I like Rogue One quite a bit. I think it’s a good movie, and I think Gareth Edwards is a great director. But after having rewatched the movie alongside the OT, I’ve realized that it doesn’t line up well with the starting events of ANH, nor does it match the events described that are meant to directly precede ANH.
Let’s look at what we know based on ANH alone:
The Rebellion has just won its first victory in the War, and during the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal the Death Star plans. These spies then transmitted the plans (either directly or indirectly) to the Tantive IV, and Leia hurried to deliver them to Alderaan.
Darth Vader traced these transmissions to the Tantive, and set off in pursuit of it until he caught the ship over Tatooine. Once the ship had been successfully boarded and Leia captured, this exchange occurs:
“Darth Vader, only you could be so bold. The Imperial Senate will not sit still for this. When they hear you’ve attacked a diplomatic…”
“Don’t act so surprised your highness. You weren’t on any mercy mission this time. Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by Rebel spies. I want to know what happened to the plans they sent you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan!”
Moments later, Vader speaks with an Imperial Officer:
“Holding her is dangerous. If word of this gets out, it could generate sympathy for the Rebellion in the Senate.”
“I have traced the Rebel spies to her. Now she is my only link to finding their secret base.”
Vader then also says:
“Send a distress signal, and then inform the Senate that all aboard were killed!”
We can glean a few things from this. For one, the only accusation Vader is able to level against Leia is that he traced the spies’ transmissions (plural) to her ship. Leia acts indignant over the attack on a diplomatic vessel, implying that the Senate will side with her against Vader (who is acting very boldly, as she puts it), and behaves as though she has plausible deniability. The Imperial officer is noticeably nervous about attacking the ship and detaining Leia, concerned that it will damage the Empire’s image in the eyes of the Senate. In response to this, Vader feels the need to send out inaccurate information that shifts blame for the attack away from the Empire.
Judging from what we see in this scene, Vader’s proof against Leia hinges entirely on her interception of the transmitted plans. The supposed absence of the plans aboard the ship gives Leia plausibility deniability and paints her as an unfairly targeted civilian. This is something Vader is worried enough about that he orders false information be relayed to the Senate in order to save face.
The series of events that are laid out here are contradicted by the events shown at the end of Rogue One. In Rogue One, Leia and the Tantive IV are present at the Battle of Scarif. The Death Star plans, after being transmitted from the planet’s surface, are carried via physical datatape (singular, not plural) onto the Tantive. Vader personally witnesses this, and single-handedly pursues the soldiers carrying the plans. Narrowly failing to prevent their escape, Vader witnesses them boarding the Tantive IV, then sees the ship–with Leia on board–taking off and fleeing from the battle.
The Tantive then jumps into hyperspace, and after an unknown amount of time, the Devastator–with Vader on board–catches up to it and fires on it. The ship is disabled, and Vader sends a squad of Stormtroopers ahead of him to secure the ship, only setting foot on the ship himself after the dirty work is done.
Simply, the events shown in Rogue One don’t align with each characters’ behavior aboard the Tantive IV at the start of ANH. Going by what Rogue One shows us, Vader and the Empire have ample reason to regard Leia’s ship as a military target, and the Empire’s attack can’t be condemned as outrageous or unprovoked. There were no surreptitious transmissions (plural) of the plans to a seemingly diplomatic ship. There was instead a high-profile hand-off (singular) of the plans to a ship in the midst of a war zone, with said ship then conspicuously fleeing from that war zone in full view of the Empire. Vader has far stronger reason to believe in Leia’s guilt than some mere intercepted transmissions.
It’s because of this that I believe Rogue One doesn’t function well as a prequel to ANH, and that the events meant to connect the two films instead make them incompatible with each other when treating them as a continuous story. I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on this, and if you agree or disagree or are somewhere in the middle.