Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn
Directed by: Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”)
Written by: Chris Weitz (“About A Boy”) and Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Supremacy”)
Prequel is one of the dirtiest words in the English language to “Star Wars” fans, right up there with midichlorians and Jar Jar Binks. The increasingly negative reception to George Lucas’ prequel trilogy that unspooled from 1999 to 2005 has rendered the word toxic, which is why Disney’s marketing of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” has expressly avoided using the word at all—even though the movie is very much a direct prequel to the original “Star Wars” movie from 1977, known now as “A New Hope.”
This is the first live-action “Star Wars” theatrical adventure to deviate from the so-called saga of the Skywalker family being chronicled so far in Episodes I through VII (there was an animated “Clone Wars” film in theaters, as well as a pair of Ewok-centric TV movies in the ’80s and the infamous “Star Wars Holiday Special” from 1978) and represents the opening salvo in Disney’s mission to release a “Star Wars” movie every single year for the rest of all of our lives.
Opening around 15 years BBY (that’s Before the Battle of Yavin—the events of “A New Hope” and the super-geeky way in which the “Star Wars” timeline is sometimes parceled out), “Rogue One” focuses on Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), the reluctant brains behind the weapons tech in the Empire’s planet-killing Death Star. He and his family, including daughter Jyn, are in hiding from the Imperial officer heading up the Death Star project, Director Krennic (Ben Mendolsohn). When Krennic tracks them down, he kills Jyn’s mother and captures her father as she flees, taken in by militant Rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
Fifteen years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is busted out of an Imperial prison by the Rebels and given the choice of helping Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droll, reprogrammed Imperial droid 2-KSO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) capture her father back from the Empire to find out how to stop the superweapon. When plans go awry after a test-firing of the Death Star levels a Rebel stronghold, Jyn and Andor must team up with a blind, Force-sensitive monk (Donnie Yen), his heavily-armed sidekick (Wen Jiang) and an Imperial defector (Riz Ahmed) to steal the plans for the Death Star, a monumental event that set in motion the entire franchise nearly 40 years ago.
Burdened with extensive reshoots and the unavoidable fact that we know how it all ends, “Rogue One” represented somewhat of a risk for Disney—albeit a risk that will, worst case scenario, not make quite as much money as “The Force Awakens” did last year and only sell 85% of the toys. Happily, though, the movie ends up killer, with a brutality of war featuring the troops on the ground we’ve never seen in a “Star Wars” film before. The scars of the reshoots show through here and there, though, with Whitaker’s character seemingly suffering the most, relegated to a plot device that goes nowhere—and the same goes for a mystical crystal Jyn wears around her neck. Neither of those, however, are likely to conjure up the negative conversations that one prominently featured CGI character will over his too-many scenes. For the record, I’m not talking about Jar Jar Binks, but a long-dead British actor resurrected to look like a Playstation 4 cutscene character—pretty good, but still off-putting and not quite right. Ultimately, we’re left with a thrilling “Star Wars” movie that dares to be different—for example: no opening crawl, no transitional wipes, and no Jedi—and ends up as a better film than the widely-beloved nostalgia hug that was “The Force Awakens.”