There has been a view of the rebellion for close to 40 years now that they were fighting for freedom but doing so in a way that made them better than the Empire they rebelled against. In movies you never got the idea that they would resort to the tactics of the Empire: fear, pain, and suffering. But for the first time this has changed and it started when we were introduced to Cassian.
We had a whisper of an idea that not everyone in the rebellion was as honorable as the heroes we grew up knowing and loving. In novel Bloodline Casterfo mentions the assault on Vivonah and the Campaigns of Gerrera’s Partisans as terrorist tactics that the rebellion employed. However he also used the destruction of the Death Star as proof of the Rebellion being terrorists and the actions of Empire being caused by the rebellion after Rebels left a base so perhaps he is not the best source. I was left with the feeling that the Partisans were a different branch and not representative of the rebellion as a whole. Rogue One changed that.
When we meet Cassian he is gathering information from what current spy organizations would call an asset. Someone that is privy to knowledge that could be used against your enemy but is not a member of your organization. When his asset cannot escape and is facing capture Cassian kills him. He does this to protect the rebellion or at least that is his rational. If the asset was caught he might turn over the information he has provided and put members of the rebellion in danger. Cassian is cold and calculating when he does this and frankly it is counter to the tactics of the rebellion we grew up with. The idea was always to prevent loss, to protect those that cannot protect themselves and do what is right no matter what.
This new theme of the rebels doing what is expedient over what is right continues when Cassain meets with his superiors. General Draven orders Cassian to assassinate Galen Erso to prevent him from completing his work. This made little sense when the order was initially given as capture would give the Rebels more to work with. Once it was clear that Erso was working against his will and that the work was complete capture and interrogate makes much more sense. Instead Draven doubled down ordering Cassian to kill Galen anyway and sending ships in to destroy the base he was kept at. While Cassian changes his mind at the last minute the head of Rebel intel still gets the result that makes the Rebellion look bad and loses them key information.
After all this Jyn goes back to the Rebel high council and can’t convince them to fight against this giant war machine. Half of them tuck tail and decide to run and hide. This again seems counter to what we know of the rebellion. It is only after Jyn and Cassian steal a ship and go on a suicide mission AND Admiral Raddus ignores the Rebel council and follows Jyn to Scarrif that the Rebels kick into action as a unified group.
Does this mean that throughout the series Leia, Luke, and Han were oblivious to the underhanded tactics of the Rebellion? I don’t think so. I think the story that Rogue One tells is what ultimately creates the Rebellion we grew up with. The destruction of Alderaan is nail in the coffin that was the shadier parts of the Rebellion, they could not allow there actions to be used as the Empire’s justification for loss of civilian/innocent life.
However, there is still the question of how these shadier elements emerged. Star Wars Rebels gives a unique opportunity to show how these sort of things developed. Where and when did they emerge? Even more interesting is that if they do emerge on Rebels, how will our characters react? Will Ezra rebel against these acts much like Anakin did toward the Jedi? Time will tell.