If you’ve seen “Star Wars: A New Hope,” then you know the story of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” It’s right there in the first 30 seconds as the large yellow copy scrolls across the screen.
“It is a period of civil war.
Rebel spaceships, striking
from a hidden base, have won
their first victory against
the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel
spies managed to steal secret
plans to the Empire’s
ultimate weapon, the DEATH
STAR, an armored space
station with enough power
to destroy an entire planet.”
If you squint hard enough you can see of the most exciting, gritty, intense dramas of the the Star Wars Universe contained in those three sentences. Director Gareth Edwards and the assembled cast and crew managed to make a major motion picture out of those three lines that is not just worthy of the Star Wars name, but opens up the genre in such a way that fans now have a whole galaxy of stories to look forward to.
From the opening shot, Rogue One is set firmly in the Star Wars universe. There are the familiar ships, menacing storm troopers, far flung exotic planets, alien creatures, good battling evil, and yes, the Force is strong in this movie (although there are no Lightsaber wielding Jedi, unless you count a certain Sith Lord). But that is about where the similarity ends.
Where the original trilogy was more of a western in space, Edwards has made something much grittier, closer to a World War II films like “Guns of Navarone” or “Bridge over the River Kwai.” When we meet the rebellion, it is still just a scrappy loose alliance attempting to fight against the closing dark forces of The Empire. It is very much a war footing. At times the Rebel Alliance does not seem capable of even making a decision, let along defeating the forces of evil. But that is the nature of war – it’s fight or flight.
That’s not to say Rogue One isn’t a space adventure in the spirit of Star Wars as envisioned by George Lucas. The size and scale of the movie is definitely there. Edwards correctly identified how this story needed to be told in a different way than “The Empire Strikes Back.” The setting is familiar, but the genre is new.
At its core, Rogue One is about the relationship between a father and a daughter. Though the Empire conscripts one and conspires to hunt down the other, the story feels both intimate and epic in scope. By the end of the film you care so much about the characters that the choices they make feel that much more powerful.
In addition to Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) and Jyn Erso (Felcity Jones), the cast is rounded out by a very diverse set of actors. Alliance intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) partners with Jyn on this mission and the character arc that puts him on the right path for the rebellion is crucial to the plot. Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) is a blind monk that follows a Force cult. He becomes the team’s most direct connection to the Force. Imwe is backed by Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) who brings a lot of firepower to the table with his weaponry. Together Imwe and Malbus have some of the best lines in the movie.
I don’t want to forget K-2SO (with motion capture and voice performed by Alan Tudyk). As droids tend to do in Star Wars films, he provides a lot of comedic relief. But there’s real personality there, provided in large part by Tudyk’s performance.
On the dark side the central driving villain is Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). In his unique pursuit of building a massive weapon, Krennic pursues the Erso’s across the galaxy. His malevolence is only outmatched by his superiors. Yes, Darth Vader is in the film and he’s as bad-ass as you remember him from other Star Wars movies.
There is no cantina scene, although one rebel group’s hideout comes close. But there are a lot of alien creatures, real and CG, in the film. If that’s part of the reason you love Star Wars, you won’t be disappointed by Rogue One.
The story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, really was just what the Star Wars universe needed at this moment. It was polished into a screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, with some fixes to the third act that really did make for a stronger finale. Cinematographer Greig Frazer teamed up with visual effects saces John Knoll and Mohen Leo and special effect guru Neil Corbould to create a totally believable world. Finally, the creature effects provided by Neal Scanlan fit perfectly into the Star Wars universe.
There’s a lot more I want to talk about, but almost all of it requires diving into spoilers, which I’ll have to save for another review. In the meantime, go see “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” It is a gritty Star Wars movie any fan will love.