Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a 2016 science-fiction action-adventure film directed by Gareth Edwards and written by Chris Weltz and Tony Gilroy. It is the eighth film in the Star Wars franchise and the first film in the standalone Star Wars Anthology films. Rogue One stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelson, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, and Jiang Wen. Rogue One takes place in between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the original 1977 film.

Galen Erso, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is a former Imperial scientist on the run from the Empire. Galen and his family are located by his former superior, Orson Krennic. Galen's wife is killed and he is captured. Galen's young daughter Jyn is able to escape and is raised by an extremist Rebel and friend of Galen's Saw Gerrera. Fifteen years later, a Imperial defector is captured by Gerrera. The defector was sent by Galen, now being forced to work on the Death Star project, to deliver a message to the Rebel forces revealing the superweapon's weakness. Gerrera's tactics and paranoia caused him to break off from the main Resistance faction. Jyn, played by Felicity Jones, is propositioned by the Rebels to approach Gerrera and validate the defector's information.

Rogue One is based upon a throwaway line from A New Hope concerning Leia being given the Death Star plans by Rebel spies. That a film can be inspired by a single, seemingly unimportant line is impressive. Even more impressive, though, despite being only tangentially related to the overall saga of Star Wars, Rogue One manages to present the viewer with empathetic characters, a solid story, superb acting, and gorgeous action and stunning visual effects. Rogue One is a film worthy of the revitalized Star Wars brand, able to capture the spirit of the Original Trilogy with ease.

Felicity Jones, known for her award-winning performance in The Theory of Everything, once again showcases phenomenal skill. Jyn Erso is a very tough, smart, street-savvy individual made so by the difficult circumstances of her life and upbringing. Jones conveys all of the emotions that come as a byproduct of that upbringing very well. Mexican actor Diego Luna plays Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor with the same proficiency as his co-star. Ben Mendelson's Krennic is intimidating, though shown to be extremely vulnerable, as he is merely a puppet for much powerful men than himself. Swedish actor Mads Mikkelsen does a good job portraying Galen Erso with the limited amount of screen time he has. Alan Tudyk voices K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid with no filter, saying whatever comes to his mind, and is the funniest and most quotable character in the entire movie.

The character that is sure to stick in everyone's mind, though, is the blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe, played by Chinese actor Donnie Yen. Yen, one of Hong Kong's top action stars and one of the highest-paid actors in Asia, is a master martial artist, well-versed in in Tai chi chuan, boxing, kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do, Hapkido, Taekwondo, karate, Muay Thai, wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Wing Chun, and Wushu. He is known for portraying Ip Man, a grandmaster and trainer of Bruce Lee, in the 2008 biographical film of the same name. In addition to winning several real-life martial arts tournaments, Yen is also known for his top-notch fight choreography, which is most definitely on display here. Despite Rogue One being his first English-speaking role, Yen portrays his character effectively, his English, though understandably heavily-accented, very easy to understand. I personally hope that his fan-favorite role here lands the 54-year-old more high-profile Hollywood roles in the future.

Rogue One is stacked to the brim with amazing performances, but the most impressive one by far has to be the one who wasn't actually there. Peter Cushing portrayed Tarkin, Darth Vader's right-hand-man and a secondary antagonist in A New Hope. Cushing, who died in 1994, reprises his role as Tarkin from beyond the grave. Guy Henry, known for his role as the Minister of Magic in the Harry Potter series, portrayed Tarkin during principal photography, while archived footage of the actor was used to digitally recreate Cushing's face for the film, with very impressive results. As it was with The Force Awakens, the general CGI, as well as the practical effects of the film were also excellent.

Rogue One is not without a few shortcomings, however. Although I find the outline of the story itself to be interesting and very solid, the characters themselves appear to be inconsistent in their feelings and motivations. Jyn and Cassian, in particular, go from cynical and jaded to hopeful and content without a real reason for it. Rogue One is perhaps the most legitimately dire story in the entire franchise. Star Wars has always been about hope in times of darkness, and that is a major theme of Rogue One, but nothing in the character's actions justify their frequent changes of heart other than the script needs them to, in my opinion. It is an admittedly major flaw, though certainly not a fatal one, in an otherwise great film.

Rogue One is an extremely solid start to the Anthology series of standalone spinoffs. Featuring a solid storyline, excellent acting from everyone involved, incredible action, and a sizable role featuring one of the most effective movie martial artists in the business, Rouge One is a great film that is unfortunately prevented from achieving the same overwhelming success as its predecessors because of a rather serious issue with character development. Nevertheless, I cannot wait to see what future Anthology projects will bring.

The Star Wars saga is set to continue with Episode VIII, written and directed by Looper craftsman Rian Johnson, and an untitled Han Solo Anthology film directed by the comedy masterminds Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the geniuses behind the 21 Jump Street parody/reboot films, The Lego Movie, and the hilarious Fox sitcom Brooklyn 9-9. The Han Solo film will star relative newcomer Alden Ehrenreich as Solo and Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian.

Published by Aaron Brannen