When Gareth Edwards and the cast of Rogue One descended upon Star Wars Celebration last month, we learned a tiny bit about some of the locations we'd see in the movie — including Jedha, a spiritual home for Force users all over the galaxy. But now we have a little more about why the Imperials are so interested in the planet. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Edwards discussed Jedha's place as a planet of spiritual pilgrimage in a world where the Jedi have been blotted out of existence — it's now pretty much a place that exemplifies the galaxy we see in the original Star Wars films, one just two decades removed from the Jedi but already treating them like a long-lost myth:
The Force is basically in Star Wars like a religion, and they're losing their faith in the period that we start the movie. We were trying to find a physical location we could go to that would speak to the themes of losing your faith and the choice between letting the Empire win, or evil win, and good prevailing. It got embodied in this place we called Jedha.
But interestingly, Edwards goes on to tease that the Empire are on Jedha for reasons beyond the fact that it was formerly a Force-user stronghold:
It was essentially taken over by the Empire. It's an occupied territory… for reasons we probably can't reveal.
There's something very important in Jedha that serves both the Jedi and the Empire. It felt very much like something we could relate to in the real world.
It's not confirmed, but Entertainment Weekly goes on to speculate (and heavily imply) that that something might be a familiar piece of Star Wars lore: A source of kyber crystals, the rare mineral that focuses, and gives colour to, the blade of a lightsaber.
But in both the old expanded universe and the Disney canon, kyber crystals were also used in the construction of the Death Star's superlaser to focus the beam of deadly energy. So if Jedha is a place where they can be found as EW speculates, that would make sense as something Jedi and Imperial alike would covet. It might not be the case, but for now, it makes a decent amount of sense!