Rogue One

No matter how you feel about Disney purchasing the Star Wars license, Disney is currently fulfilling every Star Wars fan’s dream. Every year for the foreseeable future Disney will be releasing a Star Wars movie, from the “episode” films to the stand alone stories, we will be immersed in a galaxy far, far away. 2016 marks a historical moment in the history of the Star Wars universe, the public will witness a Star Wars feature separate from the traditional episode films entitled, “Rogue One”. For most fans the more Star Wars the better, but could going against the tradition of George Lucas’s vision of the universe he built spell doom for this franchise?

“Rogue One” is a compelling place to start in this new stand alone Star Wars universe film. Taking place in between episode III and episode IV and expounding on the story we only hear about in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope involving the Rebellion stealing the plans to the Death Star to destroy it and thwart the Empire’s attempt at galactic domination. The man who has been tasked with telling this story is a very talented director with a limited directorial biography, Gareth Edwards. Edwards has only two other major movies under his belt and one of them is 2014’s Godzilla. It’s fitting that a young and bold director take the reigns of a new venture in the Star Wars universe that could set the standard for a new vision going forward.

“Rogue One” stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the daughter of the man who has created the planet killing device called the Death Star. Her father, Galen, played by Mads Mikkelsen has seen the error of his ways and has turned away from the Empire and their iron fist rule to protect his family. What Galen has always feared is upon him, the Empire has seeked him out to refine and finish his work on the Death Star. Knowing his fate, Galen has been able to plan an escape for his daughter to prevent her from being held in the Empire’s clutches. What Galen doesn’t know is his daughter Jyn may be the catalyst for the demise of the device that he created and set in motion the event that will turn the tide of war and perhaps have ripples throughout the universe itself.

“Rogue One” is everything that “Force Awakens” wasn’t. Rogue was an enthralling space adventure with a competent story that feels like real stakes are on the line for our intrepid group of heroes. As a fan, knowing the lead up to Star Wars Episode IV just adds another layer of fascinating exposition to a classic trilogy. Most of the actors chosen for this film have done a stellar job. Donnie Yen as the “blind warrior”, Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook, and Alan Tudyk as the droid K-2SO all provide great support characters for our main cast. Several standout main cast members provide the heart and soul of this film including Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso and her counterpart Diego Luna as Cassian Andor who are part of the Rebellion and will stop at nothing to halt the Empire’s march across the galaxy. The antagonists to have performances that provide the proper gravitas to the picture. Ben Mendelsohn is spectacular as Orson Krennic, he poses such a real world threat that only Darth Vader himself could upstage his performance. Mendelsohn’s performance here is like an otherworldly SS Colonel Hans Landa from “Inglourious Basterds” and he relishes in it. It’s only fitting that Darth Vader, voiced once again by James Earl Jones, is stunning as the force wielding Sith Lord. Vader is back to being the Empire’s “hatchet man” doing the will of the Emperor. Vader’s performance has never been more frightening or effective.

“Rogue One” does fall short of greatness, unfortunately, but only in a few areas. The story does suffer from a build up that takes a bit too long, a few logic gaps in the story, a character that seemed like he would’ve been more of a factor in the story, but unceremoniously disappears just becoming a long suffering messenger. A CGI face shot that was a questionable choice and lastly, the movie seems as if its famous re-shoots did change what was originally shot and what the original story may have been. The film doesn’t suffer from it, but as a fan, it makes you think what if? What the movie does get right is its rousing final battle on Scarif and the capture of the Death Star plans that was quite suspenseful. Without ruining any surprises the fan service here is done not just to please, but to make the story more immersive and is icing on a galactic cake that you’re ready to take another bite out of.

“Rogue One” is a phenomenal piece of pop spectacle that ranks with the best of the Star Wars saga. It’s gritty and tells a story that’s worth investing in, as a fan or a newcomer. Let’s just hope that the next episode movie “Awakens” to how well done “Rogue One” is.

OVERALL SCORE: 3.5/5 Stars

-originally published in MAUIWatch