To the casual fan, the Star Wars timeline can be a bit confusing. As most people know by now, the original trilogy of films (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) were Episodes 4-6 in the Star Wars timeline. The prequels (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith) are Episodes 1-3, which means they were released after the original trilogy, but chronologically take place prior to it. Last year’s The Force Awakens, Episode 7, takes place thirty years after Return of the Jedi. When you start getting into how many years pass between each movie and where all the made for television movies and cartoon series take place, and things get complicated.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is being marketed as a one-off anthology film. As such it doesn’t get an official Episode number, but if it did, it would be Episode 3.9. In the opening crawl of 1977’s A New Hope, we learn “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.” Rogue One is the film adaptation of that story; once you’ve seen it, you’ll have no question about where it falls in the big picture.
Those “rebel spies” Star Wars fans have wondered about for forty years is led by Jyn Erso. As is the trope, Jyn was orphaned at birth, and along her journey she teams up with people named Cassian Andor, Chirrut Imwe, Baze Malbus, Saw Gerrera, and Bodhi Rook while facing Orson Krennic and a few other Imperial baddies. (This is Star Wars, after all; nobody is named Steve or Bob.) Comic relief is provided by a KX series security droid named K-2SO (kay-two-ess-oh), who serves the same narrative job as C-3P0 but isn’t quite as limited in motion.
A lot of KX security droids (along with dozens of spaceships we’ve never seen before) appear in the film, and such is the problem of squeezing new prequels into old trilogies. All things told, Rogue One does a fairly good job of capturing the feel of the original films. Not everything is new. There are multiple nods to the original trilogy for long time fans, and one particularly interesting performance (spoiler) that literally left me stunned.
Ever since A New Hope, we as viewers have experienced the Star Wars universe through the same few characters’ points of view. Rogue One is a new adventure in an old world. At the exact same time Luke was dreaming about leaving Tatooine behind and heading off to the academy, the rogues of Rogue One were already risking their lives in a battle against the Empire. The movie provides a gritty view of the universe that we’ve never actually seen, but all knew existed.