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'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' Film Review: A gritty, new direction for the iconic sci-fi franchise

December 15, 2016Ben MK

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story — the first Star Wars movie not to follow in the episodic footsteps of George Lucas' groundbreaking science fiction saga — has been billed as more or less a standalone tale set in a galaxy far, far away. However, as any moviegoer with even a modicum of interest in the iconic film franchise should know, this isn't entirely the case.

That's because Rogue One isn't just set in the turbulent time period between Episode III and Episode IV; it leads straight into the events of A New Hope, telling the story of a ragtag group of galactic misfits and Rebel Alliance fighters who embark on a dangerous and downright suicidal mission to steal the industrial schematics to the Death Star — the very same schematics that Darth Vader himself is after when he and his cadre of Imperial Stormtroopers forcefully board Princess Leia's ship, the Tantive IV, in the opening moments of Lucas' 1977 space opera.

At the center of it all is Felicity Jones' character, Jyn Erso, daughter of scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the brains behind the Death Star. Kidnapped and forced to help the Empire construct its terrifying super-weapon by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), the Imperials' scheming Director of Advanced Weapons Research, Galen has spent the better part of the last two decades toiling away at the Emperor's behest. However, he has never abandoned hope — and, as Rogue One reminds us, hope is the bedrock upon which rebellions are built.

As for Galen, his hope is realized when he entrusts former Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) to deliver a holographic message to Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), whose band of troublemakers works to disrupt the Empire's operations on the Imperial-occupied moon of Jedha. And when the news reaches the Rebel base on Yavin 4, the Alliance dispatches their newest recruit, Jyn, along with Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his trusty co-pilot, a snarky, reprogrammed Imperial droid named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), to Jedha to investigate.

Along the way, Jyn, Cassian and K-2SO join forces (no pun intended) with Bodhi, a blind, Force-wielding warrior named Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Chirrut's steadfast friend and protector, Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). And together, they launch an against-all-odds attack on a fortified Imperial facility on the beach-like planet of Scarif, in what amounts to the film's centerpiece sequence, a thrilling, third-act set-piece that excels in evoking both the gritty, boots-on-the-ground combat of Saving Private Ryan and the soaring space dogfights of Return of the Jedi.

But enough about the plot. What director Gareth Edwards and screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy have accomplished here is — above all else — a movie made by Star Wars fans for Star Wars fans. And, for better or worse, it's something that the film never fails to remind viewers of. Whether it's the callbacks to the original trilogy or the cameos by our favorite pair of droids or those two jerks who bully Luke Skywalker in that Cantina on Mos Eisley, Rogue One delivers ample fan service to blow the minds of even the most hardcore Star Wars devotees.

Then there's the dead-on-accurate doppelgänger of a certain long-deceased actor, created to reprise the role of one of the original film's most coldblooded and iconic characters (no, not Vader, though he's in here as well). Part flesh-and-blood performance and part cutting-edge visual effect, the appearance of this character in Rogue One will leave Star Wars fans struggling to pick their jaws up off the floor. Suffice to say, it's only one of the many tricks Edwards and company have up their sleeves that help make this Star Wars spinoff as thoroughly satisfying as it is.

Of course, if you aren't a dedicated Star Wars fan, you may find yourself scratching your head when your fellow audience members start to gasp or break out in spontaneous applause. Still, the filmmakers have done a marvelous job ensuring that the appeal of Rogue One is far from inclusive, balancing the movie's intense action with moments of dark drama and lighthearted levity. Indeed, the Force may have awoken last December, but this latest Star Wars adventure is outstanding proof that the creative powers behind the franchise haven't fallen asleep at the wheel.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story releases December 16th, 2016 from Walt Disney Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action. Its runtime is 2 Hrs. 14 Mins.

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