Before we were introduced to “a galaxy far, far away,” the Rebel Alliance was at war with the evil Galactic Empire in their fight for freedom. Young criminal and rebel recruit Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) joins the Alliance and, with a team of fellow warriors, they launch a plot to steal the secret plans for the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, and destroy it in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
After the introduction of the landmark “Star Wars” in 1977, which, like the rest of the world, I mostly loved, the series became a case of diminishing returns. (Do not get me started on the Ewoks or Jar Jar Binks.) There was a ray of hope with “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” that rekindled the franchise. Now, we are in the next generation of the sci-fi juggernaut with what is reported to be a one-off Star Wars adventure. Expect more.
While the fans, and they are legion, will embrace the new entry with open arms, for me, it is a case of seeing it all done before – even the screenplay, by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (from the story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta) borrows heavily from the first film. The story is pretty much the same as the original but with a new cast of characters and more F/X but, in the end, it is a rehash of the original from 39 years ago.
Daisy Ridley, as Ray in “The Force Awakens,” was a kickass addition to the cast we are so familiar with and held her own against all the other veteran players. Felicity Jones, alas, has little if any chemistry as the film’s heroine and Diego Luna, as heroic rebel captain Cassian Andor, does not fare any better. The rest of the many actors participating in the project are given little shrift and no dimension, going through the expected motions.
The production has the feeling of a second-tier effort as the studio changes gears to make future one-offs the norm. But, expect the trilogy format that has sustained the franchise for decades will be with us for the foreseeable future. Imitation, they say, is the highest form of flattery. If so, the makers of “Rogue One” flatter the heck out of its predecessors. I give it a C+.
When she was a little girl, Jyn Erso witnessed the Galactic Empire's Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn, "Animal Kingdom," TV's 'Bloodline') tear her family apart, killing her mother Lyra (Valene Kane, "'71") and forcing her scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen, "Doctor Strange") to resume his work building the Empire's most formidable weapon, the Death Star. Now a young woman, Jyn (Felicity Jones, "The Theory of Everything") seeks the rebel outlaw Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) who raised her, but she finds so much more - a holographic message from her father that gives Jyn enough hope to go "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story."
This is the first of Disney/Lucasfilm's standalone "Star Wars" movies, a deep dive into just what it took for the rebels to steal the Death Star blueprints. With a screenplay by Chris Weitz (2015's "Cinderella") and Tony Gilroy ("Michael Clayton") that delves into the fears and hopes which drive rebel politics and heroism (and will be noted by many as an apt metaphor for opposition to the U.S. President Elect), director Gareth Edwards ("Monsters," 2014's "Godzilla") favors nitty gritty action over science fiction flourishes. But while it's great to see Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen placed into Star Wars lore as a catalyst for the Rebel Alliance the British Jones lacks the fire Daisy Ridley brought to Chapter VII. The decision to resurrect actors using CGI is also ill-advised, the result weird and distracting.
Shortly after Jyn sees her father's message, Saw's outpost is attacked, the message lost. Alliance Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, "Open Range") doesn't trust Jyn's story but the two form an uneasy partnership, assisted by Andor's reprogrammed Empire robot K-2SO (voice of Alan Tudyk). As in "The Force Awakens," there is an Empire traitor in the form of the pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed, HBO's 'The Night Of'), dispatched by Galen with his message. They withstand another attack in Jedha, picking up blind monk Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen, "Hero," "Ip Man") and his faithful gunslinging friend Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang, "The Missing Gun"), before heading to the Empire's secret outpost on Eadu, where Cassian finally recognizes Jyn's truth. Although Jyn gives a divided Alliance Senate an impassioned plea to fight, it will be up to this ragtag team to go rogue and head to Scarif with a seemingly impossible mission. But Rebel Senate Head Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly) is on their side...
Like last year's "Star Wars" reboot, "Rogue One" is a mostly satisfying mix of the old and new, one which adds deeper meaning to Leia's insertion of data into R2D2 in "A New Hope." The screenplay's layers of distrust and near capitulation add to the courage of the rebel fighters, a WWII resistance story blasted into space. The diverse casting, while welcome, also plays into Disney's global box office, Donnie Yen the closest thing "Rogue One" has to a Jedi. Of the new characters, Mendelsohn's lisping Krennic is hissable fun and Alan Tyudk's vocal characterization of K2SO creates a lovable rogue, albeit one with more than a passing resemblance to "The Iron Giant." But the stars of the show, Jones and Luna, disappoint here, as do many of the returning elements. It's great fun to watch Imperial Walkers tromping through the aqua water and palm trees of Scarif and there is a quick cameo from a pair of well known droids, but despite the presence of James Earl Jones, Darth Vader sounds less ominous here and surely there was a better solution to the film's last scene than unconvincing CGI. One is also left wondering just how those stolen plans helped the Alliance after their very high profile pilfering, but "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" expands its universe in ways more entertaining than not.
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