Exploring The References, Callbacks, And Homages To The ‘Star Wars’ Universe In ‘Rogue One’

After last year’s The Force Awakens continued the ongoing story of the Skywalker family and their role shaping a far away galaxy, this year’s entry, Rogue One, is the first of many standalone films planned for the Star Wars franchise since Disney’s purchased it back in 2012. (Read our takes here and here). With a story nestled in the timeline just before the events of 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Rogue One examines a pivotal turning point in the Rebellion, and follows a group of soldiers tasked with retrieving critical plans for the Death Star.

While it’s not part of the official Skywalker saga, isn’t tagged with an episode number, and is absent the famous opening crawl, there’s no shortage of references that tip its hat the to larger Star Wars universe. Here’s a look at some of the most noteworthy.


The Film’s Title

The rogue call-sign is used by the Rebel Alliance during the Battle of Hoth seen 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back, with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) taking the handle of Rogue Leader. Comprised of the Rebellion’s best pilots, they were previously referred to as Red Group during the assault on the first Death Star, as well as the aerial battle at the end of Rogue One. When Luke formally joins the Rebellion, he’s given the handle of Red Five, presumably because the previous pilot with that call-sign crashed into the force-field protecting the planet Scarif.

It turns out, the whole thing came about thanks to Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a former Imperial pilot who defected to the Rebellion, and came up with the Rogue call-sign off the top of his head when he needed landing clearance for a stolen Imperial vessel. Not a bad way to start a legacy.

Dr. Evazan and Pondo Baba

When Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) push their way through the crowded streets of the Jedha marketplace, they have a run-in with a notorious pair of galactic fugitives: Dr. Evazan and Pondo Baba. After accidentally bumping shoulders, Evazan’s temper flares while making some familiar-sounding same threats, before he’s stopped by his partner and everyone manages to walk away with all their limbs intact. This is more than you can say for the two when they decide to start trouble with Luke Skywalker at the Mos Eisley Cantina in A New Hope.

The Guardians Of The Whills

First seen in the Jedha marketplace, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) are referred to as “Guardians of the Whills,” an off-hand remark that harkens back to the earliest incarnations of the Star Wars universe. One of George Lucas’ first drafts was titled Journal Of The Whills, which featured an actual journal found here on Earth that chronicled an epic space opera, directly connecting the Star Wars universe to our own.

The real-world angle was eventually dropped, and the story slowly evolved until it became Star Wars: A New Hope. According to the book The Cinema Of George Lucas, when Lucas was writing the first draft of The Phantom Menace, he kept a copy of Journal on his desk for inspiration. The Whills would eventually be reworked into the ancient order of Force-connected beings referred to in Rogue One. And in the book Revenge of the Sith: An Illustrated Screenplay, we learn they had taught Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) the secret to eternal consciousness. The The Force Awakens‘ official novelization opens with a quote from the actual journal kept by the Whills, finally making it canon.

The Rebel Base On Yavin IV

We first saw the rebel base headquartered on the moon of Yavin IV — filmed in Tikal National Park, deep in the rainforests of Guatamela — at the end of A New Hope. Naturally, the base is featured much more prominently in Rogue One as the Rebellion squabbles over their ability to wage war against the Empire after the construction of its super-weapon.

Aside from the Rebellion’s primary war room, we get a couple choice shots of the scope-using soldier who monitors ships coming and going from a watchtower outside the base. Interestingly, when Erso and Andor depart in their stolen Imperial craft to retrieve the plans from Scarif, the soldier is seen slouching at his station, suggesting that there’s not a lot of confidence that their mission will succeed.

Vader’s Castle

When Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) goes to speak with Darth Vader (voiced by James Early Jones) about the work that’s being done on the Death Star, he travels to an enormous, castle-like fortress on an unnamed planet overrun with molten lava. Lucasfilm creative executive Pablo Hidalgo confirmed on Twitter that it was the lava planet Mustafar, meaning that Vader had set up a little fortress of solitude on the world that helped create him. The Mordor-like imagery goes all the way back to some of Ralph McQuarrie’s earliest concept art for the character, as Sauron was one of Lucas’ initial inspirations for the Dark Lord. A similar idea showed up in a script written in the late ’70s by screenwriter Leigh Brackett, initially titled Star Wars Sequel, then later The Empire Strikes Back. Commonly referred to as the Brackett draft, it contains a scene where Darth Vader sits in his castle, surrounded by lava, feeding gargoyles out of a golden bowl.

Speaking of, when Krennic first arrives, Vader’s suspended in a bacta tank much like the one used to heal Luke in Empire Strikes Back. While we’d seen under Vader’s helmet in the classic trilogy, this glimpse of him without his armor serves to better connect Anakin Skywalker from the prequels to the formidable presence of Darth Vader.

Krennic’s Lack Of Faith

Amidst Krennic’s desperate plea for some positive feedback regarding his work, maybe even a special shoutout from the Emperor, Vader mostly blows him off, deriding the Death Star as an overly problematic project, as well as blaming him for the defected Imperial pilot in his company. As Krennic starts to walk away, he’s reminded of Vader’s vast power with one of his most recognized forms of keeping Imperial officers in line: the deadly force choke.

“You May Fire When Ready”

With a film focused on the story of the Rebellion’s acquiring of the Death Star plans, it was pretty obvious we’d be seeing the Empire’s super-weapon in full effect. Here the Empire dials back its destructive power, using it to destroy not whole planets but the Jedha City and a base on Scarif, both of which were preceded by a familiar command uttered by Governor Tarkin, played by Peter Cushing in A New Hope, and brought back via CGI for Rogue One. Along with his those notorious five words, both instances pay tribute to a familiar sequence: the Imperial gunners preparing the Death Star to fire.

K-2SO’s Bad Feeling

Variations on “I have a bad feeling about this” are said throughout the classic and prequel trilogies. One pops up in Rogue One, too, spoken by the reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) as he, along with Erso and Cassian, begin to infiltrate the Imperial base on Scarif.

Bail Organa’s Return Home

The first prequels-only character to appear in the post-Disney Star Wars universe, Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) serves as a crucial voice within the Rebellion as they discuss whether they’re capable of engaging the Empire in a full-scale war. Afterwards, he talks with rebel leader Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), who asks him about a Jedi who’s been living in exile, as well as someone he would “trust with his life” to deliver the Death Star plans.

The Jedi in exile is a clear reference to Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor in the prequels, Alec Guinness in the classic trilogy), who’s hiding out on the planet Tattooine to look over a young Luke Skywalker. The messenger he praises is none other than his adopted daughter Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher). The underlying tragedy here is when Organa mentions he intends to return to his home planet of Alderaan to be with his people while they prepare for war. His planet will soon be destroyed by Tarkin to warn the galaxy about the Death Star’s planet-destroying capability.

Also worth noting: O’Reilly was originally cast to play Mon Mothma in Revenge of the Sith, but her scenes were eventually edited out. She got the chance to reprieve the role 11 years later here in Rogue One.

The Droids We’re Looking For

Speaking of Bail Organa, you can briefly hear him mention the name Captain Antilles, the owner of the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO at the beginning of A New Hope. Later, we get to see that famous metal pair as they watch a fleet of rebel starships deploy to Scarif, making them to only two characters to appear in all eight Star Wars films so far.

The Rebel Blockade Runner

Knowing where Rogue One falls in the Star Wars timeline, there was considerable speculation as to how closely the film would tie into A New Hope. As it draws to its thrilling, chaotic close, Rogue One ends inside the Tantive IV, the same ship being chased by a Star Destroyer in A New Hope’s opening seconds, forever changing how we’ll watch the movie that started it all. After the coveted Death Star plans make their way through a relay race of slaughtered rebel soldiers, the final handoff to a CGI Princess Leia, she even describes the contents as simply “Hope.”