Let me start with this. Many Bothans do not die in this film. And there are no further answers to the origins of Rey or the condition of Finn. This is not that story. This is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
From the very beginning we know this is a Star Wars movie unlike any other. We are treated to the traditional opening of a Lucasfilm title and “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”
But that’s it. We don’t get a title scroll. More importantly, we don’t get the accompanying boom from John Williams’s most famous of opening scores. The only way I can adequately describe this new start to a Star Wars film was it felt weird. As odd as it sounds, it was jarring.
But this leads us right into the action. And boy is there a lot of action.
I am very familiar with the old extended universe of the late 80s and 90s. I read just about every comic book and novel that was published. But none of these were ever turned into a movie. I completely understand why, but a lot of fantastic stories were overlooked by casual fans simply because they weren’t movies. The story of rebels stealing plans to the Death Star felt like one of those stories. Characters we aren’t terribly familiar with, or have never seen before, finally getting the limelight while our overall universe is broadened with new worlds, aliens, and droids. It was almost like getting a backstage pass to a world dominated by the Skywalker clan. It was quite refreshing.
And as wonderful as these new characters are, we are also re-introduced to old characters. Some are simply cameos that are fun to see, while others are key components to the story itself. No matter who you think you’ll see in this film, I guarantee there’s more than you could imagine. No spoilers, but just pay attention the whole way through.
Although it was refreshing, I have to admit that it was slightly odd seeing a different family become the focus of a Star Wars film. In the previous seven movies we have only ever focused on the Skywalker clan. Obviously the adventures of Luke, Leia, and Darth Vader are fascinating, but there are definitely other stories to be told in this universe.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story bridges the gap between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope. More accurately, the events of this latest story lead right into the events of A New Hope. And the way they do it is inspired.
Mads Mikkelson (Casino Royale, Hannibal) has had a fantastic year. He was truly great as the villain Kaecilius in Doctor Strange. Now he plays the reluctant bad guy Galen Erso in Rogue One. The emotion he relays to us is heartbreaking as he’s torn from his quiet family life to complete the deadly project he started years ago. Left in the ashes of this lost life is his beloved daughter, Jyn Erso, played wonderfully by Felicity Jones (Inferno, The Theory of Everything). This is the core of the story for me, a father’s attempt at redemption. Obviously it’s wrapped up in the chaos of the Rebellion.
So who are these rogues? The team is made up of six individuals who couldn’t be more different if they tried. Captain Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna (Open Range, Elysium), is the Alliance’s go-to-guy when they need things done right. His current mission is to find Jyn. From the start he is aided in his journey by the most colorful droid this side of the Cantina Bar, K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk (Wreck-It Ralph, Firefly) . Along the way, they pick up Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus, played by Donnie Yen (Ip Man, Blade II) and Wen Jiang (Gone with the Bullets, The Lost Bladesman) respectively. These two characters are fantastic in their close relationship and necessary partnership. Chirrut hints at the ability to touch the Force, and perhaps more importantly belief in the Force, while Baze plays both translator to his crazy actions as well as a perfect comedic straight man. Less developed, but equally important is Imperial pilot/defector Bodhi Rook played by Riz Ahmed (Jason Bourne, Nightcrawler). Rook lays claim to the fact he named the band of outcasts Rogue One.
Good guys are always fun, but let’s be honest, the bad guys are what keeps us entertained. Star Wars has no shortage of great villains, as is the case with Rogue One. Top of that list this time around is Orson Krennic, played by one of the best bad guy character actors there is, Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline, The Dark Knight Rises). He is the embodiment of the ambitious Imperial officer. He doesn’t care who he hurts, or how many people he hurts for that matter, as long as he keeps climbing the corporate ladder.
And let’s not forget, as we’ve all seen in the trailers, Darth Vader makes his onscreen return for the first time in 33 years (or 11, depending on a certain point of view).
The supporting cast is a cavalcade of characters we know by name, some we know by face and others we know by other Star Wars mediums. Take Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker (Ghost Doy: The Way of the Samurai, Platoon), for instance. He’s a character straight from the animated series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. We are also reintroduced to Mon Mothma, once again played by Genevieve O’Reilly (Revenge of the Sith, Matrix Revolutions), and Bail Organa reprised by the legendary Jimmy Smits (L.A. Law, Dexter). As this is a no spoiler review, I won’t get into the plethora of other characters that may or may not pop up.
This is where I was most torn between reviewer (which in all honesty, despite my training, I am not) and my deep down appreciation for cinema of all kinds. There are several moments dripping with sappy Star Wars nerdiness that you’ll want to role your eyes. But deep down, in places only true nerds care to admit, you are giddy with unbridled fanboy happiness that you just witnessed a solid reference to the movie that made it all happen (Episode IV). Trust me when I say, these scenes are most impressive.
About the midway point of the film I had a feeling that director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) and writers Chris Weitz (About a Boy, Antz) and Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity, Michael Clayton) had bitten off more than they could chew. We are introduced to more new worlds and scenarios than any previous film. But as the final act unraveled, all the details fell perfectly into place with potentially the best battle scene of any Star Wars movie. It was cinematic beauty the way the creative team used terrestrial locations versus digital scenery.
Not to be outdone, the denouement, which leads directly into Episode IV, is inspired genius. These two films desperately need to be seen in succession.
With every new Star Wars film I see, I have high expectations. They are most definitely unrealistic. But I’m a fanboy who wants the best from his favorite franchise. With two movies under their belt, I feel like the Star Wars universe is in good hands at Disney.
I give Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 4.5 out of 5 Nerd Skulls.
Check out the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story:
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