Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens in theaters on December 16, 2016, and if you’re not doing a rewatch of all the films and TV shows, you might be a little lost on some of the new film’s franchise nods. We’re going to help you out with the Star Wars story essentials leading up to the film. Rogue One takes place shortly before Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope and follows the group of rebels who steal the plans for the Death Star. These are the same plans that Princess Leia gives to R2-D2 at the beginning of the first Star Wars film that was released in 1976, now called Episode IV A New Hope.
Since the days of Episode IV, V and VI, we’ve gotten three prequel films, the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels and a number of comics and canon books. (As you may recall, much of the Extended Universe was changed to “Legends” before the release of The Force Awakens.) That’s a heck of a lot to catch up on in a very short time. We’ll give you the important points about the story so far, so you’re prepared for the Death Star plan heist.
Rogue One is directed by Gareth Edwards and stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed and Valene Kane.
The Rise of the Empire
In Episode IV, the Empire has taken hold of the galaxy, keeping the peace by force and scare tactics. Darth Vader, one of the Imperial Leaders answers only to the Sith Lord Emperor Palpatine. Back in 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, however, the galactic leaders didn’t know them as anything other than Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and Senator Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid).
Through political machinations, deceit and a carefully-manipulated dissolution of the freedoms of the long-lived Republic, Palpatine rose to power and declared himself the Emperor. Palpatine had a number of apprentices, including Darth Maul (Ray Park), who was defeated by the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi. However, it was his apprentice Anakin who ultimately caused so much destruction in the galaxy.
After sensing his high midichlorian count, young Anakin was taken from a life of slavery (and his mother) by the Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. They believed that he was the Chosen One who would bring balance to the Force, but the Jedi Council thought he was too old to train. Obi-Wan took Anakin on as his padawan after Qui-Gon’s death and fought with him in the Clone Wars. Anakin secretly fell in love with Senator Padmé Amidala and married her, something usually forbidden for Jedi.
Anakin then took on his own padawan, Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) in the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but he slowly descended to the dark side with careful manipulation from Palpatine. Anakin’s fear for the pregnant Padmé’s life and Palpatine’s honeyed words about the possible ability to control life itself were part of the reason he fell from the light. He also saw the impotence of the Jedi council and their inability to stop what was happening in the galaxy. He betrayed the Council, leaving room for Palpatine’s eventual purge of almost all of the Jedi. Anakin himself slaughtered all of the young children who were training to become Jedi. His eventual fight with his pregnant wife over his actions caused her to go into labor and die in childbirth. (Their children were Luke and Leia Skywalker.) Her death pushed him over the edge and during a battle with Obi-Wan, he suffered massive injuries, causing him to use the Darth Vader suit and breathing apparatus that we know from Episodes IV, V and VI.
The Death Star
This ultimate, planet-destroying weapon was the Empire’s way to keep the galaxy in line. The building began on Geonosis, but was eventually moved to Scarif (according to StarWars.com), the tropical planet we’ve seen in the Rogue One trailers. As you may recall, blueprints for “the ultimate weapon” were passed to Count Dooku back in Attack of the Clones, and eventually made their way to the Empire. The Death Star is powered by kyber crystals. These crystals are what powers lightsabers, forming a bond with the Jedi (and Sith) who use them. They’re Force sensitive and found on a number of planets, though they’re most concentrated in the Ice Caves of the planet Ilum. Jedi in training are taken there to find crystals for their lightsabers, which take on color after they bond.
In Star Wars Rebels, the crew of the ship Ghost destroyed a large Imperial shipment of kyber crystals, making things more difficult for the Empire’s plans. Yoda mentions in Clone Wars that in the ancient past, massively destructive weapons on both sides of the Force were powered by kyber crystals. It may be significant that, in one of the international trailers for Rogue One, a young Jyn Erso (Jones) is given a crystal necklace by her mother Lyra (Valene Kane), and is told to “trust in the Force.”
We will learn more of this part of the story when Rogue One is released on December 16.