Starring Felicity Jones, Forrest Whtitaker, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelson, and Jimmy Smits
Storyby John Knoll
Screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Reviewed by Paul Gibbs & Patrick Gibbs
Out of Four
The question of whether stand alone Star Wars movies built around new characters can work has been answered resoundingly in the affirmative. This shouldn't be a big surprise to anyone who has been watching Star Wars: Rebels, one of the best shows on television, but there's one major difference between previous spinoffs and director Gareth Edwards' Rogue One; where all previous spinoffs have been aimed primarily at a young audience, Rogue One is a gritty and sometimes violent war movie in the truest sense, and it's taking a chance in aiming for the audience that has been clamoring for a more overtly adult take on the material. More than anything else, this movie plays like Star Wars as written by Alistair Maclean, albeit with less over the top, macho characters.
The story begins with a brilliant scientist named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), a pioneer in the technology of Kyber crystals (the energy source used to power a Jedi's lightsaber) hiding out with his wife and young daughter, Jyn, to avoid the reach of the Galactic Empire, who are looking to use his knowledge and abilities for nefarious ends. When Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), an Imperial officer, shows up at the house with stormtroopers, the lives of the Ersos are changed forever.
As an adult, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is approached by the struggling Rebel Alliance for a secret mission, and she reluctantly teams with spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and reprogrammed Imperial Droid K2-SO (Alan Tudyk).
In some respects, Rogue One is the geekiest Star Wars film to date, in that this one feels like it's made for the hardcore fans who are deeply steeped in the mythology of the rebellion. Which is not to say it's inaccessible to the more casual fan, but if you're into the universe enough to immediately know who Mon Mothma and General Dodonna are, or to get excited by the name Yavin 4, this movie is especially for you. And those are among the more obvious references.
Aside from cameos from characters like Mon Mothma and Bail Organa (again played by Jimmy Smits, an extremely welcome presence), we're dealing with an entirely new set of characters here, and the circumstances and pacing of the film don't always allow for them to be as fleshed out as we might like. But a strong cast helps considerably. Jones more than rises to the occasion of being asked to carry a blockbuster, and Jyn Erso will easily join the ranks of Leia and Rey (and Ahsoka Tano for those who get into the animated shows, and if you are not one of them you are missing out) on the list of revered Star Wars heroines. Tough and resourceful but with a lot of heart, Jyn manages to be both formidable and endearing. Luna brings presence and charisma to his Cassian Andor, a sometimes morally ambiguous character (like a space going Jack Bauer, Cassian will do anything it takes to complete the mission and protect the Alliance.). As pilot Bodhi Rook, Riz Ahmed is dealing with a somewhat underwritten character who is given few if any distinctive personality traits, but Ahmed gIves a solid performance that causes us to care about Bodhi's fate. Donnie Yen is very likable and approriately enigmatic as blind Force mystic Chirrut Imwe, and his interaction with his reluctant sidekick Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) ranges from amusing to touching. And as K2-SO, Alan Tudyk steals the film with all of the best quips and comic relief moments, and also manages to give the mechanical creature a soul.
The grittier edge will likely keep Rogue One from being quite the general audience crowd pleaser that The Force Awakens was, but even with that and and considerably more hand-held camera work than its predecessors, this has the unmistakable feel of a Star Wars film, and most fans are going to love it. It opens up a whole new galaxy of possibilities for self-contained films in the franchise that tell the stories of heroes other than the Skywalkers, and shows there is room for a degree of experimenting with different styles, tones, and subgenres. It's a triumph for Lucasfilm and Disney that makes the continued development of the franchise beyond the new trilogy to be an exciting prospect.
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