draft of Rogue One that included them.
In the book The Art of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (hat tip Comic Book), screenwriter Chris Weitz revealed that they originally had Jedi before moving in a different direction:
“For a long time in the story, there were Jedi around, even if only in the background. Jyn’s mother was a Jedi. But we thought that it would be more interesting to have a story without Force powers, without lightsabers. We could explore a period of broken faith, a galaxy without hope. There’s despair because the Jedi are gone – and with them, for many, even the memory of the Force. That meant our story could be about normal people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.”
There’s no denying that this approach helped sell Rogue One as a gritty, realistic (by Star Wars standards) war drama, but followers of the canon know that Jedi are still alive during this time period. Besides Obi-Wan and Yoda (who are both in hiding), Ezra Bridger and Kanan of Star Wars Rebels are vital members of the Ghost crew and major contributors to the Rebel Alliance’s cause. Rogue One included more than a few nods to the Disney XD show, including a cameo by astromech droid Chopper and a mention of Hera’s name over a loudspeaker. If certain members of the Rebels cast are alive and at the Yavin IV base during Rogue One, it raises questions about where the surviving Jedi are during these events. Since Dave Filoni has teased the possibility of Rebels re-creating the Battle of Scarif from the Ghost‘s point of view, answers will hopefully be revealed in the near future.
As it stands now, director Gareth Edwards and his team made the best creative decision to make Rogue One a Jedi-free film. It was still nice for longtime fans to see the Force represented (particularly through blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe), but the angle made the first anthology feel like the refreshing change-of-pace the series needed if it is the produce annual installments for the long haul. The strong critical and commercial success of Rogue One illustrates to Lucasfilm that it is possible to craft a great Star Wars movie that can break away from tradition and go down different paths. There’s a chance the young Han Solo spinoff doesn’t make mention of the Force at all, so viewers could see all new corners of the universe in the movies.
Source: The Art of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (via Comic Book)