After months of hype and anticipation, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is finally here. Following the film's official premiere earlier this month, the first spinoff project in the franchise will debut nationwide in theaters on Friday, December 16 and it looks to be another winner for Disney and Lucasfilm. Not only were the reactions to the final product highly positive, Rogue One is expected to post the second-highest December opening weekend of all-time. Current commercial projections indicate the movie will gross in excess of $130 million domestically during its first three days, and anywhere between $280 and $350 million worldwide. If Kathleen Kennedy's goal is to eventually move away from the traditional Skywalker saga and produce standalones exclusively, she couldn't have asked for a better start.
Unsurprisingly, the studio has put together a strong marketing campaign to highlight all the explosive set pieces and emotional character moments viewers expect from a Star Wars film, but some still have some lingering questions about Rogue One. With the release date fast approaching, we're putting together a basic guide that details key information for casual moviegoers and fans looking for a primer. Here are the things you need to know before Rogue One.
Rogue One's Place in the Timeline
On Lucasfilm's release slate, Rogue One follows Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but in terms of in-universe chronology, it takes place decades earlier. As many people know by now, the film is a prequel that essentially serves as a direct lead-in to the original 1977 movie. A New Hope's opening crawl makes mention of the Rebel spies that stole the Death Star plans, securing the Alliance's first major victory over the Galactic Empire. Rogue One is the story of those heroes, featuring an ensemble of all-new characters including Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, and several others. The presence of Darth Vader (more on him in a bit) serves as the ultimate reminder for those still confused. We are back in the midst of the Galactic Civil War.
Since Rogue One is set 34 years prior to Episode VII, moviegoers should not expect there to be many (or any) connections between the spinoff and the sequel trilogy. At this point in the universe's history, Emperor Palpatine is still in charge, Luke Skywalker has yet to embrace his destiny, and Ben Solo is hardly a twinkle in his future father's eye. The two films are so distant in terms of the timeline, it would come across as forced if there were tie-ins. And if the idea of the anthology films is to move away from the numbered episodes and go off in radically new directions, then Rogue One should stand on its own merits.
There Are No Bothans
When the first Rogue One teaser was unveiled back in April, one question some had was: "Where are the Bothans?" This is a reference to Mon Mothma's now-famous line from Return of the Jedi, where she solemnly makes note of the Bothan spies who sacrificed themselves to provide Rebel leaders with the critical information they needed to win the Battle of Endor. To certain viewers, this looked like a major gaffe on the Lucasfilm story group's part and a major inconsistency within the canon. Why are these new, mostly human heroes taking the place of the Bothans that have become an integral party of Star Wars lore? But it's nothing to worry about.
Return of the Jedi, of course, deals with the second Death Star the Empire constructed. Rogue One is about the first one that Luke would eventually destroy. Based on everything that's been revealed, it looks like Bothans were not involved with Jyn's mission in any capacity. Some die-hard fans may scoff at this misconception (since to them it's common knowledge), but it's an important fact for the uninitiated to keep in mind when watching the film. Perhaps one day, the tale of the Bothans will be told via novel or comic book, but for now the spotlight is on the original Death Star and the aliens are nowhere to be found.
Director Krennic's Connection To The Ersos
One of the ways Rogue One eschews from Star Wars tradition is that it does not begin with a text crawl set to John Williams' iconic musical score. Instead, the opening sequence is a prologue set roughly 15 years before the main action, when Jyn Erso is still a young girl living with her parents on a remote planet. It's a scene that's been featured in several trailers and TV spots, depicting Director Orson Krennic attempting to bring Galen Erso (Jyn's father) back to work so the Death Star can be completed. It's obvious there's a history between the two, and those curious to learn more only have to visit their local bookstore.
Last month, James Luceno's novel Catalyst was published. It is a prequel to Rogue One and details the long relationship between Krennic and Galen, revealing that the two were old school friends prior to the Clone Wars. We did an extensive breakdown of the book's revelations already, but the general gist is that Galen is a brilliant scientist whose job in the Empire was to research kyber crystals and develop a renewable energy source for the galaxy. That was what Erso was told, anyway. Behind Galen's back, Krennic used the findings to develop the Death Star's turbo laser so he could deliver his Emperor a fully operational battle station. When he learns the harrowing truth, Galen defects and flees, and Krennic embarks on a personal journey to locate him.
Saw Gerrera's Connection To The Ersos
Fans of the Clone Wars animated series were thrilled when it was announced that Forest Whitaker would be playing Saw Gerrera. It marked the first instance of Lucasfilm bringing a character from one of their animated series into the live-action films. Though Saw has been featured only minimally in the promotional materials, he does have a rather meaningful role in the narrative. Gerrera is a side character in the aforementioned Catalyst novel, and it is he who pilots the Ersos to safety when Galen makes his fateful decision to abandon the Empire. Saw promises to visit the family from time to time, and a young Jyn instantly sees him as a friend.
This dynamic is ultimately what leads the Rebel Alliance to recruiting Jyn. From the 28 minutes of footage Lucasfilm screened during the Rogue One press junket, Jyn's history with Saw is one of the reasons why Mon Mothma is seeking her assistance. The Star Wars Galactic Atlas revealed that Jyn and Cassian are sent to the moon of Jedha in order to secure a member of Saw's resistance cell there that uses extreme tactics to fight back against the Empire. Not all the Rebels are fans of Gerrera's approach to waging war, so Mothma and the other leaders are probably relying on Jyn to talk with Saw - since he will be more comfortable with her. It will be interesting to see how much screen time Gerrera has, but his ties to the protagonist's family mean his scenes should have a certain amount of weight.
The Importance of Jedha
Jedha is one of the many new locations Rogue One introduces. Director Gareth Edwards has previously explained how it's meant to be the Mecca of the Star Wars galaxy; it's a place where the earliest believers in the Force went to pilgrimage. It's thought that the first Jedi Temple was constructed there, many years ago. As it relates to Rogue One, Jedha has fallen under Imperial occupation, as the villains look for materials to complete the Death Star. It's all but confirmed that they want to find kyber crystals, which are vital to the space station's main weapon. As stated above, the crystals are what power the turbo laser.
Rogue One, of course, is also the first Star Wars movie that does not include any Jedi Knights, so Edwards wanted to have Jedha in the movie in order to give the Force some kind of role in the final product. To him, Star Wars isn't Star Wars without the hokey religion, so it's nice to see that he found a way. Jedha's fate is one of the biggest questions concerning Rogue One, since several trailers and TV spots have shown a sequence where the Death Star fires on the moon. From the looks of it, the damage is not as catastrophic as Alderaan, which means the Death Star may not be fully powered during Rogue One. Edwards remains hopeful that Jedha will show up at a later point in the canon, so odds are it wasn't destroyed.
One of the chief selling points for Rogue One is that it marks the long-awaited big screen return of Darth Vader. His inclusion in the spinoff is a no-brainer; not only is he a natural fit for this particular story given the timeline, he's also a highly recognizable franchise element that will appeal to casual viewers. Lucasfilm has smartly held back on using Vader as a crutch in marketing, only offering brief glimpses of the dark lord in various trailers. Instead, the focus has been on all the new characters, which means Vader's role has been the subject of much debate and speculation from the onset.
Outside of one scene description (where Vader discusses the Death Star's merits with Krennic), virtually nothing about Vader in Rogue One has been revealed. Over the summer, Kathleen Kennedy offered some small details, saying that Vader will be used "sparingly" but "loom large" during a key moment. With that in mind, longterm fans should not expect Vader to have a substantial amount of screen time, like he did in the original trilogy. Director Krennic is set to be this movie's main villain, with Vader being a threat that hangs over the picture. A safe comparison to make could be the second season of Star Wars Rebels, where Vader was used to maximum effect in small doses. Many are hoping that he will get involved in the hard-hitting World War II inspired action at some point, and it would arguably be disappointing if he sat on the sidelines and only got into philosophical conversations with Imperial officers.
Rogue One is shaping up to be one of the freshest and most exciting Star Wars films to date, injecting new tones and filmmaking sensibilities to the long-running series. Fortunately, Lucasfilm's self-described experiment seems to have paid off, as both fans and critics have plenty to enjoy. This is great news for the studios, since they seem to be banking on the anthology films to carry Star Wars for years to come. Knowing that people have responded strongly to the first one should allow them to go off in even wilder directions down the line.
In the meantime, however, there's plenty to unpack in Rogue One, and fans should have fun watching it all unfold. Disney and Lucasfilm have done a great job setting fans up for another worthwhile journey through a galaxy far, far away, taking advantage of all the avenues available to them. Their canon initiative has come together nicely, with novels that complement the films in interesting ways. Not all of it is required for moviegoers, but just having a basic idea of what's transpired can make the enjoyment of Rogue One and other projects all the more fulfilling.