Review: ‘Rogue One’ a blast for ‘Star Wars’ fans
“Rogue One” is groundbreaking for the “Star Wars” franchise, a rousing side story that blows the doors wide open for future installments of the series.
That it stands on its own as a slam-bam action thrill ride is a bonus. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” delivers everything fans would want from a “Star Wars” movie: stirring action, beloved familiar faces, and a deepening of the mythology of the series. Everyone wins.
It wasn’t all that long ago that we were slogging through new “Star Wars” entries with a sense of duty and an air of resignation. But since the series was wrestled from the stiff control of creator George Lucas, who with his three prequels seemed to forget everything that made “Star Wars” fun, “Star Wars” has been given new life, first with last year’s spirited “The Force Awakens” and now with “Rogue One.”
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the future has never been brighter.
(Warning: The very lightest of spoilers and plot descriptions lie ahead, but there is nothing here that will tarnish your experience of the film.)
“Rogue One” makes it clear right away that it stands apart from the main “Star Wars” films by skipping the traditional opening crawl as well as John Williams’ booming, iconic intro theme. It does, however, open with the familiar “A long time ago...” title card, placing viewers square inside the “Star Wars” universe.
Inside that universe, “Rogue One” acts as a bridge between the events of the prequels and those of the original trilogy. As it opens we meet young Jyn Erso, whose father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is a “collaborator” on Imperial weaponry, including the Death Star, the space station headquarters made famous in the first “Star Wars” film. He is apprehended by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn at his oily best), an officer with the Imperial Military, and Jyn flees capture by burrowing in a nearby bunker.
Years later, Jyn (Felecity Jones, Oscar-nominated for “The Theory of Everything”) is grown and heads up a Rebel team that sets out to steal the blueprints for the Death Star to blow it to smithereens. Her team includes Casian Andor (Diego Luna), a Rebel officer; Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior who believes in the power of the Force; and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), an assassin who lugs around some pretty hefty weaponry.
The group is rather bland in terms of personality; you miss the brash attitude of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo and the feisty interplay between him and Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, the human elements upon which the base of “Star Wars” was built. The most lively member of the new bunch, oddly enough, is K-2SO (voiced and motion captured by Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed Imperial droid that looks like the Iron Giant’s gangly teenage son and gets the best wisecracks in the movie.
On board the Death Star, Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) is in stern command of the ship. This is notable because Cushing died in 1994, and while his on-screen resurrection isn’t perfect, it’s seamless enough that it doesn’t disrupt the flow of the movie. We’ve certainly come a long way, technology-wise, since Fred Astaire was brought back to life to dance with a vacuum cleaner.
It’s a “Star Wars” movie, so it’s of course dense with interplanetary travel and trips to spots like Jedha, Wobani and Scarif, which could throw off casual fans. But the script by Tony Gilroy (“Michael Clayton”) and Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”) doesn’t get bogged down with trade federations or political nuance, like the Lucas prequels. It sticks to the simple story of a team of good guys going up against a federation of bad guys and holding onto hope. “Rebellions are built on hope,” Jyn says at one point to her team.
Director Gareth Edwards (2014’s “Godzilla”) does an effective job of grounding the film; one of the battles looks like a scene of modern warfare you might see on the nightly news. Other allusions to current world events can be gleaned; “You’re confusing peace with terror,” Galen tells Orson in an early scene, to which Orson replies, “well, you have to start somewhere.”
Edwards stages roughly the final third of the film as a non-stop action sequence, sprinkling in just enough cameos from the original characters to keep things fresh and reward viewers.
We’re now at a point in the “Star Wars” trajectory where fan theories can be made whole; “Rogue One” proves there’s no corner of the “Star Wars” universe too small to warrant its own story. What was really going on in that Cantina? That’s a movie. Who designed the original AT-ATs? Make the movie. What about the Jar Jar Binks origin story? Well, let’s not get carried away.
Both “The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” play like a group of fanboys got together and decided to make “Star Wars” great again. No great risks are being taken with the series, it’s still being handled with delicacy, and “Rogue One” plays it safe. But in this case, safe is plenty. “Rogue One” is a blast.
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’
Running time: 134 minutes