This Star Wars: Rogue One article contains spoilers.
They aren’t quite the Skywalkers, but the Erso family will be the center of this year’s big Star Wars story. Jyn Erso is the protagonist of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the leader of a ragtag group of mercenaries who are on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s new superweapon. We know that her father, Galen Erso, will have some bearing on Rogue One, as the scientist who helped develop the Death Star and leaked its existence to the Rebellion. Jyn’s mother, Lyra, will also appear in the film, if only in a flashback at the beginning.
Rogue One tells the story of the Ersos and the major part they play in Star Wars history, from the end of the Clone Wars to the Rebellion’s first major victory against the Empire at Yavin. Before you go see Rogue One, here are some important things you need to know about the Ersos, pieces of backstory that we learned from the tie-in novel Star Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel and the trailers:
Galen Didn’t Want to Join the Empire
Catalyst is the story of Galen Erso’s gradual fall into the hands of the Empire. But at the beginning, he’s proud not to be loyal to anyone at all. He ends up caught between the Republic and the Separatists, but refuses to pick sides. When a chieftain asks him, “Science doesn’t take sides, is that it?” Galen agrees. “You’re better off going about your business without aligning yourselves with either side.” Krennic refers to Galen as a conscientious objector. Galen did not willingly join the Empire, either.
Galen Erso and Orson Krennic Were “Old Friends”
Galen grew up on the planet Grange, in a poor family that supported his scientific interests. His entrance into the Futures Program, a presitgious academic course, paid his way off the planet and then onto Coruscant. He was too shy to thrive in the high society world of Coruscant, though, and that’s where Orson Krennic came in. Orson, who would later join the Empire, helped guide him through the social aspect of their world.
Galen’s Kyber Crystal Research Made Him a Target of the Death Star Program
As one of the few scientists specializing in kyber crystals, Galen was perfectly poised for the Death Star program. A graduate of the Futures Program on Brentaal, he studied crystals for 10 years before focusing on the “living” kyber crystals, fascinated by their strange reactions to living things. Krennic describes Galen as a theoretician, mathematician, engineer, and theoretical physicist.
Galen Wanted to Use His Research to Create Clean Energy
So why does Galen do what he does? In Catalyst, his main drive is to create clean energy. When he was stationed at a secret Imperial base on Coruscant, he thought he was working on unlocking the kyber crystals to create pure energy, not to create a deadly weapon.
Galen sometimes became so consumed by his work that he didn’t pay attention to the things around him, instead muttering about the theories or equations he was putting together in his head. When he wrote a letter to his wife Lyra while he was in prison, he decorated the edges of the precious paper with equations and diagrams.
Galen Is Caught Up in Krennic’s Plans
Galen and Krennic were part of a circle of people at the top of their game in the last days of the Republic. Reeve Demesne, a Mirialan, was one of Galen’s contemporaries. Ultimately, these scientists end up caught up in Krennic’s plan, subject to the machinations of the Empire.
Galen Thought His “Energy Project” Would Bring Peace to the Galaxy
Krennic’s manipulation included making Galen feel like he had to help. If Galen were to believe that dissenters against the Empire were the enemy, and that Galen’s energy projects would help unite the galaxy and create a lasting piece, Krennic thought Galen would be on board. Krennic was right. Galen’s guilt and good heart brought him deeper into the fold of the super laser project, which the Empire had codenamed Project Celestial Power.
Lyra Erso Worships the Force and Spent Time at the Jedi Temple
Lyra Erso believed in conscientious objection too, for different reasons. “For her, governments of any stripe would have their constituents believe that they were attempting to remove chaos from the galaxy. … when only the Force was perfect.” Although Lyra is not Force sensitive herself, she exercises at the public gardens in the Jedi Temple. She sees the Force and nature as two parts of the same whole, and her enjoyment of nature and exploration allowed her to worship of the Force. While she understands that she may not be able to touch the Force like a Jedi does, she sometimes feels connected to the universe in a way that gives her faith in the Jedi belief.
Galen and Lyra Met on an Expedition on Espinar
Galen and Lyra’s lives were rarely boring. They first met on an expedition that Lyra was guiding. She knew the planet of Espinar, so when Galen wanted to study the crystals there, she took his group on a six-month tour of a cave system. Galen did some research on crystals that were similar to kybers but without the unique properties. Meanwhile, the two started a relationship.
Lyra Was Suspicious of Galen’s Project
While Galen hyper-focused on the Death Star project he was eventually manipulated into, Lyra was free to take a look around. She was suspicious of the changes she saw in both the Republic and in Galen himself. Krennic was aware of it too, but the Empire’s efforts to turn the two Ersos against each other didn’t go as well as some hoped. Lyra took matters into her own hands and recruited an old friend, wilderness guide Nari Sable. Together, they went on an expedition to the Western Reaches to find out what the Empire was up to, and found that the Empire had been mining on Alpinn, but had only found false kyber crystals.
Jyn Was Born on Valltt During the Clone Wars
Growing up in the transition from the Republic to the Empire meant that Jyn Erso was wearing a helmet in a war zone almost before she could walk. Symbolically enough, she was born on the first day of spring on the planet Valltt, surrounded by the happy Valltii who were ostensibly her parents’ captors during a tense conflict with the Separatists.
Jyn Compared Galen to a Hero in a Parable
When she was very young, Jyn’s favorite story was “The Octave Stairway,” in which a character named Brin goes on a quest down a winding stairway into a castle. Jyn sometimes compares her father to the hero, and when she’s a bit older, uses the story to understand her feelings about the rise of the Empire.
The Ersos Took Refuge on Lah’Mu, the Green Planet in the Trailers
At the end of Catalyst, the Erso family is safely at home on the planet Lah’mu, but they know that the turmoil in the galaxy is just beginning. This is the world that Jyn will grow up in, the world which she will eventually leave before starting her Rogue One adventures. Her parents are impressed by the world’s verdant environment, but Jyn doesn’t quite understand the significance yet, and just wants to go back home to Coruscant. She does, though, understand that her parents are the good guys – something sure to drive her as the next war begins.
Jyn Has Known Saw Gerrera for a Long Time
Saw Gerrera seems to have been part of Jyn’s life much earlier than the Rogue One trailers may have led us to expect. Saw is the person who takes the Ersos off Coruscant and away from the Empire after Galen refuses to work further on the Death Star project. On a planet called Lah’mu, a very young Jyn asks whether Saw could stay with the Ersos. Saw says that he can’t, but he gives Lyra a card that will let her call him if she needs help. That might come into play in Rogue One. We also know that Saw will eventually form the Partisans, a group that will fight against the Empire on Onderon.
Megan Crouse is a staff writer.