Warning: This article contains spoilers for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Written by Alexander Freed and available in print and digital versions, the Rogue One novelization reveals and expands with inner monologues and character insights, political knots, and nuance that’s difficult to depict in a fast-paced movie. As Catalyst, demonstrated, there’s a lot of history embedded within moments we witnessed between the characters. (Official novelizations are canon as long as they don’t contradict what we see in the movies.)
Rogue One conveys even more than the franchise’s last novelization, The Force Awakens, thanks to a series of “Supplemental Data” entries inserted between chapters. The supplements, of which there are eight in total, include Rebel Alliance leader Mon Mothma’s personal files; reports, transmission, and logs from within the Empire and the Rebellion; ancient religious texts; and a bit of naval space history. They reveal some of the inner-workings of the Empire and Rebel Alliance but also give another layer to people and characters we already know.
And throughout the pages, we learned quite a bit.
1) How Galen Erso pulled off his final revenge
For years, some Star Wars fans found it hard to believe that a space station and weapon as sophisticated as the Death Star could’ve been built with such an unnoticeable (and fatal) flaw—and even called it a “plot hole.” Rogue One managed not only to retcon how the flaw appeared but the bureaucracy that let Galen get away with it.
Approximately 18 months before the events of Rogue One—part of which include the Battle on Jedha and the mission to Eadu, referred to in the novel as “Operation Fraction”—Galen requested some adjustments be made to the reactor core. What follows is a series of messages between Galen, Engineering Operations Manager Shaith Vodran, and Director Orson Krennic. While on the surface it looks like any other inter-office email exchange, it’s one of the most important passages in the book.
It wasn’t an easy for Galen to sneak in his revenge. His proposals resulted in dozens of red flags after running tests on it and bureaucratic red tape from Vodran, who refused to make his changes. Galen points to issues from his modifications, and from his list of solutions Krennic chooses installing exhaust ports in order to solve them. Instead, they set off even more red flags because radiation is flowing into the station.
In another demonstration of the Empire’s ruthlessness, Vodron approves the changes after learning the radiation doesn’t seep into command sectors or officer quarters (although it will affect officers crew members stationed in certain areas). And then he makes Galen think that he’s doing him a favor by putting his solution into action and promised to override the test.
The fall of the Empire started not with a victory, but rather a fluke because an Imperial employee approved changes to the reactor core (despite all flagged warnings) just to get Galen to shut up and stop his superiors from becoming angry at the amount of delays.
2) The familiarity of a Sith Lord’s sanctum
From Yavin 4 and Jedha to Lah’mu, Wombani, and Scarif, Rogue One showcases numerous planets. Most of them are new, so throughout the course of the movie we’re shown each planet’s name as we catch our first glimpse of it. However, there’s one planet we travel to whose name we don’t learn in the film—but it’s one we’ve seen before.
Later in the film, Krennic travels to a dark and desolate planet covered with lava and devoid of any life aside from the people who inhabit an obsidian tower. We soon discover that this is Darth Vader’s sanctum, and before Krennic arrived he wasn’t even in his armor; his body was in a bacta tank. Lucasfilm Story Group’s Pablo Hidalgo hinted at the planet in question after a fan asked on Twitter, but the novel and other supplemental material state it more plainly.
Darth Vader’s fortress is located on Mustafar, and it’s by Emperor Palpatine’s design. That’s the same volcanic planet where Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi fought one another, leading to Anakin’s “death” and Darth Vader’s birth. It’s also where, in the years before the Empire was destroyed, Vader took Jedi survivors or anyone who was discovered to be Force-sensitive to torture and kill. And it’s where he believed he killed his wife Padmé Amidala.
3) Darth Vader is a walking, wheezing, human resource nightmare
Krennic’s visit to Vader on Mustafar is not what you’d call a success. Sure, Vader allowed him to live, but first Krennic had weather a tense interrogation, humiliation, a Force choke, and a very divisive pun from one of the Emperor’s top men.
While Vader Force chokes him, Krennic arrives at the realization that while the Jedi no longer exist in this world (to his knowledge, anyway), the power that Vader yields is very real. After all, he felt it, and as it turns out it’s not the first time he’s seen or heard about Vader’s powers.
Per the Rogue One novelization:
[quote] As he coughed and then stopped coughing, fighting desperately for air, Krennic thought of the stories he’d heard of Vader, the time at a military conference when he’d seen Vader strangle an officer. He’d told himself in the days after that Vader had wrapped his hands around the man’s neck until it cracked, but Krennic had lied to himself. [quote]
If the reputation of Vader’s rather ruthless way of dealing with officers and rebels alike has spread within Imperial ranks during the Empire’s reign—and as we see at the end of Rogue One and the beginning of A New Hope, he’s gotten very good at Force choking people—how many times has he done this? Can the Empire keep up with Vader’s choking spree? And how many people has Vader’s aide told to “keep all you witnessed to yourself” over the years?
Then again, who would even believe Krennic if he told others what he had seen?
4) Lyra Erso’s final words haunt Krennic long after her death
As Krennic attempted to stop Jyn and Cassian from transmitting the Death Star plans on Scarif, he’s reminded more than once of his final encounter with Jyn’s mother, Lyra Erso—although for most of it he didn’t know he was chasing Lyra’s daughter. More than a decade earlier, Lyra and Krennic faced one another on Lah’mu as Lyra refused to become a hostage of the Empire again.
“You’ll never win,” she says before they fired shots at each other. Krennic’s shot was fatal.
Galen utters that same retort later in the movie, and Krennic even notes that it’s something he’s heard before. But as he arrives on Scarif, witnessing what the Rebellion had done and faced with certain death, he recalls Lyra’s final words over and over.
You’ll never win. Sure enough, he doesn’t, but he doesn’t have to witness the destruction of the very weapon he created.
5) Bodhi Rook’s involvement in Galen’s plot may have been a coincidence
By the end of Rogue One, the rebels successfully steal the Death Star plans through an unlikely, massive, and fatal team effort led by Jyn and Cassian, but they wouldn’t have known about the Death Star’s existence or gotten to Scarif without any suspicion arousing without Bodhi Rook.
As a lowly Imperial cargo pilot from Jedha who spent most of his time transporting kyber crystals to scientists, Bodhi didn’t know what the Empire was working on. According to Bodhi, who relayed the story to Cassian as they scoped out Eadu, he randomly struck up a conversation with Galen about which droid to get his meal from—something he was barely authorized to do on the planet—and it spiraled from there. Eventually, Galen used him to get his message about the Death Star to Saw Gerrera and Jyn, telling him that he could do right by himself “if I was brave enough and listened to what was in my heart.”
Cassian, for the record, doesn’t believe a word of Bodhi’s story, but he doesn’t press it. He figures it works fine if it’s Bodhi’s attempt to convince him he really defected to the Rebellion.
6) K-2SO ran scenarios where he could’ve save himself, but forsook those to give Jyn and Cassian a chance
For all of his quirks and faults, K-2SO is an efficient droid. Although he can’t perform all of the duties he once could thanks to Cassian reprogramming him, he’s more than capable in a rough situation and blends into large crowds with plenty of deadpan wit to match. (Just don’t ask him to lie.)
As Jyn and Cassian searched for the Death Star plans (codename: Stardust), K-2SO held his own against a wave of stormtroopers until a normally harmless shot led to his total shutdown after he rewired functions to a non-vital area. His mind worked wonders in the mere seconds he had left to live as he went through scenarios where he could prolong his own life—which he abandoned after realizing all of them would result in Jyn and Cassian’s deaths. K-2SO managed to work out a possible scenario in which they could transmit the plans to the fleet above them. Luckily, it worked.
7) The logical reason why there wasn’t a last-minute escape
Jyn and Cassian were the only two main characters still alive by the time they sent out the Death Star plans to the fleet, but in the end they died with everyone else on Scarif. But, perhaps anticipating questions of why Jyn and Cassian didn’t just steal an aircraft and hightail it out of there before the Death Star’s blast destroyed them all, the novel explains why they stayed.
For one, they would’ve had to travel to a landing pad to maybe find a shuttle—which would take time that they didn’t have. And with Jyn helping an injured Cassian along, they wouldn’t have made it out in time.
8) We see how the Rebellion regards Jyn after Rogue One’s mission
Some time after the Battle of Scarif, Mon Mothma reflects on the brief encounters she had with Jyn in something of a eulogy. Jyn is revered by the Rebellion for her actions that helped and united the Rebel Alliance while some even see her as a martyr who went to Scarif having lost everything. But for Mothma, viewing her just through those lenses doesn’t do her justice. She remembers Jyn as someone who couldn’t be manipulated and could draw a room to her, a woman who gave her all toward a cause she finally believed in.