A long time ago in a galaxy far away, there were a half dozen sensational “Star Wars” films. In order to pass the legend on to a new generation of filmmakers, LucasFilm was sold to Disney in 2012, which caused a great disturbance in the force. Last year, the first new picture, “The Force Awakens,” was good, not great, but set box office records.
Now, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” begins with an unlikely international ensemble cast, another round of fanfare, but without the characteristic “Star Wars” title crawl. Director Garreth Edwards (“Godzilla”), now at the helm, honors the look and feel of the some of the better episodes, but adds more grit and sizzle.
To some, this is like a rock group releasing the same album each year only playing it a little louder each time. But those who appreciate this sci-fi action, rock on! Passive Brit, Felicity Jones (“Theory of Everything”), credibly stars as Jyn Erso, brash and impetuous daughter of the evil Empire’s chief scientist, Galen Erso (Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen).
Galen is asked to lead the building of The Death Star, the ultimate killing machine. He questions the motives and objectives of the Empire’s leader Orson Krennic (Australian Ben Mendelsohn) who claims, “We have a chance for peace.” Galen challenges, “You are confusing peace with terror!” Orson replies, “We have to start somewhere.” Touché!
When Galen is ordered to return to the project, Jyn escapes and is raised by a friend of her father’s, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Eventually joining the Rebellion, Jyn meets Cassian Andor (Mexican actor Diego Luna), who doesn’t necessarily trust the daughter of the Empire’s chief scientist, but seems to be a man with a plan.
Together, they set out on the most challenging task of all. They must steal the plans for the Death Star, protected deep in the Empire’s fortress. They are joined by K-2SO, a reprogrammed Empire droid (Alan Tudyk), Chirrut Imwe (Chinese actor Donnie Yen) a blind master swordsman, and Bodhi Rook (British Riz Ahmed), a pilot who defected from the Empire. Ever notice how many warriors switch sides in this series? Yikes!
With a screenplay by Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”) and Tony Gilroy (“Jason Bourne” series), this movie is not only better than the last film, but some may say it is one of the best of the bunch. Love it or not, it features meticulous craftsmanship, a plethora of spacecraft, space creatures, stunning cinematography and a soaring musical score by Michael Giacchino. This is the first Star Wars movie not scored by John Williams.
It is not perfect by any means, but fans will appreciate the sci-fi action, magnificent special effects, plucky comic relief (mostly from K-2SO), and how it effectively bridges Episodes III (2005), the last film in the original series, and Episode IV (1977), the first film in the series. Got that? The final action sequence (a little too long for some) presents some of the most spectacular intergalactic battles and aerial dog fights of the series.
The screen is filled with magnificent aerial hardware and the stakes are exceedingly high, but the story is not necessarily profound. More emphasis is put on the mission than the characters, but they are credible and at one with the force. There is no emerging Harrison Ford performance, but thankfully, they are more likeable than those in the prior Episode. So, just watch and enjoy. Or, as Jyn exclaims, “Let’s just get this over with!”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is 134 minutes and rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi violence and action. It’s nostalgic to see cameos from R2-D2, C-3PO, Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones) and a surprise guest. It also includes original costumes used in prior episodes, but is the first “Star Wars” film to exclude Obi-Wan Kenobi.
This movie is fun for old die-hard fans and to the new generation. But, to some who have endured 40 years of this franchise, it’s kind of like a high-tech vacuum cleaner, built to siphon loose change from yet another susceptible audience. Whatever your preference, just please be sure to turn off your cellphones and light-sabers while watching.