Well, we now have it: the very first Star Wars anthology film (and, in my opinion, it’s an absolutely magnificent one). It’s the first of two anthology movies that are on Disney/Lucasfilm’s docket, the other being the Han Solo installment, covering his pre-A New Hope adventures and slated for a May 2018 release. Judging by Rogue One’s terrific $155 million opening weekend, there will be plenty more standalone Star Wars tales to come. Which is a good thing.
But, these movies don’t come without challenges. Particularly, it’s always going to be tough to get casual Star Wars fans to understand how the anthology flicks fit into the overarching story. Since 1977, the Star Wars story has been confined to the episode movies, and those have pretty much been all about the Skywalker saga. Sure, the Star Wars universe itself has long stretched beyond the episodes with the story spilling into books, infamous holiday specials, comics, TV shows, video games, and more. But to most Star Wars fans, the movies are what “counts,” and Rogue One has now broken the Star Wars mold—it has redefined that idea of what’s essential.
Rogue One, though, is not at all it’s own separate thing; it’s not an elseworlds tale or a sidebar. We’re talking about the theft of the Death Star plans, which, from a certain point of view, can be understood as the spark that ignited the entire Star Wars saga. Because if Princess Leia hadn’t jettisoned the plans in an escape pod that the Empire didn’t see fit to waste the ammo shooting out of the sky, Luke’s journey would never have a reason to begin. He’d still be hanging out with Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, sipping on blue milk.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at all the ways Rogue One connects to the past, present, and future of the galaxy far, far away…
(Be warned! There are Rogue One spoilers ahead. Meaning: I talk about the movie assuming you’ve seen it. )
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
How the Death Star was made has always been an intriguing question. After all, it’s a battle station the size of a moon and has the capacity to destroy an entire planet. Even by Star Wars standards, that’s a big deal. But, the mystery of the Death Star’s construction has been answered, and it all begins way back in Episode II—back on Geonosis.
Because of their work constructing the battle droid army, the Geonosians were known for their industrious abilities, so when it came time to build the Death Star, Orson Krennic—the ambitious Imperial architect played by Ben Mendelsohn in Rogue One—turned to Poggle the Lesser, the archduke of Geonosis, and brokered a deal to enlist the Geonosians for this massive project.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars
In season five of The Clone Wars (the excellent animated series that takes place between Episodes II and III), the Jedi council dispatched a trio of their own—Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka—to help combat the evil Separatist forces that’d taken over the planet Onderon. But instead of the Jedi and Republic forces waging battle against the Separatists, they did something different: They trained a group of Onderon rebel fighters to fight the battle for their planet’s freedom themselves. Amongst those fighters—one of their leaders—was none other than Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitiker in Rogue One.
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
In Rogue One, Krennic travels to a burning, lava covered planet to suck up to Darth Vader. That planet, as confirmed by Lucasfilm’s story maestro Pablo Hidalgo, is none other than Mustafar—the very same planet where Anakin’s life ended (having been de-limbed in battle by Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Darth Vader’s life began. Vader has set up shop there, taking residence in a massive castle overlooking the fire that gave him birth. That’s some serious self-loathing going on right there.
Star Wars Rebels
While the connection between Rebels and Rogue One is more easter egg territory, it’s also a lot of fun for those deeply invested (see: obsessed) in the canonical Star Wars experience. Rebels is currently airing on Disney XD, chronicling the very early days of the Rebel Alliance (pre-Rogue One, even) through the lens of a band of misfit Rebels. Rogue One makes three references to Rebels. First, there’s the show’s ship, named the Ghost, which appears at least four times during the film. It can be spotted once on Yavin 4 and three times in the dogfighting above Scarif. Then there’s the ship’s captain, Hera Syndulla, whose name is called on the intercom on Yavin 4—“General Syndulla,” which lets fans know not only is Hera alive, but she’s also received a nifty promotion. And, finally, Rebels’ cranky astromech droid, Chopper, makes a very brief appearance, also on Yavin 4.
The James Luceno-penned novel is the most true companion piece to Rogue One. Taking place directly before the opening moments of the film, Catalyst chronicles the complicated relationship between Krennic and Galen Erso, showing their interwoven past and how Galen came to be part of the Death Star’s weapons program. Jyn is a child in the book, but Luceno’s story gives a clearly shows how her relationship to the Empire—and her mother, Lyra—planted the seeds for the outlaw rebel who’d eventually be responsible for the Death Star’s destruction.
Episode IV: A New Hope
As we know, the events of Rogue One lead directly into A New Hope. Where one movie ends is where the other begins, making the connection as direct as possible. But there’s also little nods that work to tighten the connectivity between Rogue One and A New Hope. Bail Organa talks with Mon Mothma about bringing his Jedi friend into the fight, clearly meaning Obi-Wan. We see Red Five shot down in space above Scarif, making room for a new Red Five—a small role filled by a guy named Luke Skywalker. Beyond that, who knows? There may even be some details in Rogue One that tie into Episodes VIII and beyond, and we just don’t know it yet.
The anthology films will always be faced with the challenge of exhibiting how they fit into the Star Wars universe and, in a sense, justifying their own necessity. But if Rogue One is an indication of what’s to come, it’s evident that the people at Disney/Lucasfilm have a very clear, detailed idea of the overall story they’re telling, and it’s being executed to perfection.
It’s a good time to be a Star Wars fan, casual or obsessive.
Michael Moreci is a comics writer and novelist best known for his sci-fi trilogy Roche Limit. He’s also a Star Wars obsessive, who is lucky to spend his time playing Star Wars action figures with his two sons by day and writing Star Wars-inspired stories by night. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelMoreci.