Yes, the film takes audiences back to the time frame in the saga fans love most, that of the original trilogy. That means all the classic Star Wars toys — X-Wing fighters, Star Destroyers, even the first Death Star — are all here to enjoy again.
But Rogue One never feels “been there, done that.” Instead, the film reinvigorates the classic imagery with dynamic cinematography and creative action choreography.
Put another way: you’ve never seen the Empire battle the Rebellion quite like this. It’s vibrant, compelling, and ultimately you’ll feel like a kid again watching it.
What’s it about?
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story fits in between Episodes III and IV in the full Star Wars saga. From the opening crawl of Episode IV, audiences learned that Rebel spies had transmitted plans for the Empire’s new superweapon, the Death Star, to Princess Leia so that she could get them to the Alliance.
But who were those Rebel spies? Just how did they get the plans for the Emperor’s secret weapon, the Empire’s most closely guarded secret?
The answer starts with a young woman named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). Jyn isn’t part of the Rebellion against the Empire – she’s just a rebel. Haunted by her past, she’s just trying to survive, and cares nothing for politics and galactic struggles.
But while she may have no need of the Rebel Alliance, the Alliance needs her. Rebel intelligence operative Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) “recruit” Jyn for a mission only she can complete, one tied to her family name and its connections to top secret Imperial development of a so-called “planet-killer.”
Putting the band together
Along the way, Jyn and Cassian pick up allies. A monk with fervent belief in the Force (Donnie Yen), a sharpshooter (Jiang Wen), a former Imperial cargo pilot (Riz Ahmed), and an outcast rebel (Forest Whitaker) all have roles to play in the effort to stop the Empire’s ultimate achievement.
To save the Rebellion, they’ll face Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), the mastermind of the Death Star project. Krennic’s out to prove the Death Star is all it was promised to be – his career depends on it.
Oh, and there’s also a certain Dark Lord of the Sith waiting to deal with him if his efforts fail.
Find redemption for past sins and lost faith. Find hope in the darkest of hours. Save the galaxy from cruelty and tyranny.
A dirtier, grittier Star Wars story
Part of what sets Rogue One: A Star Wars Story apart from the films of the Skywalker Saga is its overall look and tone. Yes, the ships, uniforms and weapons all look familiar here, but they’re not nearly as bright and shiny as audiences may be used to.
Neither are the characters, who are far more nuanced than the archetypes George Lucas used in his iconic films. No room for dashing scoundrels and wide-eyed young heroes here. The characters in this story all have weight to them, and their interaction adds much needed dramatic tension to balance the action.
That’s not to say the film doesn’t dazzle when it has to. In fact, director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) delivers breathtaking visuals both large and small throughout the film. The space battles alone should have even the most seasoned Star Wars fan on the edge of their seat.
An improvement over “The Force Awakens”
Now, here’s the part of the review where hardcore Star Wars fans may cry “heresy.” So be it.
The difference is intent. J.J. Abrams made essentially a love letter to the 1977 original and its fans with The Force Awakens. The familiarity, the echoes of the original film in terms of plot beats, character arcs and production design were by design.
Clearly, the effort yielded massive rewards. The film steamrolled the box office and got a whole new generation of fans excited about Star Wars‘s future.
What Gareth Edwards delivers, in contrast, is something that feels fresh and new. From camera angles to staging to plot pacing, there’s no effort to mimic what’s past.
The results should be invigorating for longtime fans and utterly thrilling for newbies. It’s a remarkable feat, especially considering he’s using the elements made so familiar by the saga’s beginnings.
Without question, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story should be seen on the big screen. In fact, it should be in the conversation for “Best Star Wars film of all”, or at the very least the strongest film since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.
But even if Star Wars is all new to you, there’s lots to enjoy in this film. You may need your nerd friends to explain later why they gasped or cheered at certain moments, but you’ll still have fun.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, with Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker. Directed by Gareth Edwards.
Running Time: 133 minutes
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.