Movie review: ‘Rogue One’ continues strong resurgence for ‘Star Wars’ saga
—There’s a brief line in the middle of “Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope.” You might have missed it. But when the plans for the Death Star are unveiled, the woman leading the meeting notes that many people died to bring the rebellion the plans.
Did you ever wonder how they got the plans? Who went and got them? What was the battle like? Well, if those have been burning questions for you, you’re in luck. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the first stand alone “Star Wars” film not tied to the trilogies. In this case, it’s the story of how a band of rebels captured the Death Star plans.
Given that, you probably have a feeling how this movie is going to end. But this isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. And it’s a journey that’s incredibly well crafted.
“Rogue One” picks up with a young Jyn Erso caught in the crossfire of an Imperial plan to use her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), to build the ultimate weapon. The Empire’s chief science officer, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), comes to return Galen to service and, in the process, Jyn’s mother is killed and she’s left behind. Jyn is rescued by her father’s friend, a rebel leader named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
Fast forward a few years and Jyn (Felicity Jones) is a criminal serving time in an Imperial prison under an assumed name. Soon, the rebellion comes to break her out and take her to their headquarters. Turns out they need her help.
The rebellion has gotten wind of a new weapon being developed by Jyn’s father. In addition, Galen has sent an Imperial cargo pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), to Gerrera with an urgent message.
In exchange for her freedom, Jyn agrees to accompany rebel Captain Andor (Diego Luna) to Gerrera to get the message and give the rebellion a leg up. What she finds is more than she expected, as she gets pulled into a mission that could save the rebellion all together.
This film serves to fill in some of the blanks when it comes to the wider “Star Wars” narrative. In fact, it ties in nicely to “A New Hope” with computer-generated effects bringing back Grand Moff Tarkin (the deceased Peter Cushing) and directly to the opening of “A New Hope” with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher).
But this is also a film that tells its own story and introduces us to some new characters. And there’s a lot riding on this film, as Disney wants to see if the audience appetite for “Star Wars” films extends beyond the traditional narrative. Judging by the box office returns, it does.
At least it does when the story is well told. This film benefits from the screenplay and story work done by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, who get screenplay credit, and director Gareth Edwards, who was viewed as an unconventional choice for this kind of franchise film. It’s hard to know if the “Rogue One” released matches his original vision due to some of the stories about how this film was “worked on” in post production. But the finished product works, and feels different from previous films.
This is more of a war film, and of course it’s not hard to guess how things are going to turn out for our intrepid heroes given what we know of the larger narrative. But this film does a nice job of telling its story and building its characters. It is on par with the early trilogy and is one of the better “Star Wars” films.
I liked Jones in the lead role. She’s a different kind of character for these films, but it works well. The supporting cast is also strong. Luna and Ahmed do a nice job in starring roles. I also liked the work of Alan Tudyk as the voice of K-2SO and Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang, who round out the main group.
Mendelsohn is a talented actor, and should make for a good villain, but I thought he was simply OK in this film. Part of it could be that his character is one of the least developed, and part of it is because many of his scenes come against the CGI Tarkin, which was a weak point in the film for me.
But as a fan of the series, I appreciated all the references to the original films contained in “Rogue One.” We also got to see a little Darth Vader, who was portrayed a bit differently than we’ve seen in other films. We got to see a little more of the dark and menacing Vader, which is fun for longtime fans.
This isn’t a perfect film, nor is it the best “Star Wars” film, but it’s one of the more satisfying blockbusters of 2016. That’s no small feat considering the weight of expectation for these films. It’s a movie that all “Star Wars” fans will want to see, preferably on the big screen.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
Four stars out of four.