rogue-one-star-wars-review

If you please the fans, does anything else really matter? Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first film in the Star Wars Anthology spin-off series premieres in wide release this Friday. Director Gareth Edwards’ enters the Star Wars Universe for the first time with a take on the series that feels completely fresh and yet wholly classic in a way that will exhilarate fans like none of the films that followed the original trilogy have yet.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a young girl when her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is captured by the Galactic Empire’s Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to finish the work on a new military superweapon Galen had previously abandoned. Years later, Jyn is rescued from an imperial prison by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to help track down militant rebel defector Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) whom the rebel alliance believes can lead them to Galen Erso and stop the construction of The Death Star.

Jyn and Cassian acquire a ragtag team along the way including a Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind guard at an old Jedi Temple, Imwe’s bodyguard Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), and former imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) to help along their adventure. They round out the group with a wisecracking former imperial droid voiced by Alan Tudyk. Together, they charge themselves with a mission to acquire the plans to the Death Star and save the galaxy.

The film unfolds as part caper, part adventure, part World War II film and all fun. It’s a different feel than previous Star Wars films. This is the first not to focus on the Skywalker family, Jedis or the Force. Those are all ancillary to the story in this instance. Instead, we get a film that focuses on all the characters seen in the periphery so far on in the sci-fi series – the soldiers who’ve set up the heroes of the saga.

It almost plays like an historical fiction or docudrama of the Star Wars universe. We’ve always heard tales of the spies and soldiers who helped get the plans for the Death Star, but now we see the battles and their heroism play out on screen for the first time. It’s like a film we’d watch on Tatooine 100 years after the events of the first trilogy to recall the events of that era and one that would delight audience in a galaxy far far away just as much as it’s sure to please them here on Earth.

Rogue One is a film that’s made for those earthbound Star Wars fans. It’s littered with Easter Eggs, history and moments you never thought you’d see all in an immaculate two hours that never leaves hyperspace. It feels different from other Star Wars films in that Edwards chooses to focus mainly on the action rather than building his story through its characters. While that causes the film to feel a little cold and underdeveloped in spaces, it keeps the pacing so swift that by the time the film stampedes into its third act, it’s become such delirious fun that the lack of attention to characterization feels almost welcome.

That’s not to say the characters are completely flat. Jones’ Jyn Erso is a grey-area Star Wars heroine right up there with Han Solo and Yen’s Chirrut Imwe’s blind devotee of the Force shines a new light on how the Force affects non-Jedi in the galaxy. Mendelsohn’s sneering Director Krennic is a perfect addition the growing list of sneering imperial villains who worry more about their legacy and career than how they’re really affecting anything. These three actors are each brilliant in their own right, adding some legendary new heroes and villains to the Star Wars canon.

Rogue One does not deliver in all the way in a vacuum. Taking it out of the Star Wars Universe and its fandom, and the flaws become apparent: the first act is too rushed, it tries to introduce too many characters leaving it not much room for error on development and presupposes the audience’s knowledge almost too much for what’s supposed to be a standalone. Those are its flaws for non-Star Wars devotees. For the true fans of a galaxy far, far away; however, this film hits every note you’d want and some you never knew you wanted.

And that’s really all that matters for a film of this magnitude.

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