If you’re a Star Wars fan, get ready to spend the next several weeks of your life talking about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. If you’re not a Star Wars aficionado, get ready to hear others talking about it.
The first Star Wars offshoot (or “anthology” film, as they’re calling it) strikes like a lightsaber — fast and surgically efficient, continuing to color in the details of the Star Wars space-opera universe for those who are already on board.
A prequel of sorts — it’s set somewhere between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope — Rogue One is a separate storyline from last year’s comeback film, The Force Awakens. But it traffics in similar sensibilities.
Once again, there’s a young female hero, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones); a handsome rebel, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna); a robot with an acerbic sense of humor, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk); and a ragtag, multi-culti crew of renegades.
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So, in that sense, it doesn’t feel as fresh or as funny as The Force Awakens, and it’s unlikely to convert any moviegoers who’ve managed to resist Star Wars’ charms the last 40 years. But neither does it feel like a film mortally wounded by the many reshoots and rewrites that have been reported over the last few months.
When we first meet Jyn Erso, she has fled her home because her scientist father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), was dragooned into the service of the Empire to which he once pledged allegiance. He’s captured and forced to finish the creation of a planet-killing weapon, aka the Death Star.
She was raised by rebel leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), but as the movie opens she hasn’t seen him in many years. Galen has gotten the word out to the rebel alliance, through an Empire pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who has defected, that there may be a way to defeat the Death Star.
And so the blows against the Empire begin.
Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) makes an appearance, but it’s a new face of the Empire, Orson Krennic (a solid Ben Mendelsohn, Animal Kingdom, Bloodline), who makes the biggest impression. Mendelsohn wears well the requisite blend of cruelty and hubris that seems to be mandatory for Empire officialdom.
On the rebel side, Rogue One has K-2SO (who gets the MVP award for having the best lines) and puts to good use Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen as blind Jedi fighter Chirrut Imwe. He not only shows off a sense of humor but displays the balletic fighting skills martial-arts fans have come to know through the popular “Ip Man” films. (This almost makes up for the maddening tease of having the stars of the hit Indonesian martial-arts film The Raid in The Force Awakens but not utilizing them.)
Despite the presence of Chirrut Imwe though, Rogue One is less about the Force, and those who channel it, and more about ordinary people deciding to band together to defeat an enemy.
Directed by Gareth Edwards (the 2014 Godzilla remake) from a script by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, Rogue One, especially in its first half, has an appealing grittiness. Yet, while it’s commendable that Disney recruits young directors like Edwards to helm this cash-cow franchise, there’s little room for him to show off a unique personality.
The film mostly goes where anyone who has seen a “Star Wars” movie thinks it would go — the stormtroopers remain the useless fighters they’ve always been; the battle finale goes on longer than it should — but, if you’re a fan, there are a couple of surprises along the way.
If you’re not a fan, Rogue One may not be the revelation that The Force Awakens turned out to be. But it won’t have you wishing for your own personal Death Star either.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
☆☆☆ 1/2 (out of five)
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Ben Mendelsohn
Rated: PG-13 (extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action)
Running time: 133 min.