As a stand alone picture, Rogue One is an acceptable Dirty Dozen with lasers, a movie that sends a bunch of morally suspicious people (and droids) on a suicide mission, and manages to get you like them because they’re not as bad as the other side. As a Star Wars spin-off, it’s a glorious set-up to A New Hope, and a fun (if unexpectedly brutal) exploration in a film world we still haven’t seen enough of.

    Jyn Erso (a terrific Felicity Jones) is sitting in a Imperial tank imprisoned when she’s suddenly burst out by rebel forces that are out for her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen, who plays a much better warm father figure here than a cold villain he portrayed in Doctor Strange). Galen was captured by Imperial forces, watched his wife die and daughter disappear and then made to build the Death Star. Clearly not the best working circumstances.

    But there’s a catch. Galen resents his employer, and decides to build a weakness in the ship to allow it to be destroyed from the inside. If you saw the beginning of A New Hope where Leia gets instructions on destroying the Death Star before being captured by Darth Vader, you can realize this is basically the story of how she got them.

    So Jyn gets teamed up with a rag-tag group of rebels and criminals for a mission. That includes Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) a rebel officer with shady orders, a blind man that rants about the force (Donnie Yen), his sidekick (Jiang Wen), a rebel defector (Riz Ahmed) and a mouthy droid (Alan Tudyk). Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) never gives any of these people an especially dark character, but clean-cut Luke Skywalker or charming smuggler Han Solo these people are not. 

    I mean that in more ways than one. Not to sound politically correct (trust me, I’m not that kind of person), but there’s a certain thrill in here (and in The Force Awakens) in watching the world of Star Wars embrace minority and female casting, and this movie is all the better for it. Jones refuses to make Jyn a mere tomboy with guns, instead making her a woman with a quiet strength and a suspicion of both Imperials and Rebels. Ahmed has a maniacal screen presence that commands your attention, while Luna navigates the moral shades of grey his character requires with ease. All three of these actors should become big stars.

    The world they inhabit is familiar, and Edwards toys with our knowledge of Star Wars throughout by playing the iconic theme or giving us shots of the Death Star. He shows just enough of what we know (a similar tactic he employed in Godzilla) to get us excited before the big reveal. Spoiling it in trailers has robbed seeing Darth Vader on-screen again of it’s power, but it’s still a chilling moment, and outside of some noticeable age in James Earl Jones’ voice and a horrible pun that evokes Schwarzenegger from Batman & Robin, it hits the right nostalgia notes just like you wanted it. 

    Kudos to Edwards for not taking the easy way out with the story. The mission that the characters go on is one that nearly guarantees death, and he doesn’t shy away from it. I won’t spoil the whole movie (although lets just say I wasn’t kidding when I say “suicide mission”), but I will say that I’m surprised family-friendly Disney agreed to end the picture the way you see on-screen. 

Much has been made over the film’s reliance on CGI to portray Grand Moff Tarkin and a younger Leia from older films, but I won’t join in on that. The computer-generated faces are initially odd to look at, but settle in to become normal to the eyes after a while. Lord knows we’re watching the future of cinema right here, so we might as well get used to it. 

There was a lull mid-way through where some drama between Jyn and Cassian felt forced, but I attribute that to the movie shifting it’s goals in the middle of the film. Initially Jyn is supposed to help Cassian meet with a rebel terrorist (Forest Whitaker, both terrifying and odd) and talk to Ahmed’s character about Galen. That mission is interesting because so much time is devoted to establishing the rugged world they have to go to, and Rogue One's first 45 minutes are a lot better than the ensuing hour plus. Then the group has to go find Galen, but when that fails they go to retrieve the Death Star plans. It’s a mission that could’ve been cleared up a little more with some stream-lined writing. Even I was losing the movie a little, and I was hoped up on sugar from a delicious bag of candy.   

  Edwards knows how to build up a story, and I can’t deny he made an interesting set-up that is mostly paid-off because we’ll watch practically anything within the Star Wars universe. What could’ve been an unnecessary spin-off winds up being a great little dirty chapter in the most famous film franchise. 

 

Post-Script: I was forced to leave the first showing of Rogue One around the 45 minute mark due to illness. I saw a showing later that night, and having to re-watch a part of it made me appreciate the film’s beginning even more.

Published by Jagger Czajka