How does Rogue One: A Star Wars story stack up to the legendary Star Wars franchise? Find out by reading our movie review:Rogue One is the first Star Wars movie to open without the booming John Williams score or the expository text crawl. I braced for the silence of the credits to be obliterated by that familiar theme, but was surprised that it never came. The opening sentence of placing the setting a long time ago in a galaxy far away is still present, but the movie still makes itself clear as not being a normal Star Wars story.
Without the baggage of adhering to strict Star Wars plots and characters, director Gareth Edwards is able to take this franchise in a radically new direction for this one-shot prequel that plays as anything but predictable. This is the Star Wars universe we know, but not the same old Star Wars formula. No expected pluckiness, no required lightsaber duels and no guarantee that every hero will live.
Taking place before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope, the planet-destroying weapon of the Death Star, sometimes mistaken for a moon, is nearly completed and the Empire is eager to give their new toy a test. But the Rebellion forces that oppose the Empire are still in the dark about what this weapon is and what it is called.
They decide to enlist the help of the troublesome criminal Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) seeing as how her father (Mads Mikkelsen) was working on the Empire’s secret projects. She hasn’t seen him since she was a child, but the Rebellion still believes her to be an asset given her more recent interactions with rebel fighter Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), an aged cyborg that has lost his legs and his mind.
She’s not alone in her tough mission of infiltrating the Empire. The Rebellion allies her with risk-taker Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his smart-mouthed droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), but she acquires more comrades in her travels. The blind and Force-spiritual Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and his trigger-happy pal Baze (Jiang Wen) make a capable pair of warriors in combat, both close and distant. A defecting Empire pilot provides the perfect in for helping Jyn and her pals evade security and infiltrate Imperial strongholds.
They’re a colorful bunch that work together as well as any ragtag group of outlaws banding together for a common good, but they are also focused enough to not rely on punctuating quips or emotional mistakes. We don’t delve too deep into these characters’ pasts, but perhaps we don’t need to. There’s not enough time to be charismatically comical or forlornly nostalgic when Stormtroopers are shooting at you with their entire armada. And their weapons are most certainly not set to stun.
As Jyn gains more followers in her mission, it isn’t long before the entire Rebellion armada joins her in a grand battle to snatch the plans for the Death Star from a heavily guarded planet. The Death Star itself is being finished by Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), dressed in a cape-touting white uniform, whom Jyn has known since childhood. He’s become bitter and frustrated with his project that has been undermined and stolen by the likes of Grand Moff Tarkin.
Tarkin, you may recall, was the strict no-nonsense Death Star director played by Peter Cushing in Star Wars: A New Hope, which adds a whole new dimension of sinister to his character. With Darth Vader also breathing down Krennic’s neck (in addition to choking it), there’s enough to warrant the evil nature of this villain who is struggling to hold any level of authority within the Empire.
The problem with any prequel is the question of how to raise tension and excitement when we know how certain events will transpire. We know the Rebels will acquire the Death Star plans and that a handful of familiar characters (most notable being Darth Vader) will survive this ordeal without harm. But Rogue One avoids the predictability plotholes by featuring original characters and ramping the stakes so high that you really do start believing the heroes will not succeed. The only downside is that most of the familiar characters are reduced to cameo roles which, while not annoying, felt unneeded in a picture that stands well enough on its own. Must C3PO and R2-D2 be in every Star Wars movie? Haven’t they earned a break by now?
Director Gareth Edwards was best known for his sci-fi pictures Monsters and Godzilla, two films where he kept the special effects mostly hidden or saved them up for a few money shots. Edwards pulls out all the stops with his take on Star Wars, staging large-scale battles on land and in space, never crowding the screen too much or shaking the camera to the point of being a constant blur. He wants to show us how cool it is to see AT-AT walkers on a beach or squadrons of Y-Wings disable a Star Destroyer. And because there is so much going on, without so much as a breath of a comic relief scene or a romantic subplot, the action never feels as though it’s fulfilling a mandatory beat or acting as flashy filler. There’s a little more tact required for this mission than just blowing something up – though there are plenty big balls of fire to be had in Rogue One’s take-no-prisoners climax.
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