Scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) and his family are in hiding on the planet Lah’mu. Imperial weapons developer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelson) arrives to force him to return to work on the Death Star for the Empire. His wife Lyra (Valene Kane) is killed and his daughter Jyn hides. She is rescued later by the rebel Saw Gerrara (Forest Whitaker).
Fifteen years later, cargo pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) defects from the Empire, and takes with him a message from Galen, which he passes to Gerrara. Rebel Alliance officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) learns of the Death Star and frees Jyn from a labour camp at Wobani. He brings her to the rebel leader Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) who convinces her to search for her father, who may have information on a weakness in the Death Star’s defence. Cassian, however, is instructed to kill him.
Jyn, Cassian, and the reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (voice of Alan Tudyk) travel to Jedha, where the Empire is mining Kyber crystals from the Holy City as fuel for the Death Star. Gerrara is leading an armed insurgency there. Helped by a blind spiritual warrior named Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and his guardian mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), Jyn contacts Gerrara, who is holding the pilot Rook captive. Gerrara shows her a holographic message from her father—he has built a flaw into the Death Star which makes it vulnerable.
Aboard the Death Star, Krennic launches a low-power test shot, destroying Jedha’s capital city and the message is cut short. Gerrara stays to die with the Holy City, but Jyn and her team grab Rook and take off. Kennic is praised by Grand Moff Tarkin (digital likeness of Peter Cushing on Guy Henry’s body), who then takes control of the project. Rook leads the rebels to Galen’s research facility on Eadu. Cassian has Jyn’s father in his sights but chooses not to kill him. Jyn appears before her father just as rebel bombers attack the facility. Galen dies in his daughter’s arms, and the team escapes on a stolen Imperial shuttle. Krennic is summoned before Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) and is punished for security failure, though not to death.
Jyn proposes that the rebels steal the schematics of the Death Star from the Imperial data bank on Scarif, but the idea is rejected by the Alliance Council as impossible. Jyn’s group decide to lead a small team to raid the Datalink on their own. The stolen Imperial shuttle is renamed Rogue One and they arrive on Scarif, then enter the base with K-2SO as other rebels attack the Imperial garrison as a diversion. The rebel fleet gets wind of this unsanctioned mission and deploys ships in support.
K-2SO sacrifices himself so Jyn and Cassian can retrieve the data. Imwe is killed combatting the Imperial fleet, Malbus is killed in action, and Rook is killed after warning the rebel fleet about the planet’s shield, which must be deactivated to send the data to rebel headquarters. Jyn and Cassian obtain the schematics after a struggle, but are ambushed by Krennic, who is wounded by Cassian. Jyn transmits the data. The Death Star enters orbit and destroys the entire base to secure the data stored there, killing everyone. The rebel fleet prepares to jump to hyperspace, but their ships are intercepted by Vader’s Star Destroyer. Vader boards the rebel command ship, but Princess Leia (CGI) takes measures to protect the plans. She speaks the word Hope, linking this story to A New Hope.
This whole project came from plot-point in A New Hope--the data on the Death Star planted in R2-D2. It is the story of how that data was extracted and at what cost. Rogue One was supposed to be the first film of a proposed Star Wars anthology series by Disney, but that never happened. It was directed by Gareth Edwards and produced by Kathleen Kennedy. In the first draft of the script, Jyn and Cassian survive. Gareth Edwards was surprised that Kathleen Kennedy allowed him to kill them off in the end. Galen is modelled after J. Robert Oppenheimer and his guilt over weapons of mass destruction. The character of Saw Garrera, powerfully played by Forest Whitaker, came from the Clone Wars animated series. Fallen statues on the desert planet of Jedha show Jedi figures, the remains of Jedi temples.
Some of the interior of Scarif Base was filmed at Canary Wharf in London, which was often used for Doctor Who. Felicity Jones, Warwick Davis, Daniel Mays, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Michael Smiley, Ariyon Bakare, Paul Kasey, Jimmy Vee, and Spencer Wilding, who appeared in Rogue One, also appeared in Doctor Who. Mads Mikkelson was killed in a Star Wars movie (Rogue One), a James Bond movie (Casino Royale), and a Marvel movie (Doctor Strange). Benicio del Toro appeared in The Last Jedi, License to Kill, and Guardians of the Galaxy. Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO appear in short scenes. Alan Tudyk ad-libbed a lot of his dialogue. Anthony Daniels pretended to be disgruntled that Alan Tudyk played K-2SO in a motion-capture suit when Daniels had to endure years of discomfort in his C-3PO costume. Tudyk later said that a fuck you from Daniels was a high compliment.
Warwick Davis appears as Weeteef Cyubee. R2-D2 has a cameo. Tatiana Maslany and Rooney Mara were tested for the lead role which went to Felicity Jones. Her weapon is obviously based on the German Luger P-08. When Chirrut, Jyn, Cassian, and Baze are being led around with hoods on their heads, the blind seer is the only one who doesn’t stumble. The music was composed by Michael Giacchino, who was done nearly every film of J.J. Abrams. He re-worked some of John Williams pieces. Giacchino is the only composer to have scored for both Star Trek and Star Wars. He also worked on Jurassic World, using John Williams’s music. If the large hatch in Scarif’s planet-enclosing force-field shield reminds you of the Tupper Ware-like glass enclosure of the planet Dravidia in Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, it is because it was a conscious homage to the Star Wars spoof.
Some journalists thought the use of Peter Cushing’s likeness was an insult to him, but Lucasfilm obtained permission to do so, and Cushing’s estate was intimately involved in the process. By the same CGI trick, Carrie Fisher’s young image was placed on the body of a Norwegian actress named Inguild Deila. Carrie Fisher, reportedly, was pleased, but almost nobody else was. Most fans and reviewers considered it weird and unsettling. I found it unsettling myself, particularly coming as the last scene in the movie. It is one thing to reproduce the face of a craggy old man playing a character with no warmth, but we all know what a beautiful young woman looks like and to see one not quite alive is kind of creepy, like a sex-doll. And it was not necessary, in my opinion. The last scene could have been Princess Leia putting the data into R2-D2, reproducing the first scene in A New Hope, but shot from behind. Everyone knows that scene, and Leia’s hairdo is unmistakeable. In fact, they could simply have taken the scene from A New Hope and tacked it on and gotten much less criticism.