We’ve always known that the Rebels will fight to halt the construction of the ultimate superweapon, the Death Star, in Rogue One, but we didn’t know that they actually might try to foil the Empire’s plans multiple times throughout the first standalone Star Wars movie.
There were a ton of spoilers and new footage in the second international trailer for the film, directed by Gareth Edwards, and one of the most important new scenes seemed to be the X-wing space battle fought against some sort of Imperial facility above Scarif.
Since we know the Rebels, including Jyn Erso and her crew, will fight in a ground battle at the Empire’s military outpost on the planet to try and steal the plans to the Death Star, we figured this was a Return of the Jedi scenario where the X-wings would do their thing above the planet while the Rebels would do their thing on the planet surface in the film’s climax. But what if the space battle scene is actually a flashback?
We assumed the circular space station above Scarif was some kind of Star Destroyer docking station, but that familiar design means it could be the Death Star’s main laser dish still under construction.
But wait! Didn’t we see a partially armed and operational Death Star floating around and probably blowing up Jedha in previous trailers? Why yes, yes we did, which means the X-wing battle must happen before the dish is put into place.
The Rebel attack fails, and their attempt to blow up the costly Death Star component fails, hence the hail mary mission to steal the plans to the complete battle station comes into the equation.
The Rogue One prequel tie-in novel Catalyst goes out of its way to point out how difficult it is for the Empire to gather the resources to build the Death Star, so it makes sense that the initial Rebel battle plan would be to cripple the expensive Imperial war effort before the Death Star becomes a real threat. When that fails, it’s Jyn’s turn to save the Rebellion.