They say a story is only as good as its villain, and this has always been true of Star Wars. Darth Vader helped the original trilogy become iconic, meaning that any subsequent film in the franchise has a legend to live up to. [Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens](tag:711158) managed to emulate Vader with Kylo Ren, but how will Rogue One: A Star Wars Story's antagonists measure up to the Star Wars rogues gallery?
They've already got the intrigue factor. The Rogue One trailer revealed two major adversaries for Jyn Erso: The menacing man in white and a shadowy cloaked figure.
Then of course there's Mads Mikkelsen's conspicuously absent character, who we finally have new details about. So who are these enigmatic antagonists? Thanks to vast Star Wars history and lore, we might already have a good idea about their identities.
The Man In White: A Grand Admiral?
From his white robes and military insignia, we can tell that this character (played by Ben Mendelsohn) is a very high-ranking Imperial officer, possibly second only to the Emperor himself. His rank insignia is that of an an admiral, but it's the white robes that invite speculation.
Imperial uniforms are almost always gray and black, with two notable exceptions: The Imperial Security Bureau officers (ISB) and Grand Admiral Thrawn from the Expanded Universe. Thrawn is the main antagonist for one of the EU's most popular stories, Timothy Zahn's The Thrawn Trilogy, a direct continuation of Return of the Jedi.
Of course, Thrawn's canon status perished along with the EU, but we know the creators of the new Star Wars films take inspiration from what's come before (after all, Kylo Ren is a direct parallel to Jacen Solo). So if this man in white draws from Thrawn, what does that mean for the story of Rogue One?
It's unlikely that Mendelsohn's character in Rogue One is actually a recreation of Thrawn, but they could share the same ruthless and vicious characteristics. What's important is the grand admiral rank: Thrawn was second only to the Emperor, making him the most powerful officer in the Empire. And of course, a grand admiral would be the latest villain to "hold Darth Vader's leash."
But what's even more exciting is the potential connection to the ISB — the Empire's answer to the Stasi, East Germany's former secret police. A covert and terrifying organization within the Empire, the ISB is a police force of sorts, tasked with taking down insurgents, traitors and rebels. Which seems perfect for the plot of Rogue One.
The trailer set Jyn Erso up as a renegade, one who has a list of charges against her from the Empire. Mendelsohn could well be the grand admiral in charge of the ISB, making him a terrifying opponent, as he pursues our heroine across the galaxy. He might even have a vendetta against her, as Jyn has clearly evaded Imperial capture several times.
The Ominous Cloaked Figure
But enough of Mendelsohn's character. What's up with Rogue One's mysterious cloaked figure? Thanks to his black robes, fans are already pinpointing him as every Sith lord you can think of (and probably a bunch you've never even heard of).
The fact that this character is kneeling makes it look like he's about to communicate with the Emperor, perhaps via hologram. But what's interesting is actually the two Imperial soldiers flanking the room — their red uniforms denote them as the Emperor's personal guards. So either Palpatine is in that fog-shrouded tank (perhaps injured), or this hooded figure is someone the Emperor trusts implicitly with his own guard force.
Digging through the EU, one of the most likely candidates is Mara Jade, the Emperor's personal assassin (and Luke Skywalker's eventual wife). Jade was one of the few people Palpatine trusted with the most clandestine of missions, and naturally she was known to favor black cloaks.
But as cool as it would be for this mysterious figure to be someone from the EU, it's likely that this is an entirely new character. After all, Gareth Edwards (the director of Rogue One) has the chance to create a new story. This mysterious character could be part of a larger game-changing plot, and the best way to ensure fans won't guess the story is to do something they'd never expect.