Rogue One // A Star Wars Story

Nothing worthwhile comes without sacrifice, and the superlative science fiction saga “Rogue One, A Star Wars Story”  exemplifies this notion.   Basically, “Godzilla” director Gareth Edwards, “Golden Compass” scenarist Chris Weitz, and “Bourne” trilogy scribe Tony Gilroy have eliminated all those buffoonish, kid-friendly aliens and given adults a chance to experience an unusually Spartan “Star Wars” spectacle.  No, the PG-13 rated “Rogue One” is neither “Saving Private Ryan” nor “Hacksaw Ridge,” but the straightforward action may give you a reason to shed a tear since a palatable sense of doom looms over this skullduggery.  Everything I’ve read about this entry in the “Star Wars” universe emphasizes the word ‘stand-alone’ so you won’t catch the gifted cast, featuring Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, and Diego Luna, reprising their roles unless Disney conjures up prequels.  Of course, this doesn’t apply to Darth Vader who behaves like the ruthless ruffian that he has always been.  Mind you, in some respects, “Rogue One” may seem hopelessly predictable for some aficionados.  If you’ve seen George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode VI: A New Hope,” then you know the Death Star didn’t survive that adventurous classic.  “Rogue One” qualifies as a prequel.  Chronologically, this outing takes place somewhere between “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” (2005) and “Star Wars: Episode VI: A New Hope.” Although we know the Death Star is ill-fated, what we didn’t know is who sowed the seeds for its destruction.  Some of the finest moments in “Rogue One” occur when the Grand Moff Tarkin appears.  This is the infamous character the late British actor Peter Cushing of “Frankenstein” fame portrayed with such ascetic villainy.  Cushing’s estate approved the physical recreation of the late actor’s personage, and actor Guy Henry’s impersonation is flawless. Quibbles aside, if Peter Cushing could see what they have accomplished, he would be impressed.  Similarly, what Edwards and his scenarists have achieved with Disney’s audacious attempt to expand the “Star Wars” time-line is sensational.  Indeed, the House of Mouse has succeeded where few studios have ever gone with a legitimate spin-off from a million-dollar franchise without the original heroes.


Since “Star Wars: Episode VI: A New Hope” came out back in the summer of 1977, fans have complained about the sweet spot in the Death Star that enabled the Alliance to destroy it.  “Rogue One” relates the story about that sweet spot, and “Star Wars” aficionados can argue now about other things—primarily the time-line between the three films—because Luke and Leia were born at the end of “Episode III.”  Nevertheless, who really cares about such things, when a dazzling movie like “Rogue One” fills the gap?  Apart from Darth Vader, C3PO, R2D2, and Princess Leia, the primary characters in “Rogue One” are entirely new to the franchise.  A brilliant Empire scientist, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen of “Dr. Strange”), has been coerced against his will to collaborate with the Empire to forge the ultimate weapon of devastation.  The wicked Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn of “Killing Them Softly”) commandeered Galen for this infamous project, and he intends to use Galen’s wife Kyra (Valene Kane of “Victor Frankenstein”) and his adolescent daughter Jyn (Beau Gadsdon) as bargaining chips to bring him back into the fold. Galen sends his daughter into hiding, and Kyra perishes trying to thwart Orson.  Jyn grows up under the tutelage of an extreme radical, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker of “Platoon”), and she becomes a notorious criminal herself who has been imprisoned when the Rebel Alliance rescues her.  It seems that an Empire pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed of “Nightcrawler”) has defected and given himself up to Saw.  Bodhi claims he has an urgent message from Galen Erso about the Empire’s Death Star.  Initially, nobody believes that the Empire could have created such a doomsday weapon.  The Rebel Alliance launches a mission to learn more about it.  Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna of “Blood Father”) and his reprogrammed Empire Droid K-2s0 (voice of Alan Tudyk of “Serenity”) break Jyn (Felicity Jones of “Brideshead Revisited”) out of captivity when the Empire is transferring her to a labor camp.  Later, as Jyn explains to her surrogate father Saw, the Rebel Alliance has used her to obtain safe passage into Saw’s camp on the planetary moon Jedha where Bodhi is being held captive.  Saw surprises Jyn with a holographic message from Galen intended for her. Galen explains that the Death Star features the equivalent of an Achilles’ Heel that will render it vulnerable to the Rebels.  No sooner has Jyn seen this message than the Grand Moff Tarkin brings the Death Star into orbit around Jedha and unleashes its formidable destructive power on the city. During their hurried exit from Jedha, Cassian and Jyn acquire a pair of hitchhikers, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen of “Iron Monkey”) and his sidekick Base Malbus (Wen Jiang of “Let the Bullets Fly”), who follow them without question.  Chirrut is a blind monk in the tradition of the legendary Japanese martial arts warrior Zatoichi who wields a deadly staff.

“Rogue One, A Star Wars Story” depicts the valiant efforts of the underdog Rebel Alliance to triumph over the Empire.  Basically, this exhilarating escapade works on the level of a vintage Republic Serial from the 1940s, with one thrilling cliffhanger scene after another ensuing until a grand finale on a scenic Caribbean-like planet named Scarif where the star fleets of both the Rebel Alliance and the Empire wage the battle to end all battles. Although it doesn’t rely on the familiar troika of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, “Rogue One” imitates “Star Wars” in virtually every other respect except the ending with its Pyrrhic Victory.  Felicity Jones makes a sympathetic heroine that you won’t forget.  Alan Tudyk as the wisecracking K-2s0 droid competes with Donnie Yen for top honors as the ultimate scene stealers. The special efforts are spectacular. Altogether, “Rogue One” ranks as the best “Star Wars” epic since “The Empire Strikes Back.”



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