Director: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Jimmy Smits, Genevieve O’Reilly, James Earl Jones

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens far exceeded expectations and became the highest grossing film of all time at the domestic box office. It will be a real test for Lucas Film to see how audiences will flock to these one-shot, spinoff type movies that may not always have familiar characters attached to them.They’re now starting to branch out to other stories in the galaxy. If you feel leery, let me just stop you right there. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story feels extremely in tune with what has come before and has more in common with the other films that you may expect. I’ll have more on that later.

As a young little girl, Jyn Erso is separated from her parents when Imperial forces (the bad guys) led by Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn) land on the little colony her family lives on. They live alone farming on a deserted part of the planet. Orson has come for Jyn’s father, Galen (Mikkelssen), in order to use his skills for the dark side. Time passes and Jyn grows up living under an alias not to have her identity known as an Erso. The Rebellion (the good guys) has its ways and captures Jyn in an attempt to track down her father. Rumors are flying high that the Empire has created a massive weapon that can take out entire planets. If you’ve seen the original Star Wars film (A New Hope), you know that weapon as the Death Star. Galen may be the man behind those plans for the Death Star as he has since been living under the Empire’s reign. What Jyn comes to find out is that her father has secretly hidden plans that describe how one could destroy the Death Star before it wreaks too much havoc on the galaxy.

For the first twenty to thirty minutes, it takes some time to readjust and figure out what’s going on. With this being a brand new story for moviegoers, screenwriters Chris Weitz (About a Boy, The Golden Compass) and Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Trilogy) throw out a ton of new characters, planets, and creatures that come into play. They may be familiar for fans that have read the comics and novelizations, but for the average moviegoer coming in, it’s all fresh material to sort out. Once you start to settle in and can put the pieces together, the puzzle starts to take shape and you realize how intricate this film is and how it bridges the prequels to A New Hope. Yes, I brought up the prequels only to point out that this film isn’t as standalone as one may think. Characters like Mon Matha and Bail Organa are back with Genevieve O’Reilly and Jimmy Smits reprising their prequel roles, respectively. It’s probably easiest to think of it as Episode 3.5 as it takes place shortly before the events of A New Hope. If you have watched A New Hope a dozen times like me, your mind will start to race as you try to think of what could lie ahead in Rogue One. My head did this, and let me tell you, that is part of what makes Rogue One so exciting.

When you realize that A New Hope already starts off in the middle of the action, Rogue One takes the audience on the journey of what just happened before that. It’s fairly grim compared to the flashy and colorful world that came with The Force Awakens. It may be a little too dark for younger Star Wars fans. The film very much lives up to the title, as it really is a war film. There are plenty of action scenes whether it’s little street fights, battle sequences on land, or the aerial ones between tie fighters and Rebel X-Wings. Director Gareth Edwards, who directed the latest Godzilla reboot, brings an urgent energy to the film right out of the gate and keeps it high throughout the entire film. I never once felt it drag or struggle to find its footing. There may be a lot of action, but he never loses sight of the father/daughter relationship at the heart of the story between Galen and Jyn. It makes for an emotional journey as you really get connected to many of the characters that come into play. This also makes the war elements and the film’s climax all the more powerful.

Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) makes Jyn Erso an independent and strong character. She’s not afraid to stick to her guns and there’s a nice message about staying true to what you believe when no one else believes you. It can be an inspiring motivation for young kids who identify with her character. She’s joined by a diverse team of fighters, and like life, they don’t always see eye to eye on their mission. This furthers the struggle she has with who she can trust and who may be out for themselves. Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien) is her right hand man, Rebel officer Cassian Andor. Cassian has a droid with him named K2-SO. Alan Tudyk voices the droid and brings the film its comedic moments as K2 has a bit of a sassy and crabby side. They’re also joined by the blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Yen), assassin Baze Malbus (Wen), and former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Ahmed). It’s worth noting that James Earl Jones does reprise his role as voicing Darth Vader. I was quite giddy hearing that breathing menace again. It’s a smaller role in the film as Ben Mendelsohn (Netflix’s Bloodline) is the film’s main antagonist, Orson Krennic. He and Governor Tarkin are the higher ups ruling the Imperial army.

Fans will no doubt geek over what’s in store. For those that felt The Force Awakens felt a bit too nostalgic and odd having the core characters come back, I would hope they hold a different opinion on Rogue One. Like the better films in the franchise, Rogue One works as its own story, but is strengthened with the very fluid connection set in place between Rogue One and A New Hope. It rarely feels forced, for lack of a better word, to connect to the other movies. It’s extremely satisfying in that holistic sense that may not be expected.

It may seem alarming to not have the opening scroll and a new-ish score by Michael Giacchino. He rightly adapts some of John Williams themes into his own like he did for Jurassic World. Despite some of these creative differences, it looks and feels within the Star Wars universe and tonally matches what has come before. You don’t always find that in spinoff movies. Rogue One doesn’t skip a beat and is an intense adventure from start to finish. It left me wanting more as I grew to really like these characters and Jyn’s journey throughout the movie. Unfortunately, Lucas Film CEO and producer Kathleen Kennedy has stated we won’t be seeing a direct sequel to this. It makes sense once you see the movie. I guess I’ll just have to go back and take in Rogue One a few more times.

Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? Lucas Film has another dynamite film to add to the Star Wars legacy.


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