By the time of Rogue One and A New Hope, the Empire has ruthless control over the Star Wars galaxy, with armies of stormtroopers terrorizing its citizens and a Death Star ready to eliminate any planet which really gets on their nerves.
The rule of the Emperor had come a long way since Revenge of the Sith, when the regime was formally declared at the chaotic end of the Clone Wars. As the Emperor’s power grew, his key followers, including Darth Vader, Wilhuff Tarkin and Thrawn, had many challenges to face as they found their place in the new order. On the other side of the Force, surviving Jedi lived in exile and the seeds of rebellion were planted in the minds of characters like Jyn Erso and Ahsoka Tano.
These nineteen years of Imperial rule, between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, may not have been characterized by galactic war, but they were nevertheless full of adventure, conflict, and the occasional genocide. Some of the important events of this period are being chronicled in spin-off films such as Rogue One and next year's Solo, but others, though still key turning points, are less well known.
And so here are 15 Things You Never Knew Happened Between Star Wars Episodes 3 And 4.
15 Darth Vader’s First Test
The ending of Revenge of the Sith saw Anakin Skywalker first take on the suit and title of Darth Vader. But it would take this newly anointed Sith several years to become the original trilogy’s fearsome enforcer of the Empire.
The Dark Lord of the Sith comic kicks off right after that famous “NOOOO” and shows us Darth Vader’s first mission. Tasked to find a surviving Jedi and steal their lightsaber crystal, Vader tracks down former Jedi Master Kirak Infil’a to the river moon of Al’doleem. He’s almost defeated when Infil’a throws him off a cliff, but Vader persists and wins out – by flooding a city as a distraction.
It’s clear by the end of this story that the light side has left Anakin Skywalker. With a new saber and a mission to purge surviving Jedi, Vader is one step closer to A New Hope.
14 Han Solo Marries... someone who isn't Leia
One of the most surprising moments in the Star Wars comics set after A New Hope was when a female smuggler showed up claiming to be the wife of Han Solo. Perhaps Leia wasn’t always the woman for him...
The backstory for this goes back to Han’s early days as a smuggler, long before that fateful cantina meeting in Mos Eisley. A crime lord had become known for double-crossing spice smugglers, and a gang of such smugglers devised a plan to get revenge. As part of this con, two of the gang – Han Solo and Sana Starros – had to have a marriage ceremony.
So it wasn’t exactly a marriage of love, and it wasn’t even completely legitimate. But that didn’t stop it being incredibly awkward when "Sana Solo" later crossed paths with Han and Princess Leia.
13 Obi-Wan and Maul’s Rematch
The duel between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul was the highlight of The Phantom Menace, but the young Jedi’s victory was not as decisive as he thought. Maul survived being cut in half – through the power of his own hate, no less – and resurfaced during The Clone Wars with some nifty cyborg legs.
It was in Rebels that we met him next, living in exile on the Sith planet Malachor. After an encounter with Ezra Bridger and Kanan Jarrus, Maul learned from a Sith holocron that Obi-Wan Kenobi – his most hated nemesis – was still alive on Tatooine, so he set out for revenge.
The two enemies dueled in the desert sands. It didn’t end well for Maul, as Kenobi finally killed him for real – using the same technique Maul had used to best Qui-Gon Jinn.
12 Cassian Steals K-2SO From The Empire
The cynical, sarcastic droid K-2SO was a key part of Rogue One’s rebel squad, but he’d originally belonged to the Empire. Spin-off comic Cassian & K-2SO explained how he came to be a rebel.
On a mission to the planet Wecacoe to extract Imperial security protocols, Cassian Andor and two other rebel operatives come into conflict with both stormtroopers and the security droid K-2SO. K-2 nearly kills Cassian, but the rebels power him off in time. This gives Cassian an idea: rather than taking the time to extract the data they need, why not reprogram the droid who holds that data to be on their side?
And so Cassian’s mission is a success, and a great partnership is born.
11 Vader and the Emperor Crash-Land Amid Twi’lek Rebels
Emperor Palpatine generally prefers to rule from the throne, not getting directly involved in the action and leaving the dirty work to his right-hand man Vader. But the incident depicted in the novel Lords of the Sith sees the two of them having to fight side by side.
Travelling to Ryloth in order to quell a potential rebellion, the Star Destroyer carrying both Palpatine and Vader falls into a trap and is destroyed. The two Sith make it out alive, but their shuttle crash-lands in the planet’s forests. Here, they must work together to fight off both vicious predatory creatures and an army of Twi’lek rebels.
The two of them are outnumbered, but as you can imagine, not outpowered. Force lightning is deployed, and the Sith win out. They even massacre a village for good measure.
10 Leia Becomes The Senate’s Youngest Member
Whereas Luke Skywalker spent his early years loafing around the desert and tinkering with moisture vaporators, his sister Leia was standing up for the people of the galaxy all through her teens.
The Princess of Alderaan became a junior legislator at the age of just fourteen. Not long after this, she took her father’s place in the Imperial Senate – the youngest member elected. Here she met both Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, whose aura of evil shocked her. She also found that no other Senators cared about representing their people, only wanting to suck up to Palpatine.
With the Senate inefficient in making change, this experience pushed Leia towards becoming the rebel leader we know her as from the original trilogy.
9 Thrawn Infiltrates The Empire… And Becomes Grand Admiral
Grand Admiral Thrawn was such a fan-favorite villain from the old expanded universe that he was brought into the new canon, appearing first in Rebels and then in Thrawn, a novel revealing his backstory.
The Empire’s greatest military mastermind actually signed up for them as a double agent of his race, the Chiss, in order to either make the Empire an ally or to weaken them for Chiss invasion. He got the Empire’s attention by single-handedly taking on the crew of a Star Destroyer before willingly surrendering. The officer who caught him was so impressed that Thrawn ended up being presented to Palpatine himself.
Seeing the Chiss’ genius, Palpatine granted Thrawn a place in the Imperial Academy. From here, Thrawn rose through the ranks, eventually taking on the title of Grand Admiral. Of course, this leaves his true loyalties in question.
8 Jyn Erso’s First Love
It’s no wonder Jyn Erso is a fully fledged rebel by the end of Rogue One, given that the Empire’s villainy has resulted in the deaths of not only both her parents but her adoptive dad too. Her backstory, told in the novel Rebel Rising, reveals yet another tragedy.
On the run after being abandoned by Saw Gerrera, Jyn ends up staying with a family on the planet Skuhl. In her new life here, she falls in love with Hadder, a boy of her age. When the Empire crack down on those on Skuhl with rebel sympathies, Jyn and Hadder try to flee the planet but get separated, and Hadder’s ship is destroyed.
The death of another close one leads to Jyn becoming the loner we meet at the start of Rogue One, and only increases her hatred of the Empire.
7 Kenobi Saves Luke From Jabba’s Thugs
Luke Skywalker famously led the mission that resulted in Jabba the Hutt’s death, but in fact the two first came to blows, if indirectly, when Luke was an eight-year-old farm boy.
As told in the comics, this occurred when Jabba sent his thugs to impose a "water tax" on Tatooine’s moisture farmers, only for the young Luke to bravely but naïvely stand up to them. Of course, he didn’t stand a chance, but Ben Kenobi was watching and came to his rescue.
A further confrontation occurred when Jabba then sent the Wookiee bounty hunter Black Krrsantan to find out who had attacked the thugs. Kenobi arrived on the scene once more and defeated Krrsantan. This time, though, Luke got to do something too, using the skyhopper to save Uncle Owen from a fall off a cliff.
6 The Sterilization Of Geonosis
We first visited Geonosis in Attack of the Clones, when the insectoid Geonosians were helping the Separatists build a droid army. But that crime doesn’t seem bad enough to justify the punishment the Empire later doled out on the planet.
After the Clone Wars, construction of the Death Star began over the skies of Geonosis. But after five years, the mineral supplies of nearby asteroids ran out, and the construction was moved to another site. To cover up the evidence, the Empire gassed the whole of Geonosis with a poisonous substance, completely wiping out the 100 million members of the native species.
Well, almost completely - one lone Geonosian, Klik-Klak, managed to survive in underground tunnels, and was later encountered by a rebel squad. Klik-Klak protected the last Geonosian queen egg, meaning there was hope for the species – until this queen was born sterile. Some species just can’t catch a break.
5 Chirrut And Baze’s Conflict With The Partisans
When Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus join Jyn’s rebel gang in Rogue One, we can tell there’s awkward history between these two warriors and Saw Gerrera’s extremist Partisans. The novel Guardians of the Whills explores that backstory.
Shortly after Gerrera set up camp on Jedha, he recruited Chirrut and Baze to the cause, in exchange for the Partisans protecting their friend’s orphanage. When the conflict worsened and more children became orphaned, Chirrut and Baze came up with a plan to steal an Imperial shuttle and smuggle the orphans to a safer planet.
But Gerrera had his own plan, to use the stolen shuttle as a bomb against the Imperial Star Destroyer above the city. Though Chirrut eventually convinced the Partisans to stick to the plan and save the orphans, this falling out led to Chirrut and Baze departing Saw’s gang on bad terms.
4 The Tarkin Doctrine Begins Rule Through Fear
At the same time as Thrawn was rising through the ranks of the Empire, so was Wilhuff Tarkin, another of its great military minds.
Shortly after a successfully defeating a dissident fleet led by a former Republic Intelligence agent, Tarkin found himself promoted to the rank of Grand Moff and given management of the Death Star. At this point, he gave a speech in an interview praising the Emperor’s devotion to unifying the galaxy and emphasized the need for a vast military in order to keep peace.
Of course, by keeping peace, he meant "enslaving and oppressing." This speech, broadcast around the galaxy, became known as the Tarkin Doctrine and convinced Palpatine of the need to rule through fear, thus shaping the Empire’s militaristic rule for the years to come.
3 The Training of The Inquisitors
A shadowy agency of Force-sensitive warriors tasked with hunting down and eliminating any remaining Jedi, the Inquisitors were among the most dangerous villains in the time of the Empire, and recurrently appear throughout Rebels.
What you may not know is how they were personally trained by none other than Darth Vader, in a training program set up by Palpatine. Returning to Coruscant after his first major mission, Vader found himself in the Jedi Archives and face to face with a lightsaber-wielding Pau’an. The two dueled, until the Emperor intervened and revealed that this former Jedi was now an Inquisitor.
Vader then trained up the squad of elite warriors, preparing them for their relentless Jedi hunt. The Pau’an who Vader first encountered would go on to become the Grand Inquisitor, the villain of Rebels’ first season.
2 Ahsoka Tano Joins Bail Organa’s Rebellion
Ahsoka Tano is the Padawan apprentice taken on by Anakin Skywalker during The Clone Wars who later abandons the Jedi Order. After Order 66, she escaped execution and went to live in exile.
But she couldn’t keep quiet for long. Tano found herself assisting resistance activities on the moon Raada, which attracted the attentions of both the Empire and Bail Organa, a Senator sympathetic towards the Jedi. Tano met secretly with Organa, who offered her a place in his growing rebellion. She wasn’t convinced at first, and only agreed to help Organa if he would help her protect Force-sensitive children in return.
Their mission together – the evacuation of Raada’s rebel sympathizers – was a success, even when Tano was pitted against the Inquisitor known as the Sixth Brother. Afterwards, Ahsoka became a fully-fledged member of Organa’s rebellion, taking on the title "Fulcrum" and the responsibility of overseeing its intelligence network.
1 The Hunt For Jocasta Nu
After dispatching Infal’a and training the Inquisitors, Darth Vader’s next mission had a different spin to it; the Emperor wanted him to track down Jocasta Nu, the former librarian of the Jedi Temple – and keep her alive.
The reason for this is that Nu was the only person capable of accessing the Jedi Archives, which held secrets that Palpatine believed key to the future of the Empire. Her name was on the list of those to be hunted and killed by the Inquisitors.
Palpatine’s different plan led to one of Vader’s most challenging missions yet, especially considering that the old Master was more handy in combat than we may have guessed from her appearance in Attack of the Clones.
How exactly this works out has yet to be learned; the storyline is currently ongoing in the Dark Lord of the Sith comics.
What else went down between Star Wars episodes 3 and 4? Let us know in the comments!