When Disney took over the Star Wars property given to them by George Lucas and they announced they would be making a myriad of films within that galaxy far far away, there were many who were happy with the thought that there would be Star Wars films for years to come. Then there were some, like me, who were very wary with the idea that there would be so many Star Wars films coming down the pipeline. Occasionally quality and quantity tend to get blurred when franchises start to expand upon themselves. But if Rogue One is any hint, then maybe fans like me have nothing to worry about.
Rogue One is the first of Disney’s “anthology” stand alone films that will tell self-contained stories that still impact the overall “saga” films in either great or small ways. Rogue One is the connecting bridge from the prequels to the original films. Set after the events of Episode III and leading directly into Episode IV, Rogue One tells the story of the group of rebels that stole the plans for the empire’s dreaded death star, the plans that play such a central part of the original Star Wars. Rogue One is a bit of a slow burn. It takes its time setting up its characters and story. While there is action, it’s not wall to wall and doesn’t rush into its action pieces, instead it’s willing to focus on the characters that drive the movie. A rag tag bunch of heroes, whether willing or unwilling, are thrown together for the greater good of the galaxy, and their actions will forever change the course of the war between the rebellion and empire.
Felicity Jones (who holds the weight of the film with ease) leads this band of rebels as Jyn Erso, one of the more unwilling participants at the beginning, who is enlisted by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) a rebel who is one of the first to learn about a new super weapon that the empire has built, a weapon that Jyn has close ties to. Joining them at first is Cassian’s droid sidekick/helper, and center of comic relief in the film, K-2SO, wonderfully played by Alan Tudyk. Along the way they come across the rest of the band of characters who will make the rebel force that will enact the daring plan to steal the empire’s plans. Everyone fills in their supporting parts nicely. From Donnie Yen’s blind force believer (but not user) to Riz Ahmed’s Rhody Brook, who’s actually responsible for kicking off the story (off screen anyway). Rounding out the cast is Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, a prideful and imperial officer who oversees the construction of the death star. And while Darth Vader is shown in the trailer, his screen time is very limited, but he makes the most of the time he has when he shows up toward the end of the film.
Directed by Gareth Edwards, Rogue One is an entertaining first entry of the “anthology” series of Star Wars movies. As I said earlier, the film is slow to start but finds its footing as to what kind of movie it wants to be early. When the action finally kicks in during the last quarter of the film, Edward shows his growth as a director, putting together, one of the best multi-faceted actions scenes ever seen in a Star Wars film as something familiar to fans of the franchise (two battles, one in space and the other on planet erupt) is presented in such a way that it envelopes the viewer in its aggressive intensity. It’s hard to believe this is the same director that made the okay, but lackluster Godzilla two years earlier.
Rogue One is dark, probably the darkest of all the Star Wars films, but the tone of the film fits with the seriousness in which these characters find themselves in a galaxy where the empire has a chokehold that’s only getting tighter. This movie probably does the best job of any of the original films (even The Empire Strikes Back) at presenting the empire as a military force that is tyrannical, vicious, evil and every bit as terrifying as one would think a galactic empire would be. As the movie that bridges the prequels and original saga together, Rogue One places the original Star Wars into a new light. There’s a gravitas to Ep. IV that it never had before with a weight of importance that is much more profound thanks to the events of Rogue One. I dare say this will probably be one the best received films in the franchise, maybe even the film where fans can say that Star Wars grew up a little in how it tells its stories. Here’s hoping the other anthology and saga movies follow suit. They have a lot to live up to following this one.