There have been a lot of tributes to Star Wars Rebels recently, and rightfully so, as we recently marked the one year anniversary of the series finale.
So I thought it a good time to bring up something that I recently re-read and thought it worth bringing up here. It’s nothing new, but it seemed to get buried a bit at the time. And it’s this: Grand Admiral Thrawn’s actions in Rebels subtly and indirectly influenced the events of Rogue One.
At Star Wars Celebration a few years ago, Dave Filoni explained that Thrawn’s devastating victory over the Rebellion at Atollon at the end of season three of Rebels scarred the Rebellion and caused them to hesitate when Jyn Erso suggested taking the fight to the Empire in Rogue One.
“You see the after effect of [Thrawn’s victory] in Rogue One,” Filoni said, according to io9. “They’re really hesitant to actually fight. It takes a lot to draw them out because they lost.”
Some may view this as a stretch or revisionist history, but I think it actually makes a lot of sense. Toward the end of season three of Rebels, Ezra Bridger and Phoenix Squadron were preparing for the attack on Lothal, including receiving forces from General Dodonna’s Massassi Group, when Thrawn arrived with the might of the Empire at Atollon. The Rebellion was dealt heavy losses, including the loss of Commander Jun Sato, and Rebels in both season three and four showed us that the Rebellion realized after the defeat that they weren’t ready for open warfare against the Empire. It took a ton of convincing for them to even allow Hera Syndulla to lead a squadron of X-Wing fighters to Lothal… forces which were, again, soundly defeated by Thrawn. Basically, Thrawn’s victories (in particular at Atollon) caused the Rebellion to realize that the Empire was too powerful and that they weren’t yet ready for open war.
So, when Jyn Erso arrives to speak with the Rebellion leadership, she is met with hesitancy and opposition. The Rebellion had only recently gathered their forces, and they recognized that if the Empire truly was this powerful (with the Death Star!) then they had no chance. It would be shades of Atollon all over again – only this time, it would mean the end of the Rebellion. It wasn’t until Erso’s crew, Rogue One, actually did infiltrate the planet that the Rebels were prompted to act, sending the fleet to Scarif to aid Rogue One. They did, they recovered the plans, and they realized that this was their chance – maybe their only chance – of taking on the Empire’s only weapon.
Plus, Thrawn was out of the way by that point, so that was in their favor as well.