While the return of the Star Wars franchise in the form of The Force Awakens was wholeheartedly welcomed, Chapter VII raised a few red flags. The similitudes with A New Hope were numerous and conspicuous, enough to encourage the perception that the new trilogy may end up being a remix of the original one.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story benefits from this brewing problem by delivering the most original tale of the Rebellion since Jedi. Sure, the structure is videogame-like and the plot contrivances can be more exasperating than exciting, but the characters are edgier and their interactions are a lot spikier than what we have become used to.
Chief among the malcontents featured in the film is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything). The abandoned daughter of a weapon designer “employed” by the Empire, Jyn has serious trust issues and doesn’t think highly of the rulers or the insurgence. The Rebel Alliance recruits Jyn under duress to pursue information regarding her father (Mads Mikkelsen) and his involvement with something called “Death Star”.
Since sullen Jyn lacks commitment to the cause, she is paired with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, Y Tu Mamá También), a rebel agent not beyond getting his hands dirty for the greater good, and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk, Firefly), a reprogrammed imperial robot with no filter, literally. Along the way, a few more renegades join a mission that gradually becomes a different one from the one the Alliance sanctioned.
For a story whose outcome is well known (see A New Hope), the film packs plenty of thrills. One of the smartest things Rogue One does is getting its inspiration from the right sources, namely classic war films like The Dirty Dozen and The Bridge on the River Kwai. It’s also wise enough to fully explore the notion of “universe”: We see more planets here than in the first trilogy combined, and not mere copies of previously established ones like Jakku/Tatooine. They all have earthly referents. War zones, to boot.
Since a sequel is not a possibility (Rogue One is gouged between the first and the second trilogy), there is no safety net and the stakes for the characters are considerable. The film exploits dissension in the ranks, both within the Empire (power struggles) and among the rebels (acceptable levels of radicalism), an enjoyable dose of texture that amps up the drama. As in previous instalments, there is a hearty dose of humor, only this time it emerges organically. K-2SO serves a comic relief, but it’s not his only purpose.
Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters), a competent craftsman, makes good use of elements previously established by the franchise, particularly ships and weapons placed in a non-traditional environment. Edwards’ third act issues are solved by the traditional Star Wars multi-platform denouement, taken up to eleven.
The acting is on point, although Felicity Jones struggles with her transformation from angry renegade to full blown hero. The vets, however, knock it out of the park: Mikkelsen is predictably good as a man in an impossible situation, Ben Mendelsohn is delightfully malevolent, and Forest Whitaker finds a way to be too much of a rebel.
If there is a particular weak spot in Rogue One that would be the music. The usually reliable Michael Giacchino creates a score supposedly inspired by John Williams’ emblematic tunes. The outcome, however, resembles a cheap knock-off. Thankfully, every so often the real thing pops up, thrilling as always. I don’t want to nitpick nor spoil the fun, but there is a questionable use of CGI that’s both impressive and distracting. You’ll know it when you see it.
Unlike any other franchise, a new Star Wars movie can be considered a life event (I can pinpoint where I saw each one of the prequels and Episode VII). Make it a special one, the movie does its part. Four planets.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens tonight, everywhere.