Yes, we knew there was going to be a victorious rebellion, but it could have been more of a triumphant win.
It’s a risky – and dare it be said, roguish – move, to release a stand-alone Star Wars movie outside of the classic saga series that fans know and love so well. Riskier still would be hiring a director with only three feature films to his name (including just one blockbuster) to pilot and land that Millennium Falcon-sized ship. But in theaters everywhere this Friday is “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” directed by Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”). Following the efforts of a rag-tag team of Resistance fighters to steal secrets from the mighty Empire, Edwards successfully steps in to the world that George Lucas created and assembles an action-packed and entertaining, if not conforming, addition to the Star Wars universe that gets a passing grade.
Although “Rogue One,” which qualifies its title with the further “A Star Wars Story,” is the first companion movie to be released outside of the Star Wars saga, it still tangentially ties into the series, taking place directly before the events of the movie that started them all, “Episode IV: A New Hope,” which ended with Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star by way of blasting into a critically-exposed opening. “Rogue One” explains the origin of how Skywalker and his Rebel alliance friends received the Death Star’s blueprints in the first place, as we follow a new cast of characters – who are certainly the most diversely-cast of any Star Wars film – as the unsung rebel heroes that infiltrate and retrieve the plans from right under the Empire’s nose. Here, then, it’s a different kind of warring that takes place between good and evil, where boots on the ground combat and aerial dogfights put more emphasis on the “war” in the franchise’s name.
“Rogue One” nests out what little room for originality it can, Edwards adding many more textures to these Star Wars worlds like stormy hard-rock mountain regions and a battle on the beach finale that harkens to the Invasion of Normany, while also introducing a fun new cast of characters.
“Rogue One” may open with its infamous “Long Time Ago” title card, but the absence of the traditional serial title crawl doesn’t give us any precursory backstory into where we’ve just been or where we’re headed next. After an opening that sees the kidnapping of scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) by the high-ranking Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and a crew of Deathtroopers for the purpose of building a secret weapon for the Empire (it’s no moon…), we flash-forward to some years later where Galen’s orphaned daughter (a trait that links many Star Wars characters), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), has grown up to live the life of a criminal and thief, seemingly bored to be locked up for the current moment. That is, until the Rebel alliance, led by the dashing leader Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his wise-cracking maintenance droid sidekick K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), rescue Jyn so that she can both help locate legendary Rebel fighter Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) as well as her father, who, being the leading architect of the weapon that’s rumored to be the most destructive weapon in existence – the Death Star – can offer further intel. Together, with a group of rebels including Imperial defector Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), Force-channeling Chirrut Îmwet (Donnie Yen), and blaster-blazing Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), the group formulate a plan to find Galen and steal the Death Star’s plans to bring back to their base in order to stop their imminent destruction.
I’m hesitant to caution of any further spoilers to follow (although a few familiar faces do pop up, including one heavy-breathing baddie in black), mostly because there aren’t that many spoilers that “Rogue One” can really offer up that would truly surprise audiences, since its more or less locked from deviating from the series of events in the films that follow. With these restraints, “Rogue One” nests out what little room for originality it can, Edwards adding many more textures to these Star Wars worlds like stormy hard-rock mountain regions and a battle on the beach finale that harkens to the Invasion of Normandy, while also introducing a fun new cast of characters like Alan Tudyk’s comic relief K-2SO (who feel much more human than Felicity Jones’ woefully underdeveloped Jyn Erso), but it doesn’t have the luxury of being able to think outside of the box in terms of plot beyond that.
“Rogue One” will most likely satisfy fans who like their Star Wars heavy on the nostalgia with a heaping side of homage. But in terms of offering anything new, it’s more imitative than inventive, recycling what made the original movies so great rather than further develop or explore what else could be introduced and enter the pop culture for a new generation. For better or for worse, it’s connective tissue entertainment that deserves a nod for Edwards and company for even navigating the terrains as they did while steering this gigantic ship holding anxious Disney Studio execs rolling the dice on this first stand-alone movie outing. So it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that this movie that plays rebellion actually sacrifices its real rogue streak (the rumors of the extent to which re-shoots were needed imply as much) and ends up conforming in all the ways it has to in order to bridge the gap between the rest of the saga’s series in motion. Yes, we knew there was going to be a victorious rebellion, but it could have been more of a triumphant win.
133 min. ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action. In theaters everywhere this Friday.