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Why Rogue One doesn't work well as a prequel to Star Wars

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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.

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I completely agree with your interpretation of events in both films and how they are incongruous with each other. In fact, I’ve argued for this point several times on these forums.

This isn’t to say that RO is a bad prequel due to this. The materially problematic events only happen at the very end of RO and could be changed via fanedit, leaving the rest of the film basically the same.

The bigger issue here is one of spirit. As you said, Vader is following on the trail of Rebel spies which stole the plans during a battle and lead to Leia and to her alone. She is the only link Vader has to the Rebellion, and this explains why he is so bold and ruthless in pursuing her across the galaxy.

Contrast this to RO, where Vader has captured an entire Rebel capital ship presumably with logs detailing many potential leads. The shadowy web of spies are instead enemy combatants brashly breaking into a military installation on a whim, initially with no greater support in the Rebellion. Where the opening of ANH could imply a victory long-planned by the Rebellion, it is instead a chaotic near-failure at every turn. Sure, it makes for a wild ride, but the word spies implies some level of professional subterfuge that simply doesn’t exist in RO. I would not consider any of the main crew of RO ‘spies’ except for perhaps the defecting pilot Bodhi Rook and even then his spying was coincidental and not premeditated. Perhaps Cassian Andor is more of a professional spy, but we never see this in action.

Furthermore, it is implied that the Rebel spies were operating under cover of a separate, perhaps diversionary, battle instead of a group of rogue combatants dragging the rest of the fleet into a desperate action. Of course there’s some amount of speculation here but if the brief original crawl specifies two distinct groups (spies and combatants in a battle), then I would expect these to actually be functionally distinct in the plot of the prequel.

Finally, to expand on your point that Leia had plausible deniability in the original, I would go further and say that Leia’s presence at the battle, combined with knowledge of a weapon which can destroy planets, heavily implies that the Organas knew full well that they were putting their planet in deadly peril. I cannot put into words how reckless this makes the Organas out to be in the context of ANH, and it takes away from the tragedy of Alderaan’s destruction knowing that their rulers acted knowing their hand could so easily be revealed.

You probably don’t recognize me because of the red arm.
Episode 9 Rewrite, The Starlight Project (Workprint V4 Released!) and ANH Technicolor Project (Released!)

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This goes in a lot of detail, well put. Also very true Neverar, I always liked the idea of the Rebels outwitting the Empire and sneaking the plans out of their hands instead of brute force ripping them out.

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The way I see it, the Tantive IV and Leia were shoehorned into the movie as per Disney’s demands.

It would have made a lot more sense if the ship escaping from the Battle of Scarif wasn’t the Tantive IV.

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I totally agree here about how poorly RO does set up ANH events. I like the idea that sustains RO to get a deeper look into the Empire, I’m less a fan of seeing grey areas into the Rebels (because in the fantasy context of the OT, this doesn’t cope with very well).

So, I would say about RO:

  • on a storytelling perspective, it’s a very bad prequel, like AOTC bad (yeah, that bad);
  • on a vibe perspective, it gets it right most of the time, especially on the Empire side;
  • on the visual perspective, it elegandly connects the PT to the OT, using modern filmmaking and a sense of grandeur that mesh very well with ANH.

I can enjoy RO as a fun ride (not all of it, 'cause the first half is very boring and even the action packed second half has many issues, but still there are a few very good moments), but definitely not as a good prequel. The PT are very imperfect prequels as well, however they are set far enough before ANH to let my brain connect thibgs in a clearner way. Something that RO with its “five minutes before ANH” ending doesn’t allow to do, unfortunately…

That’s being said, among the 5 Disney Star Wars, I would rank it second (TLJ > RO > Solo > TROS > TFA).

« Sie sind das Essen… wir sind die Jäger! »

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Watching Rogue One and Star Wars back-to back is one of my favorite ways to watch Star Wars. I think they fit together unbelievably well for movies filmed 40 years apart.

It is a period of civil war.
Rebel spaceships, striking
from a hidden base, have won
their first victory against
the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel
spies managed to steal secret
plans to the Empire’s
ultimate weapon, the DEATH
STAR, an armored space
station with enough power to
destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s
sinister agents, Princess
Leia races home aboard her
starship, custodian of the
stolen plans that can save
her people and restore
freedom to the galaxy…

Is it a period of civil war? And did Rebel ships striking from a hidden base just win their first battle? Yes and yes. Did Rebel spies manage to steal plans to the Death Star? Yes.

We don’t know exactly how much time passes between the end of Rogue One and when Vader captures them over Tatooine, but it seems obvious he lost track of them for at least a short time. He doesn’t just destroy the ship because he wants to be sure they still have the plans and haven’t already passed them on to someone else. He’s being thorough.

Vader - “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.”

Vader - “Commander, tear this ship apart until you’ve found those plans! And bring me the passengers, I want them alive!”

Rogue One fits better with the originals than the prequels do in my opinion. Not only does it fit well, but I believe it enriches the Original. Watching them together is a joy.

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I have many issues, but purely from a prequel sense the scale is all wrong. I imagined more a guerilla battle against great odds. Or a heist gone wrong. Instead it’s an enormous battle that dwarfs the original Death Star assault. What remains is a spectacle that doesn’t lead into the next film in terms of tone or momentum.

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I agree with the issues. Most of all I’m wondering how the hell did the Empire track the Tantive IV? It was concealed within the hull of the Raddus so I don’t see how they could have put a device on it, and hyperspace tracking doesn’t canonically exist until TLJ. If the Raddus beamed a transmission to the ship, which was elsewhere, that could be feasibly tracked. Hell, you’d even still have the beloved Vader-murdering-rebels scene as he attempts to prevent the plans being transmitted.

Although I agree with NevararGreat in that I don’t think the ending inconsistencies make Rogue One a bad prequel overall. And I’ve never found a problem ignoring it.

“Remember, the Force will be with you. Always.”

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fmalover said:

The way I see it, the Tantive IV and Leia were shoehorned into the movie as per Disney’s demands.

It would have made a lot more sense if the ship escaping from the Battle of Scarif wasn’t the Tantive IV.

It definitely seems like many of the continuity issues at the end of the film were a result of reshoots (the late addition of the Vader hallway scene comes to mind). I’d very much like to see a director’s cut and how the ending was meant to go originally.

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Servii said:

fmalover said:

The way I see it, the Tantive IV and Leia were shoehorned into the movie as per Disney’s demands.

It would have made a lot more sense if the ship escaping from the Battle of Scarif wasn’t the Tantive IV.

It definitely seems like many of the continuity issues at the end of the film were a result of reshoots (the late addition of the Vader hallway scene comes to mind). I’d very much like to see a director’s cut and how the ending was meant to go originally.

I remember reading that originally Gareth Edwards intended for the movie to end with Jyn and Cassian being killed by Vader, but this ending was deemed too dark.

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Rodney-2187 said:
Vader - “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.”

Yeah and these lines feel so out of place when you see the end of RO…

I would also add all the Empire guys chatting about te Rebels being harmless or dangerous, whereas they basically forced Tarkin to destroy Hawai planet with all imperial archives on it just a few days ago… (while taking down star destroyers).

(so much for “spys” right)

« Sie sind das Essen… wir sind die Jäger! »

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They fit together perfectly for me. There’s lots of things in Star Wars that require greater suspension of disbelief. Ships fly in space as they would in an atmosphere complete with sounds and fiery explosions and they all have gravity. But we have no problem dismissing these things because it’s a fantasy movie. But I digress. Sorry, I just don’t see anything wrong with the way Rogue One fits with the original Star Wars. No apologetics required. Is it a perfect movie? Of course not. I have no problem recognizing and overlooking the flaws in all Star Wars movies. I just don’t see this one.

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The big thing for me is the spy aspect of RO since it’s played up with several references in ANH, especially in the omniscient crawl. I (and I’m sure others) were hoping for and even expecting a spy thriller set in the Star Wars universe, whereas what we got was more of a disaster/war movie with several large military engagements and several attacks from a weapon that is only fully complete in the next film.

I remember in the lead-up to release people were talking about how the plans would be stolen, going through scenarios such as infiltrating Imperial social functions or even getting close to a high-ranking official with a female spy. Star Wars in my opinion is great when it works in different genres, such as ESB having a more horror aspect, ROTS being operatic tragedy, or AOTC having elements of Rebel Without a Cause mixed with detective noir. RO had the potential to push the envelope again into Spy Thriller territory, and when we got more boilerplate Star Wars with only a minor twist it felt like a missed opportunity.

None of this is to take away from the many great things about RO, by the way, or to say that anyone’s wrong for liking the film as-is. I’m happy with so many of the things we got, but I can’t help but feel like there was a more clear and daring choice.

You probably don’t recognize me because of the red arm.
Episode 9 Rewrite, The Starlight Project (Workprint V4 Released!) and ANH Technicolor Project (Released!)

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I’d like to think that Biggs got called back to Yavin IV from Tatooine after visiting his friends in Anchorhead, because of the events in Rogue One after the battle of Scariff.

That’s one thing they kept canon in Rogue One, Biggs wasn’t in the Red group because he was home on leave.

That makes A New Hope deleted scenes canon right?

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My understanding is that the Rebellion grew much larger after Scarif and even more so after the Battle of Yavin. The way I see it, Scarif is probably what prompted Biggs to defect the Imperial Academy and join the Alliance.

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It seems even stranger in hindsight that in ESB the Rebel base is so small. Vader had to scour the galaxy for them but they had all these Mon Calamari allies from such an early date? I always presumed the largest group they had was in ROTJ.

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Mocata said:

It seems even stranger in hindsight that in ESB the Rebel base is so small. Vader had to scour the galaxy for them but they had all these Mon Calamari allies from such an early date? I always presumed the largest group they had was in ROTJ.

That’s a little detail I like a lot about the OT. The fact that the Rebellion grows noticably larger with each movie. It’s satisfying to watch the Rebels grow from the small group they’re shown as in ANH, to having a small fleet in ESB, to the impressive fleet we see in RotJ. There’s this sense of progression for the faction that’s shown without being stated outright. Rogue One messes with that. The fact that the Rebel Alliance is able to so quickly muster a large fleet like that so early in the war makes the fleet in RotJ less impactful.

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Servii said:

The fact that the Rebel Alliance is able to so quickly muster a large fleet like that so early in the war makes the fleet in RotJ less impactful.

On that note, that’s one of my many gripes with Star Wars Rebels. Every episode ends in mission accomplished with no casualties for the rebels, thus making the victories of the OT a lot less impactful.

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fmalover said:

On that note, that’s one of my many gripes with Star Wars Rebels. Every episode ends in mission accomplished with no casualties for the rebels, thus making the victories of the OT a lot less impactful.

I’d guess you’re against the show existing at all then. You can’t exactly tell a story about the gradual formation of the Rebel Alliance by showing them getting crushed and defeated at every turn. There were always going to be small victories, the events of the OT and Rogue One are just the first major victories.

“Remember, the Force will be with you. Always.”

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The show could still exist, and in arguably stronger form if it continued to focus on a small-scale planetary conflict or several conflicts simultaneously. All that the crawl in ANH states is that this military force has had no victories against the Empire, implying that the Alliance has been newly organized from many smaller cells just before ANH or that the Alliance has failed to take unified action before the events precipitating ANH. Heck, since the crawl doesn’t specify the Alliance it could simply be that the Organa family has their own isolated cell which has been building in strength for a long time but has only been deployed to specifically combat the Death Star threat. The Organas could have been pacifists until that point while other cells tried and failed to act on their own.

This continued insistence on battles similar to those in the OT continues to kneecap these golden opportunities to craft stories distinct from the now slate grey storytelling of most EU content.

You probably don’t recognize me because of the red arm.
Episode 9 Rewrite, The Starlight Project (Workprint V4 Released!) and ANH Technicolor Project (Released!)

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Even then, I don’t remember the actual Rebel Alliance having any major victory during the events of Star Wars Rebels. All of the main victories are attributed to the smaller cells (such as Phoenix squadron) on their own.

The first large military action of the Rebel Alliance was meant to be the Liberation of Lothal, but the plan was aborted as the Alliance debuted with a hard defeat at the hands of Thrawn. And when they eventually succeed in liberating Lothal, it wasn’t thanks to the combined strength of the Rebel Alliance, but rather to the main characters assembling a ragtag group of allies as the Alliance couldn’t afford a full-scale assault, especially as the one time the Alliance directly intervened by sending a X-wing squad to Lothal, they were utterly defeated.

I agree the battles depicted in Rebels could have strayed a little more off the OT customs, but then, the entire show since its inception was sort of a love letter to the Rebellion era.

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jedi_bendu said:

fmalover said:

On that note, that’s one of my many gripes with Star Wars Rebels. Every episode ends in mission accomplished with no casualties for the rebels, thus making the victories of the OT a lot less impactful.

I’d guess you’re against the show existing at all then. You can’t exactly tell a story about the gradual formation of the Rebel Alliance by showing them getting crushed and defeated at every turn. There were always going to be small victories, the events of the OT and Rogue One are just the first major victories.

I’m not saying the rebels should have been crushed and defeated at every turn as you put it, but the fact that they never suffer any setbacks makes the Empire look incompetent. How about two steps forward one step back, then three steps forward one step back, four steps forward two steps back, the Rebel Alliance slowly gaining in strength, occasionally throw in a defeat that sets the Rebellion back from square 50 to square 35, certainly damaging but not enough to erode their determination. It would have made for a much more compelling narrative than the smooth sailing of victory after victory we got.

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Rebels was far from smooth sailing for the main characters.

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I mean yeah, I can’t disagree that in the majority of episodes have happy endings for the Rebels, but it’s not like they have any setbacks. The Grand Inquisitor is pretty effective at hunting down and overpowering Kanan and Ezra in season 1; Vader expertly manipulates them into stealing a tracked shuttle and then destroying most of Phoenix Squadron; Ezra nearly gets everyone killed in Steps into Shadow and has to deal with his failures; Thrawn discovers the identity of Kallus despite his best efforts and uses Kallus to track them to Atollon and destroy most of their ships; the Rebel Alliance have a squadron of x-wings attack the Tie Defender factory and the entire squadron is destroyed. The show had setbacks for the main characters, it just knew when best to place them.

Sure, for a series set in the “dark times” as Obi-wan calls them, there are a lot of happy endings. But as Dave Filoni said Star Wars is meant to inspire a good feeling. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’m not going to talk about Rebels any more though, we’re been sidetracking this thread for a while now…

“Remember, the Force will be with you. Always.”

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Prequels barely work in general.

Can people really come up with any prequels outside of SW that enhance the original?