At last, we’re in the final days of the countdown to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and fans are ready to storm the theater for the first available showing. You’ve studied the trailers, dissected the glossy photo spreads, and started reprogramming your own army of K-2SO action figures. What more is a rebel soldier to do?
Here we break down your best bets for debriefing the history of the Empire’s ultimate weapon and the rebels trying to destroy it, some extra credit if you have time to delve further into what makes essential characters tick, and a few cheat sheets for when time is of the essence. While Rogue One stands on its own and none of the following is required to enjoy the film, these will help you brush up on backstories, discover old rivalries, and absorb some errant details. Now let’s examine the intel.
Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel by James Luceno
As the essential origin story for the Death Star itself, the book delves into the two decades it took to develop and construct the Empire’s key to galactic rule. More than a how-to manual for constructing a superlaser, the backstory delves into the obstacles inherent in building a massive battle station in space, intel about powerful kyber crystals and their many uses, and the kind of masterful manipulation, feuding, and finger pointing that’s become indicative of the most ruthless Imperial officers. While the original trilogy and prequel films were Skywalker-centric, the book narrows its focus on the Erso clan, fleshing out the relationship between Jyn’s parents, Galen and Lyra, to help foster a greater understanding of the Rogue One protagonist. The story lays the foundation for tense relationships between other key Rogue One characters including Galen and Orson Krennic, and explores how Saw Gerrera fits into the mix. Galen, we learn, is a noted researcher whose study of kyber crystals is the key to unlocking a massive energy source. And while he has altruistic plans for his work, the Empire sees Galen as little more than a pawn in their quest for galactic control.
Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno
Sly Governor Wilhuff Tarkin takes the spotlight in another Luceno-penned character study, a peek behind the curtain of the Imperial ranks as Tarkin helps guide the Death Star’s construction. Falling in step chronologically after Catalyst, Tarkin may not be essential ground to cover before your first Rogue One viewing, but it certainly delivers a deeper look at the nuanced history of one of Emperor Palpatine’s most reviled henchmen. The story aims to foster a greater understanding of Tarkin’s pathos, his brutal upbringing, and other events that help shape the merciless, power-hungry man who strides into A New Hope a near equal to the dreaded Lord Vader.
Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy by Pablo Hidalgo
If you’re cramming the night before Rogue One‘s release, skip ahead to “Part IV: Rise of the Rebellion” for a brief but compelling overview of the rise of rebel militias in the Outer Rim and the senators and soldiers who brought those disparate groups together with one unified goal: to restore the Republic and break free of Palpatine’s tyrannical reign. Pay special attention to the poster on page 81 that excerpts then Senator-in-Exile Mon Mothma’s formal declaration of rebellion in no uncertain terms, then watch the rebel’s fearless leader in action as she pulls Jyn Erso into the fold.
Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
As the Republic crumbles and Anakin Skywalker’s fear and rage threaten to consume him, Chancellor Sheev Palpatine makes his final power grab to disband the Senate, annihilate the Jedi who stand in his way, and convert Darth Vader into his Sith apprentice in his bid for galactic domination. The execution of Order 66, the lowering of Vader’s helmet making him more machine than man, and the first glimpse of the Death Star now under construction perfectly set the scene for events to come in Rogue One and beyond.
Star Wars: A New Hope
When you get home from Rogue One, kick back and watch what has essentially become the film’s sequel nearly 40 years in the making. The original George Lucas brainchild picks up with a reference to the stolen Death Star plans in the opening crawl and follows the rebel push to try to destroy the terrifying super weapon to its climactic finish. Rogue One director Gareth Edwards recently revealed that Lucas has seen the new film and given it his blessing. That’s high praise coming from the man who started it all.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Onderon Arc, Season Five, episodes 2-5: “A War on Two Fronts,” “Front Runners,” “The Soft War,” and “Tipping Points”
A young Saw Gerrera and his sister, Steela, lead a small militia on their home world of Onderon, fighting the Separatists during the Clone Wars with help and training from the Jedi. Their mission is to overthrow King Sanjay Rash and reinstate the former leader while rallying the support of the citizens in the capital city of Iziz. This is an essential part of Saw’s origin story, and a way to better understand the grizzled warrior with the cybernetic leg featured in Rogue One. On a larger scale, the Onderon rebels set the stage for the future Rebel Alliance: a rag-tag band of freedom fighters who come together for the greater good and find like-minded allies in the hopeful struggle to end oppression.
Star Wars Rebels – Season One, episode 4, “Breaking Ranks”
Ezra Bridger goes undercover to infiltrate an Imperial Academy on Lothal and steal a decoder that will reveal the location of a powerful kyber crystal. If they locate the shipment in time, the Ghost crew has a chance of keeping it out of enemy hands, lest it become a weapon of mass destruction. Hera’s words to Kanan serve as an ominous warning: “You know what the Empire could do with that crystal.”
Star Wars Rebels – Season Two, episode 17: “The Honorable Ones”
After the rebels discover all life on Geonosis has been wiped out, Zeb and Agent Kallus are stranded together on one of the dead planet’s moons. The planetary sterilization hints at the Empire’s future plans to wield a super weapon capable of mass extinctions, which was at one point being built nearby. While swapping war stories, we also learn that Kallus once fought Saw Gerrera and his band of rebels on Onderon, a call back to the Clone Wars and another nod at the mysterious extremist glimpsed in Rogue One.
Star Wars Rebels – Season Three, episode 10: “An Inside Man”
The rebels infiltrate an Imperial factory to steal the plans for the Empire’s latest TIE design. Sounds an awful lot like the premise to Rogue One, where rebels infiltrate the Empire to steal the plans for its ultimate weapon, the Death Star. Although the Ghost crew is dealing with a small craft with shields and a hyperdrive, while Rogue One‘s target is the size of a small moon and can reduce an entire planet to dust, both operations share themes of the rebellion’s growing unease with Imperial occupation, the Empire’s penchant for destructive tactics and deadly inventions to support a win-at-all-costs mentality, and the increasingly dire circumstances for the innocent natives of the galaxy caught in the crossfire.
The latest Rogue One trailer, featurette, and clips.
This one is pretty self explanatory. Sure, you’ve already watched the original trailer, and the extended trailer, and the international spot countless times. But we know you want to watch them again. And again. As the countdown clock winds down, expect to see a smattering of new teaser clips offering brief glimpses into the Rogue One world to help tide you over until Dec. 16.
Star Wars Rebels – Season Two, episodes 1-2: “The Siege of Lothal”
Soon after the Ghost crew joins forces with Phoenix Squadron, a call for help from an unlikely source — an Imperial officer in distress — sends the rebels back to Lothal and straight into a trap set by Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin. Plus the tyrannical presence of Vader and Tarkin preside over both story arcs.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars – The Citadel Arc – Season Three, episodes 18-20: “The Citadel,” “Counter Attack,” and “Citadel Rescue”
A young Tarkin, a captain serving in the Clone Wars, is being held captive in the Separatist’s high-security prison, the Citadel — until a Jedi strike team, led by Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Ahsoka Tano, comes to his rescue. Although he makes other appearances in The Clone Wars and Rebels, this three-episode arc plants the seeds for Tarkin’s relationship to Darth Vader and his assent among the Empire’s elite. Tarkin’s admiration for the Citadel’s construction is a precursor to his future task helming the creation of the Death Star. Battle droids reprogrammed to follow R2-D2’s commands are similar to Rogue One‘s K-2SO, the Imperial security droid who has been reprogrammed to be loyal to the Alliance and like his protocol counterparts has a penchant for calculating odds that no one wants to hear about.
So now you know how we’ll be spending our last week holed up on the rebel base before Rogue One‘s premiere — in between droid maintenance and X-wing flying lessons, that is. But we want to hear from YOU, cadet. Tell us about your pre-viewing rituals and your hopes for the debut in the comments below!
Kristin Baver is a writer and all-around sci-fi nerd who always has just one more question in an inexhaustible list of curiosities. Sometimes she blurts out “It’s a trap!” even when it’s not. Follow her on Twitter @KristinBaver.