Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Directed By: Gareth Edwards

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, and Forest Whitaker

"I am one with the force, and the force is with me."
-Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen)

There is no doubt that Disney has had a mighty year with hit after hit after hit.  From The Jungle Book and Zootopia to Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange, the studio has had a banner year.  With rumors swirling about the Rogue One reshoots, it wasn't clear that the venerated studio was going to close the year on a positive note.  Despite their incredible success throughout the year, a lot is riding on this Star Wars prequel spinoff, namely Disney's ability to make their $4.5 billion acquisition of Lucasfilm truly worth the price tag. Making a new trilogy is fine, but expanding the galaxy to films beyond the Skywalker family tree is where the real money is.  That's why the rumors and the negative buzz generated about Rogue One could only be viewed as detrimental to the prospects of the film.  Having seen the film, however, I’m happy to report that the buzz wasn't justified.  Christmas just came early, and we may have just received the best Star Wars film since the original trilogy was in theaters 33 years ago.  It certainly boasts the greatest action sequence for Vader that I have ever seen.  Ever!

Weapons engineer Galen Erso (Mass Mikkelsen) has no love for the Empire, but the Empire loves him.  Imperial weapons research director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) has been tasked with constructing the planet killer to be known as the Death Star, and he needs someone with Galen's particular set of skills to make this happen.  Galen understands that Director Krennic would rather choke on his ambition than fail to deliver the Death Star to the Emperor and Lord Vader (James Earl Jones).  He knows Krennic is willing to take him, his wife, and his young daughter Jyn hostage to get what he wants.  With this in mind, Galen submits to Krennic and decides to build the Empire its weapon of mass destruction.  His wife Lyra (Valene Kane) disagrees with the decision, and her protests cost Galen his wife and Jyn her mother.

On the day Krennic takes her father away from her and murders her mother, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) goes into hiding.  She's found by a veteran of the Clone Wars and a rebel extremist named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).  Gerrera raises Jyn up to be anything but an upstanding citizen of the Galaxy.  A criminal on her way to justice courtesy of the Empire some years later, Jyn is "rescued" by a Rebel spy named Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).  They take Jyn to meet leaders of the Rebel Alliance who know what her estranged father has been working on all these years.  In an attempt to learn more about the Empire's planet killer, they ask Jyn to reconnect with Saw Gerrera and find out where her father is.  Jyn naturally agrees.  As she gets increasingly entangled in the looming galactic warfare, she learns more and more how critical her father is to the Empire's goals.

It's been nearly four decades since Star Wars arrived in theaters.  At this stage in the game, I didn't really think that I could view the movie differently upon another repeat viewing.  After all, it's a seminal piece of pop culture that has enamored generation after generation of moviegoers.  Well, Gareth Edwards changes everything with his bold foray into a galaxy far, far away — Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  He changes my perspective on everything when it comes to the classic trilogy.  Effectively making the case that all Star Wars movies don't have to be about the Skywalker family, Edwards introduces us to a new family, the Ersos.  He explores beautiful, new worlds.  He peels back layers of A New Hope we thought we all knew so well and gives us a film that feels like the first half of Episode IV in style and narrative.  In doing so, he opens up an opportunity to explore a riveting tale from different angles and enables us to love the originals even more at the same time.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a throwback film that breathes new life and mystery into an already mythical franchise.

Intricately connecting Rogue One to Episode IV, Edwards employs a number of cinematic devices to make Star Wars fans feel like they're right at home.  The most obvious device of which Edwards makes use is CGI.  In making use of this technology, he taps into the Fountain of Youth and raises the dead, including Peter Cushing's beloved character Grand Moff Tarkin and plenty of Rebel pilots.  Edwards makes fans feel right at home with the grey, gritty cinematography that lends itself to a darker tone more akin to the classic trilogy.  Edwards also digs deep into the Star Wars mythology to scatter the film with Easter eggs galore.  Aside from the familiar faces, the visual cues, and abundant references to the Star Wars canon, Edwards structures the film and stylizes the action in a way that's reminiscent of the older Star Wars films.  He impressively does so while creating new worlds and enamoring us with a new band of characters.  Rogue One is essentially a refreshing throwback that embodies the best elements of the franchise in a way that The Force Awakens simply did not.

Edwards has the daunting task of introducing us to a whole new gang in the span of two hours.  A series of charming performances aids him in doing so.  First and foremost, we have Felicity Jones stepping into a role as action heroine Jyn Erso.  Defined by both practicality and tenacity, her character is not the hero the Rebels deserve but the one it needs at this crucial moment in galactic history.  Jones brings a real grit to the role that pays big dividends.  For his part as her co-star Cassian Andor, Diego Luna gives us one grouchy spy.  Despite the fact that he is egotistical and rude, he has a lot of heart and shares solid chemistry with Jones's Jyn.  There's a real breakout performance from Alan Tudyk as the sarcastic droid K-2SO.  His caustic wit may really be the best thing about the movie.  K-2SO will be the droid I'm looking for from now on.  

Ben Mendelsohn gives us a solid villain in Director Orson Krennic.  Driven by ambition and aspirations, the obnoxious weapons director has a singular ability to ruffle everyone's feathers.  He's not intended to be the most menacing player in the galaxy, but he is an interesting player nonetheless.  We even have fun performances that serve up plenty of badass action and comic relief from Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang as Force sensitive Chirrut Îmwe and mercenary Baze Malbus respectively.  Finally, the characters brought back to life include the likes of Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader.  All I will say is that Edwards and the cast do an impeccable job of adding a fresh take on each of these characters.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
is one of the best blockbusters of the year.  Old school, action-packed, and served with the right dose of humor, this darker entry into the Star Wars franchise is just what the doctor ordered for Disney and Lucasfilm.  Rogue One gets a sober rating.  The Force is strong with this one!