As evidenced by last year’s release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the galaxy, “far, far away,” reigns supreme over pop culture once again. But the next release in the Star Wars universe proves to be a rather different, and somewhat challenging, sell for audiences: a spin-off set between episodes three and four of the intergalactic saga. Without the Skywalker family or lightsabers (mostly) as the main focus, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a view of the inner workings of both sides of the all-out war between the Rebellion and the Empire. Rogue One could have easily been just a “cash grab” simply by inserting the words “Star Wars” to its title, but luckily, for the most part, it isn’t. Despite some issues, Rogue One is a fine expedition filled with new characters on both sides of the conflict that feel somewhat meaningful to the Star Wars universe.
In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.
While there has been plenty of marketing, promotional trailers, and TV spots for Rogue One, for the most part, they have been misleading in a good way. The nature of movie marketing today is to spoil most of the plot before you see it. Even though nothing has been spoiled for Rogue One in relation to the main plot of the movie, you get a sense of where the story goes early on (especially for those who have seen all of the Star Wars movies). However, Rogue One still offers a few twists and turns you don’t see coming. And as far as nods to the fans go (and without spoiling anything), diehard Star Wars fans will be overjoyed at the brief, yet fun, moments. That being said, however, Rogue One has a couple of problems. In an effort to give a sense of where the story is going, the setup in the first act is slow, which then gives the second act a rushed feeling as the movie builds toward the exciting third and final act. Sure, it’s cool and all for Star Wars fans, but it comes off as rather unbalanced from a narrative perspective. And as a result of balancing issues, some of the supporting characters are lost in the fold of Rogue One. While all of the new characters are great, some are barely given much to work with or given much backstory other than us knowing which side of the war they stand on.
For the most part, Rogue One works due to the strong characters often seen as background fillers in the episodic Star Wars movies coming front and center here in this spin-off. While these characters might not necessarily be the big chess pieces in the overarching landscape of the Star Wars universe, Rogue One makes them feel notable, letting the audience know why they are here at this point in the saga. Sure, we know the Skywalker family and Han Solo with Chewbacca are who move the Star Wars series forward. But give credit where credit is due to story creators Gary Whitta and John Kroll, along with screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, for creating and developing these new, enjoyable characters that help fine tune Rogue One like a needle zeroing in on a radio dial. These lesser-known characters have a voice for their causes and are wanting to be heard.
A few characters in Rogue One stand out above the rest. Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) is excellent as the female heroine Jyn Erso. It’s great seeing females as the leading force in some of the most recent big-budget action movies from the past few years; Jones’ performance here adds to it. Donnie Yen (Ip Man) is aces as Chirrut Îmwe, a blind warrior with force sensitivity. Some of the movie’s best action takes place when Yen’s character comes into play. Alan Tudyk (Firefly) is particularly great as the voice of K-2SO, the Rebel droid wiped clean and used for the Rebellion. Much like the lovable droid BB-8 in The Force Awakens, K-2SO is a scene-stealer, drawing more laughs than any other character in Rogue One. Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline) is relatively sly as Orson Krennic, the antagonist who is only trying to please those in higher command with the Empire. And even though some of the supporting characters are not given much to work with, I still enjoyed every one of them, as each one was given some sort of purpose in Rogue One.
Rogue One features plenty of great action sequences that take place on a number of different locations/landscapes that audiences haven’t seen before in previous Star Wars films. While visually all of the action scenes are first-rate and impressive, they bring virtually nothing new to the table. Sure, it’s familiar, but that’s not a bad thing at all given how entertaining and thrilling the action in Star Wars movies have always been. And thanks to Gareth Edwards’ sense of warfare thanks to his staggering 2014 Godzilla reboot, the third act in Rogue One is action-packed and does not disappoint. To go along with the action is, of course, a fine musical score from composer Michael Giacchino, who obviously draws from John Williams’ iconic Star Wars music, while adding a few new beats here and there.
Rogue One is good, but it’s nothing amazing or anything Star Wars fans haven’t seen before. But still, I’ll take Rogue One over any of the Star Wars prequels. And as long as George Lucas never returns to Star Wars, I’ll look forward to every new episode or spin-off released. Diehard Star Wars fans will love Rogue One while occasional moviegoers will merely like it. For me, personally, I think it’s another exciting, promising step forward for Disney’s plans with Star Wars. And so far, Disney is two for two in terms of making a crowd-pleasing Star Wars movie.