Although it’s not part of George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, Rogue One is arguably the most informative Star Wars prequel there is, both because of its close proximity to the events of the original trilogy and most importantly, it fills in story gaps that actually enhance those earlier movies as a result. Rogue One successfully avoids some of the follies of the prequel trilogy because it doesn’t try to offer convoluted explanations for bits of Star Wars lore and instead focuses on providing context for important events and characters fans are already familiar with, with A New Hope in particular benefiting the most from Rogue One’s revelations. While there really isn’t a way to make the original trilogy “better” than it already is, here are a few ways that Rogue One will enhance the viewing experience for Episodes IV-V going forward.
11. Expands the Universe
Although Rogue One’s first act is definitely its weakest, suffering from slow pacing and frequent cuts to too many different characters, one benefit of all that jumping around is that it shows us more of the galaxy in about twenty minutes than The Force Awakens managed to do in its entire runtime. One might argue that Rogue One is more quantity than quality in this respect, but that really isn’t the case as the various planets that are introduced feel like unique and worthwhile additions to the Star Wars universe.
Unlike the Tatooine and Hoth stand-ins featured in The Force Awakens, the war-ravaged plains of Jedha and sun-soaked beaches of Scarif are exciting new settings for the franchise. Most importantly, Rogue One does a better job in detailing what life would be like living under Imperial rule than the original trilogy, which besides Bespin, largely features planets that are desolate or mired in conflict.
10. Shows the Galactic Civil War
Expanding upon the previous point a bit, one of the great things about Rogue One is that not only shows what the Galactic Civil War looks like when the Rebel Alliance engages in large scale combat with Imperial forces, but also the effect the war has on the day-to-day lives of regular citizens. The urban skirmish between Imperial stormtroopers and Saw Gerrera’s insurgents is one of the film’s standout moments because of how well it reflects the realities of war in our own world.
It’s easy to forget when Luke Skywalker and the gang are receiving medals for taking down the Death Star that this is a war that is not only fought in the far reaches of space, but also on the ground, in every town, because the Empire’s reach is so large. The original trilogy, as incredible as it is, never did a great job of showing the oppressive nature of Imperial rule because our heroes always had a comfortable spot within the Rebellion’s ranks that spared them the terror of living under the Empire’s iron boot. Rogue One is the first film in the franchise that tries to give a clear picture of what that might actually look like.
9. Expands Upon the Force
Although it doesn’t feature any Jedi (unless you count fallen Jedi Darth Vader), Rogue One still focuses quite a bit on the Force and thanks to the introduction of new character Chirrut Imwe, we’re given a new perspective on the iconic mystical energy field, to the point where it’s treated more like a religion than it has in other films. This ends up being a refreshing angle, as unlike other films in the franchise that largely revolve around “chosen” characters gifted with the ability to wield the Force, Rogue One gives us two characters in particular in Chirrut and his gun-toting protector Baze Malbus who may not even possess the ability to tap into the Force at all, but still respect its power all the same.
This ambiguity helps emphasize the void that the Jedi have left behind, as without their presence and teachings, people like Chirrut are seen as foolish and relics of a bygone age. Now, when revisiting the original trilogy, Luke’s reclamation of that past and the literal return of the Jedi will feel even more powerful because we’ve seen what effect their absence has had on the galaxy.
8. Downplays the Importance of the Jedi
While some fans were likely disappointed by Rogue One’s lack of lightsaber battles, the film’s decision to set aside the Jedi, Sith, and pretty much everything having to do with their ancient conflict is ultimately to the film’s benefit, as it allows for a story that showcases how important the contributions of those who can’t wield the Force are in the war between the Rebel Alliance and Empire. There are no Jedi coming to save the day for Jyn Erso and her band of Rebels, meaning they have to rely on themselves to overcome impossible odds and ensure the Rebellion’s survival.
And yet, the fragility of human life on display in Rogue One suggests that Luke Skywalker’s ascension to the rank of Jedi Knight plays an essential role in the Rebellion’s eventual victory over the Empire, as it’s made brutally clear in this film that the regular men and women that make up the Rebellion’s ranks are no match for someone like Darth Vader. It’s an interesting dichotomy that shows how integral every Rebel hero’s contributions to the cause is, whether they can wield the power of the Force or not, and also proves that a Star Wars movie doesn’t have to always feature Jedi.
7. Makes the Battle of Yavin Feel Even More Significant
One of the most impressive things about Rogue One is that it successfully manages to build an entire film around a throwaway bit of text from the opening crawl in the original Star Wars. As it turns out, the Rebels’ mission to steal the Death Star plans is even riskier than we all thought, as the Rebellion ends up staking its entire existence on the hope that Jyn and her team will pull through and get those plans to Princess Leia and the crew of the Tantive IV.
The great thing about this film’s final act is that it makes the Battle of Yavin and the successful destruction of the Death Star feel more even more significant as a result because we actually see how hard the Rebels fought to get to that point. Of course, the Death Star run has always been the climactic moment of A New Hope, but now it feels even more important because we’re more aware of what’s at stake if Luke, Han, Leia, and the rest of the Rebel forces were to fail.
6. Expands Tarkin’s Role
While there are certainly problems with the way Disney decided to bring back Peter Cushing’s character Grand Moff Tarkin from 1977’s Star Wars — namely, that the CGI used to make him look like an Uncanny Valley nightmare puppet from certain angles — his role is in the film is no mere cameo. In fact, Rogue One does a pretty good job of detailing how Tarkin came to be in charge of the Death Star and sets up an interesting power dynamic between him and Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic, who is not too keen on having the station he worked so hard to have constructed stolen out from under him.
In some ways, he upstages Krennic to become the film’s central villain, as Krennic routinely drops the ball and Vader’s only real role in the movie is to be act like a terrifying force of nature. Rogue One also lays the groundwork for Tarkin’s cold, dismissive decision to obliterate Aldeeran in A New Hope by having him order the destruction of Scarif, thus killing Rebels and Imperials alike. Tarkin is willing to do what it takes to get the job done properly, which explains why the Emperor places him in charge of the Empire’s most important battle station, the Death Star.
5. Returns Darth Vader to True Villain Status
Darth Vader’s position as one of the greatest villains in cinema was already ensured long before Rogue One came along, but after his scene-stealing rampage near the end of the film, his claim on that position is arguably even stronger. The original trilogy, especially The Empire Strikes Back, do a great job in selling Vader as a formidable antagonist whose presence strikes fear in the hearts of both his enemies and allies alike (heck, he’s just as likely to kill an underling who fails in their duties as he is an actual enemy) but even when he’s wiping the floor with Luke in lightsaber combat and cutting off limbs in the process, he never quite feels as sinister as he should.
In a single scene, Rogue One not only showcases how terrifying Vader truly can be, but arguably makes him an even better villain in the original trilogy films that follow because we know how significant his redemption at the end of Return of the Jedi is. Going from slicing and Force-choking a hallway full of Rebel scum to saying a mournful goodbye to his estranged son is a quite the character arc and Rogue One helps emphasize how far gone Vader is when he has no remembrance of being Anakin Skywalker.
4. Shows the Darker Side of the Rebellion
The original trilogy presents a pretty simplistic good/evil dichotomy with the Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire, respectively, which means that there isn’t a lot of room for to explore morally grey characters and decisions on either side. While there’s never any question about who the good guys and bad guys are in Rogue One, the film takes steps to show the darker side of the Rebel Alliance and their fight for freedom. The focal point for this exploration is Diego Luna’s Captain Cassian Andor, who straight up murders an informant in the very first scene we’re introduced to him so that he won’t spill any secrets to the Empire. Additionally, the film’s lead protagonist, Jyn Erso, is a criminal raised by a Rebel extremist whose methods are too extreme even for an alliance, and we also see the Rebels lead an attack against a research base filled with non-combatants and blow up countless stormtroopers through gurilla warfare during the attack on Scarif.
On the flip side, Rogue One also attempts to humanize the Empire a bit by having one of the film’s leads, Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook, be an Imperial defector who is disillusioned with the Empire’s methods and wants to help the Rebel cause. There’s also Galen Erso, the brilliant scientist who spends years pretending to subscribe to Imperial doctrine while secretly sabotaging their greatest weapon in the process. While it would have been nice to the film humanize the Empire a bit more than it does, both Bodhi and Galen’s experiences hint at there being many in the Empire’s ranks who disagree with its policies and are risking their lives to help the Rebel cause in any way that they can.
3. Gives More Context To Alderaan’s Destruction
For a scene that involves the deaths of millions of people, the destruction of Alderaan is difficult to be emotionally invested in because we don’t actually experience it from the perspective of the doomed planet’s people. Rather, we’re only sad about it because Princess Leia is and we care about her because she’s one of the film’s heroes. While Rogue One doesn’t even feature the planet or its people besides Bail Organa, the destruction of Alderaan is given more weight than it had previously because we get to see firsthand what kind of effect the Death Star has when fired on a planet.
The destruction of Jedha City and later the Imperial base on Scarif are devastating examples of the power that the Death Star possesses and shows how terrifying it would be to on the ground when the blast comes. Of course, the people of Alderaan arguably had it easier (if that’s even the right word for it) since the planet is destroyed in a matter of seconds, but you’d have to imagine that those few seconds were incredibly terrifying while they lasted.
2. Shows the True Cost of War
Star Wars has always been a franchise focused on conflict but despite featuring the word “War” in its title, it’s never really done a great job of showing the true senselessness and violence of warfare. While Rogue One is certainly much tamer in its depiction of war than something like Saving Private Ryan or this year’s Hacksaw Ridge, it also doesn’t shy away from showing that, even in a fun space opera franchise, war is still hell. Rogue One’s third act is arguably one of the darker moments in the franchise, as no character is safe from being suddenly killed off in random fashion, to the point where you may find yourself wondering how Disney ever signed off on all of it.
The great thing is that Rogue One’s more somber, realistic tone doesn’t detract from the more lighthearted (for the most part) sensibilities of the original trilogy, as Star Wars movies should vary in terms of the kinds of stories they’re trying to tell. Whereas the original Star Wars is more of an adventure movie, Rogue One is the gritty war movie of the franchise and the two films compliment each other because they show two different sides of the same war — the war itself and the elation that comes when that war finally comes to an end (or at least until the Empire strikes back).
1. Fixes a Major Plot Hole
One of the big questions many had going in to Rogue One was whether or not the film would provide an explanation for one of the franchise’s biggest perceived plot holes; namely, why the Empire never noticed the major flaw in the Death Star’s design that directly led to its destruction. Well, Rogue One not only provides an answer for this, but a pretty compelling one at that, as we learn that Galen Erso deliberately built a catastrophic flaw into the Death Star as a final act of revenge.
Admittedly, this revelation does introduce a somewhat minor plot hole of its own — why did no one in the Galactic Archives notice this flaw when looking over the Death Star plans when? — but at the same time, this can probably be explained away by the fact that Erso not only claims that this flaw is so small that the Empire will never find it and also because the Rebels knew what they were looking for while poring over the plans. Going forward, this revelation will make rewatching A New Hope even more enjoyable because we’ll no longer be asking ourselves why the Empire didn’t just put a board over that pesky exhaust port and prevent the Rebels’ from striking a critical blow against them.