The highly anticipated standalone to the beloved franchise has arrived. Brilliantly planned, this film is the second in a six-year sequence of Christmas openings, with Episode VIII in 2017, the Han Solo origin in 2018, Episode IX in 2019, and a yet undetermined film in 2020. I’m no seer, but I don’t think that will be the end of the Star Wars Extended Universe.
“Rogue One” follows a briefly mentioned band of rebels from Episode IV, who daringly risk life and limb to save the entire republic from the evil empire by stealing the schematics for the Death Star.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) plays the heroine, who surrounds herself with a band of eclectic characters on a quest for humanity. The line of good versus evil has never been more clear, and the stakes never higher.
The film has a familiar tone, but deviates from some of the trademark Star Wars staples, much to the delight of this critic. It has a freshness and is a bit darker, more action-packed, and carries the torch for the next generation, which is a certainty considering the global popularity. The nostalgia is preserved remarkably, while opening the doors of filmmaking technology and new characters that will captivate a new generation, as well as satiate the old.
Jyn is an orphan who has a special link to the Death Star, and the fate of humanity hangs in the balance of her choices. I was underwhelmed by her performance, as it seemed wooden and unmotivated. There was little emotional range, and lots of confident quips that attempt to highlight her rebellious nature, but she is really quite dry. It was an opportunity to introduce a new and exciting iconic character, but Jyn Erso will be lost in the mediocrity of memorable but uninspiring players.
Orson Krennick (Ben Mendelsohn) marvelously plays the officer in charge of the Death Star, and he is joined by the CGI presence of Grand Moff Tarkin, played in the original by Peter Cushing. The effects are valiant, but severely noticeable and a bit distracting. With a nearly 40-year gap, his inclusion was vital to the story, so he gets a pass. We get to see the resurrection of Darth Vader as well, though his screen time is adeptly limited to just a few savory minutes.
The rest of the cast is truly the heart of the film, salvaging Jones’ shortcomings. The band of rebels is the most multicultural representation we’ve seen yet, and we get glimpses of creatures that would make George Lucas proud (and ashamed of episodes I-III). The comic relief is what injects the necessary frivolity, and the timing is perfect. Alan Tudyk voices K-2SO, the C-3PO of the group. There is an Eeyore quality that is eerily similar to the golden android we all know and love, but K-2S0 is snarkier and a bit less annoying.
Director Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla,” “Monsters”) fills the chair like a pro, and although surrounded by masters of the universe, has shown he is capable of greatness and proves to be the right choice. He paces the film brilliantly, so there are no lulls in the action. The story isn’t anything original or even very interesting in the grand scheme of things, but his collection of characters, dazzling action scenes and noticeable homage to the original trilogy makes this film powerful and satisfying. Additionally, after the climax, he uses movie magic to adrenalize the film one last time, leaving the audience in a familiar and excited state.
The Star Wars universe is in good hands. If the continuity progresses to this standard, the standalone films won’t be a threat to the integrity of the legacy or the enduring fondness that most superfans (or regular fans) hold toward the original trilogy. Disney is nailing the rebirth of a beloved franchise and, with no fewer than four more films in the pipeline, it has mirrored the success of Marvel in creating an entire universe and is reaping the benefits. I, for one, will have a standing appointment every December to see these films for as long as they are made. Those familiar with Star Wars will love the nostalgia; those that aren’t will definitely enjoy the action.