Revolution ain’t a party
In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story the unlikely Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, Inferno) is plucked from an imperial prison because her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), is the engineer working on the Empire’s new mystery weapon. The Empire wants to keep him in line, the Rebel Alliance wants him dead to stop him from building the super weapon, and Jyn just wants to come to terms with the fact that Galen had abandoned her as a child. She becomes career rebel Cassian’s (Diego Luna, Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Imperial defector Bodhi Rook’s (Riz Ahmed, HBO’s The Night Of) ally in the plot, eventually putting the plans for what is identified as the Death Star in Princess Leia’s hands.
Director Gareth Edwards honed his storytelling skills with creature features ( Monsters, Godzilla) but probably captures the tone and feel of a Star Wars story”more effectively than his predecessor, J.J. Abrams. Thrilling as The Force Awakens was, it was a rehash of much that went before it. Rogue One brings us new characters, new locations, and most importantly a new sense of what rebelling against a bigger, better-armed, totalitarian empire means. The film’s downbeat mood is reminiscent of The Empire Strikes Back and the lack of happy endings in a broken-down world where the iron grip of an occupying state (lest we forget, the rebels are aligned with the democratic galactic senate) means misery, rage and radicalization. Edwards and writers Chris Weitz ( Cinderella) and Tony Gilroy (Jason Bourne series, Zhang Yimou’s upcoming The Great Wall) should be commended for bringing a fresh vibe to the franchise.
While Jones and Luna are fine as the de facto heroes, it’s the supporting players that give the film its soul. Donnie Yen as blind Jedi warrior Chirrut Imwe and Jiang Wen as his guardian Baze Malbus win the character sweepstakes by bringing a palpable sense of shared history to the friends (Make a movie about these guys!), and Alan Tudyk’s sarcastic voice work as reprogrammed Imperial droid K2SO makes it easy to forget C3PO. They’re part of an organically diverse cast — in a film that doesn’t pander and just “is” — adding to the expansive feel of the story.
It’s not perfect. Ben Mendelsohn’s villainous Crennic is criminally underdeveloped (a shame, given Mendelsohn’s talent), as is Forest Whitaker’s radical rebel Saw Gerrera. There’s some second act drag, and one visual effect is particularly wobbly, welcome as its intent may be (you’ ll know it when it comes on screen). But there are plenty of nuggets for diehard fans (blue milk! Gold leader! Mos Eisley criminal scum!) to chew on, and most crucially a seamless connection to the rest of the mythology. Call this Episode 3.5.
It’s easy to look past Rogue One’s minor flaws by the time the heist rolls around, especially when production designers Doug Chiang and Neil Lamont and cinematographer Greig Fraser ( Foxcatcher, Zero Dark Thirty) create vivid new worlds — occupied Jedi stronghold Jedha, industrial Eadu — to become immersed in, as well as recreate familiar places (Yavin 4) and infuse them with new meaning.
Like the story that immediately follows it, Rogue One is very of the moment, this time as a reflective surface rather than a tonic. It doesn’t threaten The Empire
status as the Star Wars product standard bearer, but comes close.
The young Han Solo film, though? That could still be a disaster.