There’s no scroll at the beginning of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a “Star Wars” movie. Call the new Gareth Edwards’ movie what you will—a standalone, a spin-off, a prequel—but there is no denying that the DNA is pure Lucas.
To avoid spoilers I’ll give only the sketchiest of synopsis. Set after the formation of the Galactic Empire, shortly before the events of “Episode IV: A New Hope,” “Rogue One” sees the Rebel Alliance recruit Jyn Erso (Oscar nominee Felicity Jones), the daughter of scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), to collaborate with a crew, including Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), to retrieve the blueprints of the Death Star, the Empire’s armoured battle station capable of destroying entire planets. “You are asking us to invade an Imperial stronghold based on hope?” asks Senator Pamlo (Sharon Duncan-Brewster). “Rebellions are built on hope,” replies Jyn.
That’s it fuzzballs. That’s all you get. The plot is so laced with character photobombs and cameos it’s almost impossible to say more without squashing some of the fun. Know that it is a classic space opera latched to a primal story of good vs. evil. Add to that some stuff you expect—big battle scenes, quippy droids, a classic Vader entrance (not a spoiler, it’s in the trailer!)—and some stuff you don’t—no spoilers here!—and you have a movie that simultaneously feels familiar and fresh. Down and dirty, it has more grit than the other films—this is not a slick sci fi world, it’s a place that has been dinged up and lived in—but maintains the heart and soul of what came before.
Director Edwards amps up the action. He knows that, “travelling through hyperspace ain’t like dustin’ crops, boy!” The film’s final third is a smash ‘em up that gives The Battle of Hoth a run for its money but never allows the characters to get lost in the bombast. It’s a morally complex war film that knows the audience must be invested in the characters to care whether or not they are successful.
So who are the characters?
At the helm is heroine Jyn. She is an everywoman thrust into a dangerous situation after a lifetime of hurt. She’s rough and tumble, an impetuous scrapper fighting on an impossible mission. No gold bikinis for her. Jyn is the catalyst for much of “Rogue One’s” action but her relationship with her father Galen is film’s the emotional core.
For lack of a better analogy Rebel Alliance Intelligence Cassian Andor is the film’s Han Solo. Scruffy and an outsider, his best friend isn’t a 200-year-old Wookiee, but a fast-talking reprogrammed Imperial droid. He’s an experienced rebel and fighter who moves beyond the traditional image of a hero. He’s not as funny as Han—that’s left to his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk)—but does provide the same kind of swashbuckling joie de vivre.
Assorted other rebels include blind warrior Chirrut “I fear nothing. All is as the Force wills it.” Îmwe (Donnie Yen), freelance assassin Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker as a lion in winter, a stately fighter whose body is more machine than human, but whose humanity is intact.
With a title like Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military you just know Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is going to be a bad man. He’s a cog, an Imperial baddie eager to please is boss—i.e. Darth Vader—and the definition of the ordinariness of evil.
It is the most diverse casting of any “Star Wars” film. It ushers the franchise into the 21st century in terms of make-up, reflecting not only the world we live in, but also the world the film takes place in.
“Star Wars” über fans will geek out at some of “Rogue One’s” surprises but nonfans need not worry. You don’t need to know that Poggle the Lesser turned over plans to the Death Star to Count Dooku or that the Ultimate Weapon is powered by a cavernous hypermatter reactor encased in radiation insulator plating. Just know the Death Star is huge and, as the name suggests, deadly, and you’ll be fine. The force is strong with this one.