Since George Lucas revealed Star Wars in 1977, the epic film series has been known for introducing audiences to iconic planets and other locations. From the wonderful peaceful planet of Naboo to the desert lands of Tatooine, the first seven episodic Star Wars films are defined by their varied and memorable settings.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story continues that trend, introducing new planets and moons even as it brings audiences back to a couple familiar locations. The plot of Rogue One moves pretty fast, hopping from one location to another, so a little orientation is in order. To help you get up to speed, here's an atlas breaking down the major story environments in the new movie. There are no film spoilers here, and we've left out a couple minor locations so as not to give away anything important.
Let’s start with a location even casual Star Wars fans are likely to be familiar with. Previously featured only in the original Star Wars, A New Hope, Yavin IV isn’t a planet but rather the fourth moon orbiting the gas planet of Yavin. The lush green forests of this moon, shot in Guatemala, make it an ideal location for the Rebel Alliance to construct their core base. The Rebels have taken shelter in the many temple-like structures dotting the moon. The base is a launch pad for Rebel ships including the popular X-Wings and Y-Wings, and the new U-Wing fighters introduced in Rogue One.
In the original Star Wars, Luke Skywalker's enthusiasm is contagious as he arrives on Yavin IV. The Tattooine farm boy has finally reached the Rebel Alliance, a moment of which he's dreamed for years. There, he helps the Rebels plot an attack on the Death Star.
Since Rogue One tells the first half of the "attack the Death Star" story, this new film naturally returns to the moon. Jyn Erso, however, is far more guarded and cynical than Luke when she first arrives, in part because she encounters a Rebellion that is not yet as hopeful as the organization that welcomes Luke some time later.
Though Yavin IV saw relatively little screen time in A New Hope, the important moon location features more heavily in Rogue One.
Lah'mu, a bleakly beautiful, almost primordial planet circled by giant rings, opens Rogue One, but it is not really the first new planet introduced in the movie. Lah'mu was first introduced in the prequel novel, Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel.
Here, the Erso family, with a very young Jyn Erso in tow, landed years before the beginning of Rogue One, after escaping the clutches of the Empire. Thanks to a Clone Wars veteran named Saw Gerrera, the Ersos were able to stay far away from Imperial activity... or so they thought. The arrival of Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and his Death Trooper army opens the movie, and is the beginning of a whole lot of trouble for the Erso family.
Starkly gorgeous Iceland locations provide the real-world setting for Lah'mu, where the engineer Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) confronts his old colleague, who has tracked down Erso in order to coerce him into working on the Death Star.
The Erso homestead on Lah'mu is familiar in some aspects, though. While the landscape is nothing like Tatooine, the Erso home looks very much like the home of Owen, Beru and Luke in Star Wars, and is similarly isolated. There's even a canister of blue Bantha milk in the kitchen!
The Jedi Order does not play a significant role in Rogue One, since the Jedi were all but destroyed years earlier during the events of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. But adherents to the idea of the Force remain, and the city of Jedha, on the moon of the same name, is like Mecca for those who believe in the Force. There's even a more specific reason the area was important to the Jedi and is now of great interest to the Empire, but that might be a spoiler.
While Jedha has come to be known as a place for worship to those who wish to study the Force, the moon has other importance. It is the home base for an extremist Rebel group that resists the Empire with far more dangerous tactics than the core Rebellion. The moon also acts as home to several important new characters who add a great deal to the Star Wars landscape, as they help us understand ideas and aspects of life in the galaxy that were previously unseen. (For more on Jedha, be sure to read Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel.)
The planet Scarif is a major base of operations for the Galactic Empire and plays a prominent role in the development of the Death Star. Scarif, a remote planet with a tropical atmosphere and invitingly pristine beaches, looks more like a vacation destination than a center for beaurocratic evil. This is the spot the Rebels must invade in order to steal the Death Star plans from the Empire. The area, however, isn’t without its defenses.
Given the importance of the work taking place on Scarif, the Empire constructed an Imperial Security complex which is not only used to create the Death Star, but also to manufacture ships such as the TIE Fighters, Imperial Star Destroyers, and numerous ground vehicles such as the Imperial Assault Hover Tank and the AT-ACT (All-Terrain Armored Cargo Transport).
In addition to the Empire's many defenses on the planet's surface, Scarif is orbited by many Imperial Star Destroyers and fighters, and is completely enclosed by a shield which features only one small port for ships to pass down to the planetary atmosphere. Naturally, this presents a problem for the Rogue One crew.
The Death Star is the film's focal point, and we spend a lot of time in the grey steel corridors as Orson Krennic and other Imperial forces toil to finish the super-weapon. (Look for a cameo here from Star Wars Episode VIII director Rian Johnson.) Though Darth Vader will have a small but impactful role, Krennic nonetheless is the primary villain. His protective attitude towards the Death Star, a project he considers very much his own, leads him to actions that are inarguably evil, but also complex.
As discussed in Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel, Krennic has a history with the Erso family. Galen knew that the crystals he studied harnessed energy that could power other worlds and improve their society. Krennic gave him much needed support by funding his research and giving Galen the necessary resources to work with. Galen was told that all of his research was being used for the well-being of the galaxy.
Behind closed doors, Krennic had something more destructive in mind and used Galen to help create a weapon of mass destruction. Now, Krennic plans on finishing the project by holding Galen in captivity, forcing him to complete the task.
The Star Wars galaxy is immense, but the seven prior live-action films have focused primarily on stories and locations that affect the Skywalker clan. That means those movies barely glanced at other corners of the star system. Rogue One begins to show us a lot more, and as a result the Star Wars galaxy now feels far more like a living, breathing place, inhabited by a whole spectrum of people trying to protect the ideals they believe in.
So not only do we learn what Rebel spies had to go in order to secure the Death Star plans, we also get to really feel the impact of Imperial rule on the vast reaches of the galaxy, and the difficult choices people make in order to shape the society around them.