Ever since George Lucas sold the rights to “Star Wars” to Disney a few years ago, the franchise has taken some bold steps into the future, although none have been bolder than “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
This film marks a stark departure from the seven films that have come before and in many ways charts a promising path forward for the expansion of the “Star Wars” cinematic universe.
“Rogue One” is unique because it serves as a standalone film, not as a part of a trilogy exploring the interplanetary dysfunction of the Skywalker family.
But it also stands apart thematically, playing out more like a gritty World War II, “Dirty Dozen,” guys-on-a-mission movie than a grand space opera.
However, the Star Wars DNA courses through the veins of this film and the result is a spectacular action tale featuring terrific performances and eye-popping special effects.
The movie is a two-hour realization of those scrolling yellow words that first introduced audiences to all this craziness back in 1977.
What we were told is Rebel spies had stolen plans to the ultimate weapon, the Death Star, during a battle that marked the Rebels’ first victory over the evil Galactic Empire.
What we’ve been left to ponder these past 40 years is, who were these spies and how did they possibly manage to pull this off? Well, wonder no longer.
“Rogue One” focuses on Jyn Erso (courageously played by Felicity Jones), the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a brilliant scientist who has been forced to work on the construction of the Death Star by Empire stooge Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn, who does some expert, villainous scenery-chewing).
When the Rebellion stumbles upon Jyn, they press her into service on a mission to find her father and find out what he knows about the Death Star. Along the way, she receives help from a motley crew of resistors, including Rebel assassin Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his no-nonsense, comic-relief droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a splinter group leader, and Jyn’s estranged father figure Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker, gleefully making all the odd acting choices), a defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a blind, warrior/guardian of a Jedi temple (but not a Jedi himself) Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and his oversized-blaster-wielding enforcer Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang).
There are also several fun little cameos from beloved Star Wars characters, but, for the most part, the movie is carried on the shoulders of these newbies.
Director Gareth Edwards (best known for directing the 2014 “Godzilla” reboot) does an excellent job of keeping humanity at the forefront of this special effects extravaganza so when the climactic battle rages we actually care about the characters more than the explosions (although the explosions are pretty cool).
This is unquestionably the most “adult” of any movie bearing the Star Wars trademark and might be a little too dark for younger children. There are some quibbles here and there, but for the most part “Rogue One” is a roaring success that can be even be enjoyed by people who couldn’t even begin to tell you the difference between Jedi and a Jawa.
And for super-fans, this movie brings a surprising new energy and edge to “Episode IV” that will make you want to run home and pop in your copy just so you can see Luke blow up the Death Star and make all of the efforts and sacrifices in “Rogue One” that much more worth it.
In addition to giving us exactly what we should expect from our blockbuster event movies, “Rogue One” means we’ve only just begun to explore this galaxy far, far away. This is an exciting prospect for both the franchise and movie fans alike.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.