You're going to be hearing a lot about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in the coming days, and some of it may sound kind of crazy. While most of it will be superlatives, and rightfully so, you're also going to hear stuff that may not sound possible. Stuff like, “Rogue One is as good as The Empire Strikes Back". Unfathomable, right? Well, you might want to start preparing yourself because Rogue One is every bit as good as Lucas' original trilogy.
I haven't loved a Star Wars movie this much in years, and that's not a knock against The Force Awakens which is also great. They're just two wildly different movies. While J.J. Abrams' film was a nostalgia piece, more homage than anything else, Rogue One is the first that actually feels like a war movie. Imagine that; eight movies in and we're finally getting down to the warring bit. The others felt like adventure movies to me, but this one has the urgency and battlefield heroism that great war movies are made of. It's incredible stuff all around.
Look...all of that troubling talk about reshoots was always overblown. Every expensive blockbuster undergoes them, but we should be thrilled that Disney/Lucasfilm took the time to get it right. They also found the right director in Gareth Edwards, who went from a micro-film like Monsters to the giant-sized Godzilla and now this in record time. Under his guidance Rogue One more than meets fan expectations while forging new territory. And he's got probably the toughest job of all because his story can't just be an homage; it has to echo the spirit of Lucas' creations and be something entirely different. We get a sense how different right from the start with the lack of an opening credits crawl. We're thrust right into the action and it never truly lets go.
Oscar-nominee Felicity Jones is Jyn Erso, a rebel among rebels, so to speak. She was abandoned as a child early on when her father, brilliant inventor Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is kidnapped by the Empire. She's been left on her own ever since until her path crosses with the Rebels who need her help. Her father is being forced by the Empire's chief weaponeer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn, slimy as ever) to build a planet-killing super weapon, and the Rebels who Jyn can stop him. Not that anybody trusts her or her them, and an already complicated situation is made messier by secret messages, internal politics, and the colorful crew that tags along on the mission. Every character brings something different to the table, but what's most amazing is how they broaden the scope of the Star Wars universe. Forest Whittaker is rebel extremist Saw Gerrera, a character fans of the animated series The Clone Wars will be familiar with. Riz Ahmed is pilot Bodhi Rook, who has information vital to the mission. And undoubtedly the coolest of all are Chinese superstars Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen as blind warrior monk Chirrut Imwe and his lethal protector, Baze Malbus. Imwe brings with him an entirely new perspective of the Force as a religion rather than a Jedi power. He isn't Force sensitive but his belief powers some incredible feats, and if you know Donnie Yen you know that means kicking a lot of Stormtrooper ass.
This rag tag group of expendables has only one mission and it's to retrieve the Death Star schematics, which we all know will give Luke Skywalker his "Use the Force" moment to blow the whole thing up. So this is, quite possibly, the most important Star Wars story yet. Without this story nothing that follows matters. And it's incredible how knowing the outcome doesn't change the number of true twists and turns. We also have an appreciation of the stakes, which are then amplified by an intense final act that is like a geek's paradise. Imagine AT-AT walkers on the beaches of Normandy and you have a pretty good idea of what to expect. Even the Rebel fighters in their little tin helmets resemble Alliance soldiers on D-Day, and it has a chilling, visceral effect we don't get from Star Wars without a lightsaber present. Edwards has truly outdone himself with the action sequences which are the biggest the franchise has ever seen.
Just don't go in expecting a slew of new mysteries to be solved. This isn't The Force Awakens where we were looking for clues to Rey's parentage. Jyn is a very different woman, albeit just as strong, and she isn't the kind of character with a lot of questions surrounding her. If I had a gripe it's that we don't learn more about her along the way. We learn plenty about her family and relationship to them, but I would say her evolution into a leader of men is rushed. Jones is great in a role that demands she be a total badass while also guarded and vulnerable. The rest of the cast all get their moment to shine in the spotlight. That's not easy considering how packed the film is with new and familiar faces, some even in awkward CGI, that keep popping up.
As the film inched closer to its conclusion I kept waiting for that moment that would take me out of it, the one that badly contradicts or mischaracterizes something in A New Hope. It doesn't happen. In fact, Rogue One blends so seamlessly with Episode IV that I was dying for it to play after. I know I'm due for a Star Wars marathon this weekend, but that's only if there's time between seeing Rogue One a couple more times.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5