It’s right there in the title, and “Rogue One” proves to be most definitely a “Star Wars” story. As a spinoff chapter with a cast of new characters and a darker, grittier look and tone, the possibilities were endless for just how different “Rogue One” could be. The wait is over and the results are in: It doesn’t break the mold in terms of franchise formula, and it’s an enjoyable installment in the “Star Wars” canon. However, it’s not much more than that.
The title separates “Rogue One” from “Episodes” 1-7, but it feels like watching an episode of a series, despite the self-contained story. Written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, directed by Gareth Edwards, it uses the same well-established cinematic language of “Star Wars.” In terms of the timeline, consider “Rogue One” to be around Episode 3, a chapter of Rebel Alliance history briefly alluded to in “Episode 4 – A New Hope.”
This chapter concerns a rebel effort to thwart a world-destroying weapon wielded by the Imperial forces, led by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), a sneering, ambitious captain, resplendent in a white cape and jodhpurs. Continuing in the trend started by last year’s sensational “The Force Awakens,” “Rogue One” has a steely loner heroine at its center, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the long-lost daughter of Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), a weapons scientist forced to work for the Empire.
Jyn’s been on her own since childhood, but her familial connections make her an asset for the Rebel Alliance fighting the Empire. She’s soon teamed up with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a lifelong rebel, and his reprogrammed Imperial droid, the droll K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who offers strategic assessments with absolutely no tact or filter. Along the way, they pick up pilot Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), spiritual warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donny Yen) and his buddy Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). Legendary martial artist Yen steals the movie as Chirrut, a blind, bow-staff wielding worshiper of the Force.
The plot follows the standard action-adventure format about a band of plucky fighters in pursuit of a little thingamabob that might save the world. Blasting and shooting and crashing and exploding ensue. But if you have a sense of the main events of the series, there inevitably comes a creeping sense of darkness over the proceedings, as you deduce the foregone conclusion.
Despite that pallor, the third act is a bombastic, unrelenting action sequence on the tropical beaches of the planet Scarif. It’s all a bit much – the fighting is overkill, literally. A glut of heroic moments in a row drain the impact of each one individually. But the film sticks the landing on the emotional payoff beautifully.
There have been debates over whether “Rogue One” contains overt political messages. The franchise represents escapist blockbuster fantasy, but politics have always been central to the films’ conflicts, and as it is, “Rogue One” is decidedly for standing up to dictatorships and abuse of power. Audiences can and will draw their own conclusions to current events in light of exhortations like “save the rebellion, save the dream,” and “rebellions are built on hope.” But “Rogue One” is open enough to be what you want, and if that only happens to be a very good “Star Wars” installment, this’ll do just fine.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Cast: Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Donny Yen
Director: Gareth Edwards
Length: 133 minutes
Rating: PG-13 (extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action)
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