‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’1/4/2017
Unlike the original “Star Wars” films that balanced gritty sci-fi drama with sly comedy and an ever-present sense of hope, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is Gareth Edwards’ venture into a universe that is simultaneously exhilarating and extraordinarily bleak, never sugar-coating the desperation of the Rebel Alliance or the ruthlessness of the Empire.
Set before the events of “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope,” “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” tells the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a courageous, fugitive rebel who happens to be the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the scientist who designed the Empire’s terrifying Death Star. After a gut-wrenching trauma splits the family in the opening scene, Jyn is raised by the extremist rebel-dissident Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) until abandoned to care for herself at the age of 16. She is battle-hardened and not seeking companionship of any kind, which is much different from the series’ other films.
After intercepting word of the new super weapon’s development, a plot is enacted to steal the Death Star plans in the hopes of finding a means to destroy it. Erso leads a ragtag bunch ranging from the rapscallion Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), whose unquestioning commitment to the Alliance has him questioning his ethics; Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind martial artist who uses his hyper-acute hearing and sense of the Force to negotiate his way around; and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a machine gunner who uses his giant gun to protect his friend.
Fans of sci-fi will love the breath-taking visuals of new worldscapes, terrestrial beings and space exploration. The comedic robot in this film is K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed Empire droid with more backtalk and statistics than C-3PO’s whiney dapperness.
One of the more interesting aspects of the film is how sparingly the Force is mentioned. While the previous films have featured a main character deeply connected with the Force, “Rogue One” changes the game with a group of people who treat it more like a religion or philosophy rather than something tangible. In trying moments, Imwe repeats a mantra — “I’m one with the Force. The Force is with me,” but short of that, the Force isn’t mentioned except by Jyn who says it with the conviction of a liberal arts student saying holiday grace.
The good guys are a rather cliché team, but the villains do little better to create characters who elicit an emotive reaction with every line delivered. Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is downright hissable when he responds to pleads of “You’re confusing peace with terror,” with a sneering, “Well, you have to start somewhere.” The other bad guy involves a computer generated image of Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) that will leave viewers feeling a sense of terror based more on personal image rights of the deceased rather than his acts of global genocide.
Darth Vader makes an unsurprising cameo when he’s met by Krennic, who doesn’t want Tarkin to reap the accolades of his accomplishments in getting the Death Star completed and functional. While Vader’s infamous choke hold was to be expected, an outrageously bad dad-pun he delivers was downright comical — albeit in the worst way.
For the original generation of “Star Wars” fans who would rather never speak of the abominations known as Episodes I, II and III, “Rogue One” is the prequel they’ve always wanted. Fans who have been waiting for a more serious, darker take on this beloved universe finally have their film. This is the rebellion as it is experienced in the trenches, good and bad. ♦