- "They've no idea we're coming. They've no reason to expect us. If we can make it to the ground, we'll take the next chance, and the next, on and on until we win, or the chances are spent."
- ―Sergeant Jyn Erso
The Battle of Scarif, also known as the action on Scarif, the mission to Scarif, or the raid on Scarif, was the first major battle fought in 0 BBY between the Alliance to Restore the Republic and the Galactic Empire during the Galactic Civil War. The battle was preceded by years of attacks by the fledgling Rebel Alliance against the Empire and began the five-year period in which the Alliance successfully fought to replace the Galactic Empire with the New Republic.
Prior to the battle, Rebel Alliance Intelligence Service intercepted information suggesting that renowned scientist Galen Erso was building an Imperial superweapon capable of destroying entire planets. Alliance leadership sent Galen Erso's daughter, Jyn Erso, and Captain Cassian Andor to learn more about her father's involvement, and their subsequent efforts saw the Alliance discover the existence of the Death Star, as well as a fatal flaw in the design placed there by Galen Erso.
Though the Alliance High Command refused to openly oppose the Empire, Erso and Andor led a small unit of the Marine Corps and other allies and defied orders, taking it upon themselves to launch an incursion of the Scarif Citadel, as the rebels planned to infiltrate the heavily guarded Citadel Tower base on Scarif to retrieve the Death Star plans. Under the callsign Rogue One, the unit infiltrated Scarif's planetary shield in a stolen Zeta-class Heavy Cargo Shuttle and proceeded to wage a guerrilla assault on the Citadel's outskirts, drawing away Imperial forces so that Andor, Erso, and the droid K-2SO could infiltrate the facility. Director Orson Krennic, the former commander of the Death Star, attempted to stop Erso and Andor from stealing the plans, but the heavily outnumbered Rebels received support from the Alliance Fleet under Admiral Raddus, whose forces engaged the Imperial Star Destroyers above Scarif and worked to destroy the Shield Gate protecting the planet.
With the Shield Gate's destruction, Rogue One was able to transmit the stolen plans to the fleet above, though all remaining Rebel ground forces were eradicated by a low-powered blast from the newly arrived Death Star that destroyed the Citadel and surrounding area. The Sith Lord Darth Vader's forces made short work of the rebel ships that did not manage to retreat, but Princess Leia Organa escaped the battle in the Tantive IV; Vader pursued her to the planet Tatooine and captured her there, but the plans were already out of his reach. The plans eventually found their way to the Alliance, who used them to pinpoint the Death Star's weakness and destroy it at the Battle of Yavin.
Galen Walton Erso, a kyber crystal expert, was recruited by Orson Crennic, who served as the Director of Imperial Military Department of Advanced Weapons Research for the Galactic Empire, to Project Celestial Power, which Krennic claimed to be a project to provide unlimited energy. Erso soon discovered his research was being weaponized to create a superweapon, the Death Star, and escaped to the remote world of Lah'mu. In 13 BBY, Krennic, frustrated by the stalled work, located Erso and forcibly returned him to the project after killing his wife Lyra. However Erso's daughter Jyn escaped and joined Saw Gerrera's Partisans before being abandoned at the age of 16. Erso, although forced to continue research, put a subtle weakness into the the design of the Death Star that could destroy it completely.
Revelation on Jedha
- "We call it the Death Star. There is no better name, and the day is coming soon when it will be unleashed. I've placed a weakness deep within the system. A flaw so small and powerful, they will never find it...the reactor module, that's the key. That's the place I've laid my trap. It's well hidden and unstable, one blast to any part of it will destroy the entire station. You'll need the plans, the structural plans for the Death Star to find the reactor. I know there's a complete engineering archive in the data vault at the Citadel Tower on Scarif. Any pressurized explosion to the reactor module will set off a chain reaction that will destroy the entire station..."
- ―Galen Erso explains the flaw he purposely installed in the Death Star
In 0 BBY, As the construction on the Death Star neared its completion, Galen began to fear for what would happen if the superweapon was unleashed upon the galaxy. He gave a message to Bodhi Rook, an imperial cargo pilot who wished to defect, and instructed him to give the message to the Alliance, telling him to seek out Saw Gerrera, an old friend of his who lived on Jedha. Gerrera, however, had grown increasingly paranoid and doubted that Rook's defection was sincere, subjecting him to torture (via Bor Gullet) and imprisoning him.
Through contacts in the Partisans, Alliance intelligence operative Cassian Andor learned of Galen's message and Gerrera's capture of Rook. The now two-year-old Rebel Alliance then recruited Jyn to convince Gerrera to turn it over to them. Accompanying Andor and his droid K-2SO, she went to Jedha and was captured by the Partisans during an ambush on Imperial forces in Jedha City. With them were captured Guardians of the Whills Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus. Jyn met Gerrera, who eventually showed her the message.
In the message, Galen explained that he had purposely designed the Death Star's reactor module to be unstable so that any kind of pressurized explosion to the module would set off a chain reaction that would destroy the station completely, but in order to locate it, they'd need a full set of plans, which were located in the data vault of the Citadel Tower on Scarif. Before the message could finish and Jyn could physically take it with her, the Death Star arrived and destroyed Jedha City, killing Gerrera and forcing Jyn, Andor and their allies to withdraw.
They then set off for the planet Eadu, where Galen was headquartered, to bring him to the Alliance so he could help them himself. Krennic, suspecting Galen to have sent the message, arrived on Eadu to confront him. Andor, who had secret orders to eliminate Galen, relented on the verge of killing him. At that moment, an Alliance starfighter squadron arrived and bombarded the Imperial complex where Galen worked, killing him and forcing Krennic to retreat. Andor, Jyn and their team returned to Yavin-4 on a stolen Imperial cargo shuttle.
Formation of Rogue One
- "I'm not used to people sticking around when things go bad."
- ―Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor after Andor agrees to go to Scarif with her
After returning from Eadu, Jyn and Captain Andor participated in an Alliance Council meeting, where they told the gathered beings what they had learned about the Death Star, and that they needed to get the plans held at Scarif. Most were skeptical that such a weapon existed, and those that believed it did were unconvinced that it had a deliberate weakness on account of the fact that the news came from a criminal who was the daughter of an Imperial engineer-and thought that it would be better to hide or surrender. Disheartened, Erso walked away from the meeting, only to find that Andor and many others—including Chirrut Îmwe, Baze Malbus, and Bodhi Rook—were still willing to go with her and fight. Together, they called themselves "Rogue One" and undertook an unsanctioned mission to Scarif using the Imperial cargo shuttle that had been stolen earlier, and headed to the planet.
Once there, Rook transmitted the shuttle's clearance codes, which got them through the planetary shield and onto the surface. Around the same time, Director Krennic also returned to Scarif in order to have the command staff scour through any and all Death Star–related project files made by Galen Erso. Krennic's motive was to see if there were any irregularities after Darth Vader, who had castigated Krennic for compromising the Death Star's secrecy with his destruction of Jedha City, informed Krennic that he could only earn Emperor Palpatine's favor if he proved that Erso didn't reveal anything regarding the Death Star's weaknesses to the Rebellion.
The ground assault
- "Make ten men feel like a hundred."
- ―Captain Cassian Jeron Andor, to the soldiers of Rogue One
Aided by the element of surprise, Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor sent teams to set up a distraction to allow them to infiltrate the Citadel Tower and locate the plans. This was to be accomplished by first setting explosives all around the area. Erso and Andor, posing as Technician Kent Deezling and Lieutenant Colin Hakelia after knocking the two out and stealing their uniforms, proceeded to enter the Imperial Center of Military Research. They then lured a K-2X droid over to an isolated area so K-2SO could find the direct path to the plans via the droid's embedded map. K-2SO found the path and warned them that three squads of stormtroopers stood in their way. Andor then ordered the Marines to detonate the explosives. The battle began with Rebel Commandos setting off multiple explosives on the landing pads around the Scarif complex (shortly delayed by command center staff watching the explosions before Director Krennic ordered them to deploy the base garrison). This attracted many of the troopers at the base, providing Erso, Andor, and K-2SO the distraction they needed to get further inside the Citadel and search for the Death Star plans while the rest of Rogue One dealt with the complex garrison.
As the rest of Rogue One held down the line, Chirrut Îmwe alerted the Rebels to the presence of AT-ACTs. Now outmatched due to the presence of the walkers, the Rebels were forced to fall back to the beach, with a number of them being cut down by fire from stormtroopers and the pursuing walkers. As the Rebels reached a beach and dug in, Baze fired a smart rocket at a pursuing AT-ACT, to no effect. However, right before it could obliterate their position the walker was fired on and destroyed by Blue Squadron's X-wings, which had arrived to provide support. Another walker was brought down by a U-wing when its door-mounted ion cannon disabled its legs and a third exploded when an X-wing fired on its open cargo bed.
With Blue Squadron having made it through the shield gate, the Imperial air defenses were scrambled in order to defend the Citadel Tower from the rebel incursion. Rebel X-wings engaged the numerous TIE strikers stationed on Scarif, with both sides suffering substantial casualties. As the air battle raged on, Merrick ordered a U-wing gunship to reinforce the overwhelmed troops on the beach while the rest of the squadron defended them from Imperial fire. As the battle progressed, Director Krennic ordered the deployment of his death trooper guard squadron via TIE/rp Reaper attack lander. The transport was escorted by TIE strikers, which proved too much for General Merrick and resulted in his death. Rogue One continued to draw out the Imperial garrison, allowing Jyn and Cassian the time they needed to recover the plans.
- "This is Gold Leader, we're starting our attack run on the shield gate. Keep it tight and watch out for those towers!"
- ―Captain Jon Vander, to the rebel fleet
Rebel signals intelligence officer Tenzigo Weems intercepted an Imperial transmission of the presence of Rogue One on Scarif and informed Mon Mothma. Raddus had already left for his ship, and Rebel command mobilized the rest of their fighter aircraft. Following the arrival of the Alliance's fleet, Raddus ordered all squadron leaders to report in then assigned them duties; Red and Gold Squadrons were to defend the fleet, while Blue Squadron was ordered to get to the surface to reinforce those battling on the beaches. Twelve X-wings, including Blue Leader Antoc Merrick, and a single U-wing made it through the opening before Shield Gate control ordered the gate closed.
Seven other X-wings attempted to get through with the rest of their squadron, but none of them made it; one was shot down, two crashed into the shield, one collided with the gate station, and the other three pulled up and rejoined the space battle. The three fighters brought down the bridge shield generators of the Persecutor and shot down a TIE fighter. Renowned pilot Heff Tobber, flying a U-Wing under the callsign Blue Eight, was also unable to make it through the shield so supported the Green Squadron in the space battle. After Blue Squadron made it through the shield gate, Red Squadron attempted a diversionary attack on the gate. The squadron sent 10 of its X-wings to destroy the gate's defense turrets.
The squadron lost a number of their ships in the process to enemy fire but were able to severely damage many of the turbolasers. This tactic drew the attention of several defense turrets, creating an opening for Gold Squadron to begin their attack run on the shield gate. Using ten of their Y-wings, Gold Leader Captain Jon Vander instructed his pilots to begin their initial bombardment, warning his pilots to use caution around the defense towers. Gold Squadron conducted several bombing runs on the shield gate, utilizing proton bombs in the process. Three Y-wings were lost on the first run. The battle intensified as the Imperial forces launched TIE fighters from both Star Destroyers and the shield gate itself, which battered the Rebel cruisers with laser fire and shot down many starfighters, including Red Five (Pedrin Gaul). After seeing that there was no progress on that front, Admiral Raddus ordered the fleet to engage the Star Destroyers.
Transmitting the plans
Andor, K-2SO, and Jyn made their way to the data vault. After disabling the technician, K-2SO began searching for the files as Andor and Erso entered the vault. After the shield gate was closed, K-2SO suggested they transmit the plans to the fleet instead. However, due to the size of the datafiles, the planetary shield had to be taken down for them to be transmitted. Cassian tasked Bodhi with telling the Rebel fleet they had to destroy the shield gate to receive the plans. After noticing the dead technician, a multitude of stormtroopers besieged the main archive room, while K-2SO held many of them off with a single blaster pistol. After withstanding heavy blaster fire, K-2SO located the Death Star plans and marked the canister. He then locked Erso and Andor in the vault to allow them enough time to retrieve the plans, and was subsequently destroyed fending off stormtroopers, taking down the archive room console in the process.
In order to tell the Rebel fleet to destroy the shield gate, Bodhi directed Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus to the master power switch for communications on Scarif. The two turned off the signal disruptor, but perished doing so, though not before killing the entire complement of death troopers sent against them. Rook contacted the Alliance flagship and told them they had to destroy the shield gate to allow the Death Star plans to be transmitted to them. Shortly thereafter, a thermal imploder was thrown into his ship, killing him and destroying the shuttle.
Inside the Scarif Citadel Tower, Orson Krennic, along with two death troopers, opened a security door to the archive vault and began to shoot at Andor and Jyn. Andor killed the two troopers, but was hit by Krennic, rendering him unconscious. Jyn continued her ascent to the escape hatch at the top of the vault and exited onto the roof of the Citadel Tower. On top of the base was the communications dish. After reorienting it, Jyn prepared to send the plans to the Rebel fleet when Krennic appeared. Whilst Krennic confronted her, declaring the Empire's inevitable victory, Andor regained consciousness and made his way to the roof of the station. Right before Krennic was about to kill Jyn, Andor shot the director.
Far above, the Alliance Fleet was taking a significant beating. Although the rebel fleet scrambled its ships and defense cannons, endless waves of TIE fighters battered the rebel ships, destroying a GR-75 medium transport and damaging one of the Nebulon-B frigates, while the Profundity's shielding was reduced to half strength. Gold Leader ordered his squadron to form on his wing, informing them that a path had been cleared. Along with four of his squadron mates, Vander launched multiple ion torpedoes at at one of the two Star Destroyers, the Persecutor, disabling it. After receiving Rook's transmission, Admiral Raddus contacted a Sphyrna-class Hammerhead corvette and explained his plan to break open the shield.
The corvette he had chosen to carry out his plan was the Lightmaker, commanded by Kado Oquoné. The ship had earlier sustained heavy damage and was covering the line of retreat. The ship had evacuated all non-essential personnel, leaving just a skeleton crew behind, including Oquoné himself, and, on Raddus' orders, the corvette rammed the disabled Destroyer. Lightmaker then activated its sublight engines, sending Persecutor on a collision course for the other Star Destroyer, the Intimidator. Admiral Gorin, seeing the incoming hazard, ordered full reverse thrust to avoid the collision, but it was too late. As the two Star Destroyers collided, they broke apart and fell towards Scarif, crashed into the orbital docking station that controlled the deflector shield, and disabled it. With the shield down, Jyn and Andor were able to transmit the Death Star plans to the Profundity.
Immediately after the transmission of the plans, the Death Star exited hyperspace. Tarkin, aware of Darth Vader's impending arrival aboard the Devastator, chose to ignore the rebel ships and instead ordered a single-reactor ignition aimed at the Citadel base on Scarif. Regaining consciousness on top of the Citadel Tower, Krennic looked into the sky to see the Death Star looming over the base. Watched by the horrified Rebel fleet, the superlaser fired upon the surface. The beam vaporized the top third of the Citadel Tower, which was in its direct path, and impacted the surface several kilometers away. Soon after, everyone at the base (including Erso and Andor), along with the Imperial security complex, were vaporized and destroyed by the monumental aftereffects of the impact.
Once the Alliance forces received the Death Star schematics, they attempted to escape to hyperspace. Three CR90 corvettes, two GR-75 transports, one Hammerhead corvette— the Consonance— and a number of starfighters made the jump in time, but the others were intercepted by the Devastator as it suddenly emerged from hyperspace. Three Y-wings, two X-wings and a Dornean gunship successfully took evasive action to avoid crashing into it, but a GR-75 transport was obliterated as it crashed onto the Destroyer's hull when it couldn't pull away in time. Vader's flagship immediately opened up its forward batteries, aiming for the Profundity; one unfortunate Nebulon-B frigate was caught in the barrage instead and split in half under the sheer firepower. The Destroyer then turned its guns on the Profundity while the rest of the ships scattered. The flagship's already weakened shields gave way, and the ship was crippled by further barrages.
- "That… thing. In the hallway, while we were trying to get off the Profundity. It killed at least a dozen of my men, cut them down like they were nothing. Blasters had no effect, it just kept on coming, kept on killing. It was like… like a nightmare. I've never seen anything like it, like some kind of death angel."
- ―Jefkin describes Darth Vader's attack
After disabling the Profundity, Vader, along with a contingent of stormtroopers, boarded the ship in an attempt to regain the Death Star plans. The Rebels meanwhile downloaded a complete set of the plans onto a data disk and prepared to evacuate them on the Tantive IV, which had been damaged in a previous mission and therefore had been unable to take part in the Battle of Scarif. However, the Profundity experienced a sudden power loss as the troopers attempted to board the corvette, jamming an automatic door in the path of the Rebels. As they attempted to pull the door open, Vader caught up with them and butchered the entire group. However, the trooper holding the data disk managed to pass it to another soldier, second officer Toshma Jefkin, through a gap in the door before being impaled by Vader.
Jefkin ran with the plans, passing into the Tantive as his colleagues gave their lives to slow the Dark Lord for a few precious moments. He dove through the corvette's airlock and screamed for it to be launched, and one of the other troopers disengaged the Profundity's hangar docking clamps, leaving Vader and the rest of the boarding party to watch as the Rebel ship escaped. The ship, captained by Raymus Antilles and carrying Princess and Senator Leia Organa, jumped to hyperspace before it could be intercepted by the Devastator, thus ending the Battle of Scarif. Vader and his party then left the Profundity, after which it was destroyed, killing Raddus and the rest of the Rebel crew.
- "You are part of the Rebel Alliance, and a traitor! Take her away!"
- ―Darth Vader to Princess Leia
The Battle of Scarif was the first major victory for the fledgling Rebel Alliance in their war against the Empire. Having restrained itself from openly engaging the Empire, this was the first time the rebellion had deliberately deployed its fleet in open combat and though it took heavy losses, was able to hold its own. The theft of the plans was a major embarrassment to the Empire, and though few believed that they would reveal any weakness in the station, it was deemed imperative that the plans be returned.
With the Death Star plans in the hands of Princess Leia, the Tantive IV was pursued by the Devastator, where Vader personally oversaw the operation. The Devastator followed the Tantive IV to the desert world of Tatooine, where Vader captured the princess and brought her to the Death Star. Imperial forces, meanwhile, searched for two droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO, the former of whom held the Death Star plans. The droids came into the possession of Luke Skywalker, who, along with Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and the smuggling partners Han Solo and Chewbacca, made his way to the Death Star and rescued Organa. Although Kenobi was killed by Vader, his former apprentice, during the escape, the princess and the others traveled to the Rebel base on Yavin 4 and participated in the Battle of Yavin. The battle was conceived after the Rebels analyzed the Death Star plans and discovered the weakness: an exposed thermal exhaust port, which Luke Skywalker exploited to destroy the Death Star during the battle.
The death of Pedrin Gaul (Red Five) opened up a space in Red Squadron that would later be occupied by Skywalker.
Behind the scenes
- "It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet."
- ―The Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope opening crawl
The event that became the Battle of Scarif was first described in the opening crawl of the 1977 film Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope, the first installment of the Star Wars original trilogy. The event is the central plot of the 2016 Star Wars Anthology film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. In Star Wars Legends, the battle where the plans were stolen was identified as the Battle of Toprawa, while the operation as a whole was identified as Operation Skyhook.
Writer Gary Whitta originally pitched two different ideas for the battle's ending which ultimately went unused in the film. One included having Krennic surviving the Death Star's blast on Scarif, unlike the Rebels, only to be killed aboard a Star Destroyer by Darth Vader for failing to stop the theft of the Death Star plans. This concept was scrapped because Krennic's survival would have been too far-fetched. The other proposed ending included Darth Vader's presence on Scarif's surface. He would slaughter a group of Rebels on his way to the Imperial security complex, but would arrive too late. This scene was replaced by the scene of Vader boarding the Profundity.
Earlier plans for the Star Wars Rebels animated series included the idea of having the Spectres stealing the Death Star plans. These plans, however, were dropped by Dave Filoni after Rogue One entered development. Filoni then decided that the show would focus on Ezra Bridger's story.
Notes and references
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope
- Star Wars Helmet Collection 79 (Highlights of the Saga: The Battle of Scarif)
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi: Incredible Cross-Sections
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story novelization
- Star Wars: On the Front Lines
- Star Wars Resistance – "The Recruit"
- Star Wars: The Rebel Files
- Star Wars: Rogue One: The Ultimate Visual Guide
- Cinefex 151
- "Raymus"—From a Certain Point of View
- Star Wars: Geektionary: The Galaxy from A - Z
- "The Saga of Rey" – Star Wars Encyclopedia
- Star Wars radio drama
- Star Wars Battlefront: Rogue One: Scarif