And so it begins. Like it or not, when Disney decided to spend billions on bringing George Lucas’ space mythology over to the House of Mouse, the plan always was to branch off, to explore as much of the Star Wars universe as possible while keeping the fans happy with more canonical entries into the franchise.
Rogue One represents the first in what the studio promises will be a series of “anthology” films, using the narrative created since 1977 to tell individual tales, and if they are all as successful as this one, we are in for an entertaining and engaging ride. Unlike any Star Wars film you’ve ever seen, this is Aliens to A New Hope‘s Alien, a war film hitting all the right action beats while benefiting from our previous knowledge of events and individuals.
Without spoiling what unfolds, Rogue One tells us how Princess Leia and the Rebellion got their hands on the plans to the Death Star, as well as how the alliance discovered the flaw in the planet killer’s design. We begin with some backstory, as our heroine Jyn Erso (a serious Felicity Jones) watches her father, research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelesen) develop the plans for the device. Fast forward 15 years and she is now determined to help him defect from the Empire.
She teams up with a Rebel Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and travels to the planet Jedha. There, she’s reunited with an old mentor, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and while plotting what to do, the Empire shows up. Eventually, Jyn gets the idea of stealing the Death Star plans from a data bank on a distant planet. It’s a mission that will require a lot of help, including the efforts of former allies Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yuen), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).
That’s about as much of Rogue One that can be discussed without getting involved in major plot points and character reveals. If you changed the Empire to Nazi Germany (or LV-426) and Jyn and her gang to the Dirty Dozen (or Ripley and her space Marines), you basically have the main narrative thrust. This is a standard ragtag group on a mission movie with the added oomph of having the entire Star Wars universe at the filmmaker’s disposal.
Director Gareth Edwards, whose work on canvases both small (his indie hit, Monsters) and large (his wonderful reworking of Godzilla) get a lot of things right here. Tony Gilory, who helped polish the script, also worked on some of the reshoots, and their combined efforts have created one of the best looking and most original entries into the franchise. Even when utilizing already existing icons like Darth Vader (sorry, he’s in the trailers, so we’re not giving anything away) there is a newness to the approach.
Indeed, the whole Rogue One experience is a combination of familiarity meshed with fascination. Add in some top notch action and a gritty, go for broke tone, and you’ve got the kind of spectacle we expect from the series combined with a wholly unique vision and approach. The acting is uniformly good, even if the characters are thinly draw and in need of some fleshing out (maybe the extended director’s cut home video release will remedy some of that). As for the visuals, the combination of CG and practical effects is virtually flawless (except in one case, which we can’t go into here).
As rousing as it is respectful, carving out its own path while playing within the boundaries of the previous blockbusters, this is one of the best Star Wars stories ever put to film. It has an urgency that other installments can’t create. If all the anthology films in the planned spin-offs work as well as this, we are in for a great deal of fun in a certain galaxy, far far away.