OP-ROB RATING: ALL-STAR
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the latest film to be added to the Star Wars canon, though it is not an official “episode”. Directed by Gareth Edwards, the movie details a period of time in the Star Wars Universe between the events portrayed in “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” and “Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope”. “Rogue One” tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance obtained the schematic plans to the Galactic Empire’s infamous planet-killing weapon, the Death Star.
While the plot of film nestles nicely into the existing Star Wars storyline, "Rogue One" is all but formulated. The main character is a rebellious young woman named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who is brought in by the Rebel Alliance to help track down her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson). Galen is the master architect of the Death Star, but a defector pilot from the Empire named Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) escapes to deliver a hologram to a gritty Rebel war-lord named Saw Gererra (Forest Whitaker). The hologram is of Galen explaining he has purposefully constructed a fatal flaw in the Death Star, which would allow it to be destroyed by the Rebels. As we learn in an opening flashback, Galen originally left the Empire for moral reasons when Jyn was a little girl, but the Empire’s Lead Weapons Researcher Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) tracked Galen down and forced him back to work. Now, years later Jyn is tasked by the Rebellion to find Saw on the desert planet of Jedha to verify the hologram. In a series of twists and turns, Jyn ultimately must help the Rebels obtain the schematic plans to the Death Star so that the events in "A New Hope" can take place.
Along the way Jyn is helped by an ensemble cast including Bodhi the pilot, a slick Rebel spy named Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and a cynical smart-talking droid named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) among many others. Standing in the way is the entire Galactic Empire, led by the Sith Lord Darth Vader and his legions of storm troopers and generals. Among the antagonists in the film are the slimy weapons developer Krennic, and the familiar Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing). Because Cushing passed away in 1994, Moff Tarkin is actually CGI generated in "Rogue One". The same technological trick is used for a Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) cameo at the end of the film.
“Rogue One” corrects several of the faults that were in “Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens”. In Abrams’ 2015 film, the story was consistently bogged down by old characters and nostalgic references. “Rogue One” also has several ties to the original films, but does an excellent job of keeping the throwbacks fresh and relevant. For example, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones) has a few brief appearances, but in each them he appears in a way audiences have never seen before: he is angrier, and more physically ruthless. In one scene near the end of the film Vader boards a rebel ship and violently annihilates a band of rebels. The scene is shocking, given Vader’s restrained fighting tactics in the older movies.
“Rogue One” is also led by protagonists with very human qualities. In one scene Cassian is shown murdering an innocent informer for the sake of Rebel secrecy. He later expresses his guilt over what he has done for the Rebellion, while Jyn is faced with all that she has had to give up for the greater good of the galaxy. Furthermore, “Rogue One” has an element of finitude that is new to the Star Wars genre. Many of the characters in the film actually die in Death Star strikes. Unlike previous films where the Death Star immediately destroys a planet, in “Rogue One” the single blast hits the planet like an atom bomb, and the subsequent shockwaves move toward survivors who face certain death. Seeing a planet blow up from afar is one thing, but to be shown the destruction from the victim's point of view is another. These kinds of elements have been glazed over in most Star Wars films; “Rogue One” breaks through the often-distant sci/fi fantasy to show real loss, distress, and destruction. The reward is more authentic joy, triumph and hope.
Despite all of its strengths, “Rogue One” is also a restricted film. The actual story takes place in between two other concrete stories that have already occurred. From the outset, “Rogue One” does not have much wiggle room but works as a stand-alone film because of an innovative plot and a thrilling cast of characters. Many fans of the Star Wars franchise are eagerly waiting for that break out film that pushes the boundaries of the original story. “Rogue One” is not that film. But despite the constraints, “Rogue One” is a strong addition to the Star Wars franchise that fills in the cracks in of Death Star narrative while defying many of the norms set forth in previous films. Perhaps Jyn Erso’s story of going rogue for the greater good will inspire the writers of future Star Wars films to do the same.