Rogue One is billed as a standalone Star Wars movie, but it’s far more entrenched in the story of the saga than many of us had thought. That’s not just in terms of its setting, though—it’s because it’s jam-packed with references and hints to the Star Wars stories that came before it. Here are all the major ones we spotted.
Of course, this should go without saying, but...
Remember the disgruntled cantina patrons Luke encounters in Mos Eisley in A New Hope? Well, turns out they don’t just restrict their surliness to the surface of Tatooine. During Cassian and Jyn’s arrival on Jedha, Jyn bumps into a man making her way through a crowded market, who quickly threatens her before his alien friend calms him down... and it’s none other than Evazan and Baba.
Basically, they survived the destruction of Jedha City, flew to Tatooine to drown their sorrows, and then Obi-Wan sliced Ponda’s arm off. Rough deal, guys.
Since the start of the Disney XD animated series Star Wars Rebels, fans have wondered if we’d see these heroes on the big screen. If it was ever going to happen, the obvious place would be Rogue One because it takes place in the same time period, and follows the same general group of people, namely the Rebel Alliance. Well, Rogue One delivers.
First up, the Ghost, Hera’s trusty ship, is in the film multiple times. You first see it outside the base on Yavin 4 when Jyn and Cassian get ready to go to Jedah. There’s a wide shot of the outside of the base and the Ghost is clearly visible on the left side of the frame. Later, the Ghost is one of the ships that jumps into battle over Scarif. It’s in a handful of shots, mostly flying in the background. Second, after Jyn meets with the Rebel Alliance about going to Scarif, you can hear a page for “General Syndulla” clearly over the PA on Yavin 4. This is almost certainly Hera, the pilot of the Ghost. Finally, during the battle on Scarif, a Rebel communications officer intercepts a signal about the battle and runs out to tell Mon Mothma; as he does, on the left side of the frame, the Rebels’ droid Chopper can be seen rolling along.
Finally, another great one pointed out to us by Lucasfilm’s Matt Martin: the Hammerhead cruisers, which noticeably get an appearance in the battle over Scarif, where one smashes into a Star Destroyer and then PUSHES IT INTO ANOTHER STAR DESTROYER, first showed up in Rebels too. The Ghost crew stole them for the Rebellion.
So will Star Wars Rebels cross back over with Rogue One and give us the animated version of Yavin 4 as well as the space battle over Scarif? Could this maybe be the finale this season? The season after (if we get one)? We’ll see.
C-3PO and R2-D2 have to appear in a Star Wars movie. They just... have to. It’d ruin a tradition that’s managed to last throughout the entire saga if they didn’t, so we’re glad to say they do indeed show up in Rogue One—very briefly, as the Rebel Fleet dashes to Scarif to support Jyn’s crew.
The first time we meet Darth Vader in the film, when Director Krennic runs off to him to complain about Grand Moff Tarkin taking credit for the Death Star project, the locale is unlike anything we’ve seen before in Star Wars before... but not for a lack of trying.
Yes, Darth Vader having his own castle isn’t actually a new idea from Rogue One. Plans were made to make the castle an important location in Empire Strikes Back, but the idea was scrapped. It eventually re-emerged in the Expanded Universe, where Vader’s castle was on the planet Vjun. In the new canon, though, Lucasfilm Story Group executive Pablo Hidalgo has confirmed the castle is on Mustafar... which seems like a harsh joke to play on Anakin Skywalker. Also, if there really is an Episode VIII connection in Rogue One, maybe this is it. This seems like a place Kylo or Luke may find useful.
Though Mon Mothma doesn’t initially okay Jyn’s journey to Scarif, she does know something is about to go down. She casually mentions to Bail Organa to maybe get in touch with his Jedi friend—afriend, Bail says, who has been in hiding but helped him during the Clone Wars. They, of course, are referring to Obi-Wan Kenobi. Mothma asks who he could possibly trust with such a sensitive mission and Bail says he’d trust “her” with his life.
Bail’s almost certainly talking about his daughter, Princess Leia Organa. In A New Hope, Leia is obviously aware of Obi-Wan and sends the stolen Death Star plans to him when she knows she’s going to be captured. You have to wonder, though, is the implication here if Vader didn’t attack the ship, would she not have brought the plans straight to Alderaan? Was she still going after Kenobi? We’ll never know.
When Cassian and Jyn dig through the Scarif archive looking for the plans to the Death Star’s codename, Jyn mentions one project called the “Black Saber.” It might not be anything, but it could be a connection to the Darksaber, a weapon wielded by Mandalorians characters in both Clone Wars and Rebels. The Darksaber was an ancient lightsaber, stolen by Clan Vizla and passed down through generations of warriors. Could the Empire be trying to make some of their own as a re-appropriation of lightsabers in the wake of the Jedi purge?
There are quite a few familiar faces in Rogue One, but one of our favorite callouts was the use of original footage from A New Hope’s Battle of Yavin sequence to resurrect Garven Dreis and Jon Vander, the Red and Gold Leader of their respective X-Wing and Y-Wing squadrons in the Alliance. The two men may have lived to fight another day at Scarif, but would ultimately perish in the Battle of Yavin.
Speaking of Rebel pilots, we also get to learn in Rogue One why there was a vacancy in Red Squadron for Luke to fill in—the callsign of Red Five, specifically. Unsurprisingly, the vacancy is because Red Five dies in Rogue One, shot down like a chump after failing to pull up in time during the space battle over Scarif. At least Luke did the callsign good shortly after.
Rogue One introduces a lot of new ships and Stormtroopers who we never see in the original trilogy. Being as it takes places mere days before those films, that makes no sense. If these troopers, especially the elite Death Troopers, are so good, why do we never see them again? Well, Rogue One does kind of provide an answer. And that’s because they’re all dead.
When the Death Star blows up the Imperial facilities on Scarif it’s highly probable all Shore Troopers and Death Troopers went with it. Maybe TIE Strikers and U-Wings, too. It’s at least a plausible cover for all these new things to be missing during the original trilogy.
Step aside, caf: There’s only room for one drink in the galaxy far, far away. During the film’s prologue when the Ersos discover that Krennic has found them, while Lyra Erso is hastily packing away supplies in the rush to escape, she heads to the family kitchen, where a large container of Blue Milk, first seen in A New Hope, is sitting on the counter, smack bang in the middle of the shot.
Blue Milk: the preferred drink of choice for soon-to-be-dead parental figures throughout the Star Wars universe .
We’re going to leave the more complicated questions about these characters coming back until next week. For now, though, two critical characters from A New Hope are back, which makes sense for a few reasons. First, Tarkin definitely feels like he’s in charge of the Death Star when we meet him in A New Hope, so to show him basically steal it from Krennic is critical for the story. It also gives Krennic his own villain, which is a nice twist.
As for Leia, obviously, we know she’s on the Tantive IV with the Death Star plans when A New Hope begins. And after the movie has just gone through such a terribly dark ending, to see a familiar face helps ease the pain as you leave the theater.
While we’re on returning characters, two more important Rebels from the original trilogy are in the movie—but unlike Tarkin and Leia, they’re portrayed by new actors rather than CGI counterparts. Well, we say “new,” although Genevieve O’Reilly has already played Rebel leader Mon Mothma before, in scenes ultimately cut from Revenge of the Sith, making her perfect for a return in Rogue One. She’s joined by Ian McElhinney—Game of Thrones’ Barristan Selmy!—who steps in as General Jan Dodonna.
Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus are offhandedly referred as part of a Force-believing religious group called the Guardian of the Whills. It might sound like a meaningless reference (like “nerf herder” in Empire) but the Whills have a long history in Star Wars, just mainly outside of the story of the saga.
Originally, when drafting the first movie in the early ‘70s, George Lucas planned to frame the events as a retelling from an ancient book called “The Journal of the Whills, Part I.” Whoever the Whills are, we never really knew—they were dropped from the outline and pretty quickly forgotten, save for some ancillary material in the Expanded Universe picking up the name again as a mysterious organization with connections to Force use (in the Revenge of the Sith novelization and early versions of its script, it’s mentioned that Qui-Gon Jinn learned how to become a Force Ghost from the teachings of a “Shaman of the Whills”). Rogue One marks the first time they’ve been mentioned on screen.
For almost 40 years, we watched A New Hope and just thought the people who made the Death Star were idiots and left this crucial flaw in the design as a mistake—a flaw that Luke Skywalker and his proton torpedos would exploit. However, now, we have to watch that scene in a wholly different way. We now know that it was Galen Erso who purposefully left that exhaust port there for the Rebels to find—his ultimate revenge for the Empire killing his wife and forcing his daughter into exile.
While R2 and Threepio are the big cameos, there’s the return of a few classic background droids in Rogue One as well. A Gonk droid idles by in the background as Jyn is escorted through the Rebels’ base on Yavin 4 after being rescued, while Mouse Droids squeal their way around the legions of Stormtroopers on Scarif. Keep your eyes peeled on Jedha before Saw’s insurgents attack the Imperial convoy, too—there’s a probe droid from Empire Strikes Back floating around amongst the busy crowd.
Update: After it was first published, we added the fourth Rebels connection when it was pointed out on Twitter, along with a few other tweaks.