FILM REVIEW – ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. With Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn. Written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. Directed by Gareth Edwards. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action. 133 minutes.
This review will attempt to avoid spoilers but if you insist on not knowing anything about the new “Star Wars” movie going in then come back here after you’ve seen it. You’ve been warned.
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY is billed as the first “standalone” of the series. What is meant by that is that the story is in the universe–or “galaxy far, far away”–that we’ve come to know through seven movies, though it’s a story that feeds into the series rather than being the next chapter of the saga. In fact it is set just prior to the original “Star Wars” (1977) or, as later generations have come to know it, “Star Wars: Episode IV–A New Hope.”
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who attempted to flee working for the Empire but is captured at the start of the film. She becomes involved with the Rebels, particularly Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who is tasked with tracking Galen down. The scientist has been working on the Death Star which figures prominently in “Star Wars,” and the rebels seek the plans which will eventually provide crucial information for Luke Skywalker. They are accompanied on the mission by several new characters including the inevitable comic robot, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), and a blind Jedi, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen).
Several characters from the series have cameos here, helped in some cases by impressive special effects. Most will be left for the viewer to discover, but it has to be noted that a key character is the Grand Moff Tarkin played by Peter Cushing. The reason it needs to be mentioned is that the actor died more than twenty years ago and his substantial supporting role here is entirely the work of Hollywood magicians (with the cooperation of his estate). Tarkin is one of several heavies here, with the chief new villain being Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who considers the Death Star to be his crowning achievement.
The film has the usual dazzling space battles and special effects. Unfortunately, it also has the usual annoying conventions, such as having any lever or object that is deemed crucial to the action be located in the most dangerous spot, requiring the most foolhardy risks. The Empire apparently designs its buildings by what is most dramatically satisfying rather than what makes any rational sense.
Overall, “Rogue One” is very much dramatically satisfying, and in spite of the drops ins by familiar characters, the action is carried by the new guys. This avoids the mistake of the misbegotten sequels as when Obi-wan Kenobi is in danger in “The Phantom Menace” and we’re not concerned because we know he doesn’t die for several more episodes. In “Rogue One” there are no such guarantees: even as you know what will happen with the Rebel mission, you can’t be sure how the present story will turn out.
In short, this movie is what the “Star Wars” prequels should have been, and that’s meant as high praise indeed.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.