Movie Review - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One Looks to the Past as it Begins a Bold New Chapter for Star Wars
By Felix Quinonez Jr.
December 23, 2016

We're, like, with the Empire and stuff.

Hitting the ground running, Rogue One, directed by Gareth Edwards, wastes no time establishing itself as a thrilling piece of pop entertainment. The first of a planned anthology series stands on its own and is a great addition to the Star Wars saga. The movie takes place between Revenge of the Sith (2005) and A New Hope, (1977) both directed by George Lucas. And its events bring audiences full circle to the place where Star Wars began almost 40 years ago.

It's hard to imagine now, but a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars was just an idea dreamt up by George Lucas. Back then, it was far from a guaranteed success. In fact, at the time of its release, fewer than 50 theaters had ordered Star Wars (now known as A New Hope). In response, 20th Century Fox made the decision to only provide prints of the highly anticipated movie, The Other Side of Midnight, to theaters that also ordered Star Wars.

It was a gamble that paid off more than anyone could have ever imagined. It changed the face of the movie industry and its impact is still felt to this day. By the time the original trilogy came to a close in 1983, it was one of the most beloved series of all time. It became a juggernaut that took over the world and captured the minds of generations of fans.

So, when a second trilogy was announced, audiences waited with bated breath. Unfortunately, those movies couldn't recapture what made the originals so special. When Revenge of the Sith wrapped up the prequel trilogy, the series had calcified and grown stale. It went out with a whimper rather than a bang. It seemed that Star Wars had to go away for a little while so that the creators could dream it all up again.

The prequels erased a lot of the goodwill the series had earned, and there was a feeling that the shine had come off. Because of this, some were surprised when Disney bought LucasFilm for $4 billion in 2012. The fact is that the merchandise alone would have made it a smart buy.

But Disney wasn't ready to rest on its laurels, and they quickly announced their plans to kick-start a new trilogy and an anthology series. Understandably, Disney wants to keep the Star Wars saga going for a very long time.

The Force Awakens, directed by JJ Abrams, was the triumphant return to the big screen for Star Wars. Critics and fans alike embraced the movie, released in December of 2015, and it went on to gross over $2 billion worldwide in theaters.

By getting rid of the bloated excess of the prequels, The Force Awakens distilled Star Wars to its core elements. It also brought back some of the old favorites and pushed the original saga forward.

Although Rogue One doesn't continue the story from The Force Awakens, it shares the same kinetic energy and dives right in. There's something subtly telling about the fact that, for the first time, a Star Wars movie ditched the opening text crawl. It's a mission statement of sorts, announcing that this Star Wars story would be different.

Research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is living as a recluse with his family. Unfortunately, he is found by Imperial weapons developer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) who wants him to return so he can finish his work on a weapon known as the Death Star. After his wife is killed, Galen reluctantly agrees to return. But his daughter, Jyn survives and she is taken in by a Rebel, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Fifteen years later, a series of events bring Jyn (Felicity Jones) into the middle of the struggle between the rebellion and the empire. An imperial cargo shuttle pilot, Bhodi Rook (Riz Ahmed), has smuggled a holographic message from Galen with the hopes of getting it to Gerrera. The rebels free Jyn from Imperial captivity because they believe that Gerrera will be more receptive if she's the one delivering the message. Jyn believes they will rescue her father, but the real plan is to kill him to stop the completion of the death star.

Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is assigned to travel with Jyn as her handler and pilot. K-2SO (Voiced by Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed enemy droid, comes with them. Along the way, they pick up two more allies, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).

The message reveals the Death Star's design and its weakness. It also directs them to find the plans at an Imperial high-security data bank on the planet Scarif. From there on, this rag-tag team of would-be heroes has to steal those plans and get them to the rebellion so they can destroy the death star.

It's a pretty simple story, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. One of the biggest problems with the prequels was how convoluted they were. So Rogue One, like The Force Awakens, benefits from being lean. It's a desperate mission that finds the rebels putting their lives on the line. What it lacks in narrative complexity, it more than makes up for with raw energy and strong characters.

Jyn is another strong female lead, cut from the same cloth as Rey (Daisy Ridley) from The Force Awakens. Like Rey, she also has some abandonment issues. Felicity Jones is a live wire and gives a powerful performance, displaying both strength and warmth.

Diego Luna also shines as the morally conflicted officer Cassian. He is slowly realizing that things aren't as black and white as he had hoped and has doubts about his role and mission. Chirrut and Baze are also great additions to the team. The blind warrior monk, Chirrut, is especially memorable. And K-2S0, adds some much needed levity. On the other hand, Bhodi gets a bit shortchanged.

But a movie like this needs to have some eye-catching action, and Rogue One delivers in spades. The set pieces are top notch and the last act is filled with edge of your seat thrills. It makes the audience feel like they're in the battle along with the rebels. But more importantly, it earns its big emotional ending.

There will no doubt be comparisons made to The Force Awakens, particularly when it comes its box office performance. But Rogue One, almost by design, limits at least some of its appeal. The Force Awakens was a giant, four-quadrant pop song of a movie. On the other hand, Rogue One doesn't shy away from the violence and despondency that usually hides beneath the surface in the Star Wars universe.

It's about as dark as can be expected from a movie that also happens to be a hugely budgeted cog in the well-oiled Disney money-making machine. It's undeniably dark but there's always hope, or at least the possibility of it, beyond the horizon. And K-2S0 provides plenty of comic relief.

Rogue One is a beautifully shot, wonderfully acted movie that sticks with you. It has plenty of Easter eggs and callbacks, but they don't obnoxiously draw attention to themselves. It even manages to retroactively turn the death star's long derided, ridiculous weakness into a story element with surprising resonance.

And while the ending moment is a bit on the nose, it's also effective and moving. Rogue One continues the resurgence of the Star Wars franchise and sets the bar very high for the upcoming movies.