Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
4.5 out of 5 Stars
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Chris Weitz (screenplay), Tony Gilroy (screenplay), John Knoll (story), Gary Whitta (story)
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn
Genre: Action, Sci-fi
Rated: PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Recommended to: those looking for a film that recalls the glories of “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” without mimicking their storylines.
Synopsis: A group of rebel fighters look to locate an Imperial scientist who may hold the key to destroying the Galactic Empire’s new weapon, the Death Star.
Review: A year ago we were treated to “The Force Awakens,” a rousing return to the "Star Wars" Universe that, at least in retrospect, relied a bit too heavily on the formula and structure of George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” (later re-branded as “Star Wars: A New Hope”). Yes, the magic was back, but it came wrapped in a package that took far too few risks. Still, it teased the possibility of greatness and gave reason for fans who found the prequel films to be disappointing to reclaim their passion for the franchise.
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is set just prior to the events of “A New Hope” and shifts the focus away from the Chosen One narrative and the Skywalker family line and gives the spotlight to characters that have traditionally been relegated to minor roles. Whereas the previous films have leaned heavily upon fantasy genre, “Rogue One” is through and through a war film. The Force, the mythical power that flows through all things and gives the Jedi and the Sith their extraordinary abilities, is still present, but its role is vastly different.
Despite these differences, “Rogue One” is still firmly rooted in the universe that we have come to love and features a plethora of familiar vehicles, characters and an overall aesthetic that ties directly into the original trilogy. These connections feel organic, rather than ham-fisted, and more than a few surprise with their simplicity. The genius of the script is that it doesn’t look to pull the carpet out from underneath the audience. It will change the way you look at “A New Hope,” but it won’t do it by inserting massive twists.
The strength of “Rogue One” is its ability to introduce a variety of characters ranging from the film’s lead Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the scoundrel Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the delightfully funny robot K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and on through to the blind kung-fu master (Donnie Yen) and quickly establish a connection between them and the audience. If the viewer isn’t invested, the events that follow won’t be remotely as effective.
The tone of the film is more mature than recent outings, but isn’t any darker than “The Empire Strikes Back” or the opening scenes of “The Force Awakens.” Some might miss the silliness that was introduced into the films with “Return of the Jedi.” That’s not to say there isn’t humor, because there most certainly is.
Not that “Rogue One” is perfect.
Unfortunately, Michael Giacchino’s score is largely forgettable as it attempts and utterly fails to imitate the work John Williams has done on the franchise. Alexandre Desplat was originally hired to provide the score, but for various reasons Giacchino was brought in very late in the process to do the work. The results don’t get in the way of the film, but they certainly don’t add much to it. The use of various Williams cues only further emphasizes the disparity in quality. There’s no guarantee that Desplat’s work would have been better, but it gives us something to chew on.
Ultimately “Rogue One” is the best action film of 2016 and the most rewarding Star Wars experience since 1980. It is a fantastic mix of fun and intelligence. The sort of film that made me fall in love with the cinema in the first place.