Story or episode, Rogue One sits squarely behind Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back as one of the best Star Wars movies. It’s that simple.
The story of how Princess Leia came to be in possession of the plans to the Death Star, Rogue One is Star Wars via The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes and half a dozen other quality WWII films.
The trailers look at the film almost solely from the point of view that the mission to steal the plans is the central idea, but that isn’t entirely so – it’s also about a father’s sacrifices for his daughter and that daughter recovering his good name.
Rogue One opens with a sequence in which Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken by the Empire’s Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to work on the Empire’s ultimate weapon – leaving his wife, Lyra, dead and his daughter alone in a camouflaged hidey hole for Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) to find and raise.
We cut to the film’s present and a pilot named Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) has defected to carry a message from Galen to Gerrera and the grown Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is in jail.
Jyn is freed by members of the Rebel Alliance – not entirely willingly (enter K-2SO) in hopes that they will help mend fences with Gerrera, who splintered of from the Alliance to fight the Empire his own way. They’ve heard rumors of the Empire’s superweapon and think Erso can find out more from Gerrera.
The first half of Rogue One is getting everyone together and the rest is the series of battles to get the plans.
Jones’ Jyn is a survivor, out for herself at first. Being rescued by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) isn’t exactly how she wanted to be freed – but quick action by reprogrammed Empire droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) keeps her from leaving the stormtroopers and rebels in her dust.
The rebels also gain the aid of blind guardian Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and his fellow guardian, Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) – who help them evade recapture by Stormtroopers during their raid to free Jyn.
Unfortunately, Krennic is persuaded to test the Death Star by destroying the city and the rebels barely escape – but with confirmation of the weapon’s destructive possibilities.
When she learns that her father purposely built a flaw into the Death Star (clearing up a bit of what could be seen as a plot convenience in the original Star Wars), she decides that she can use that to help her free her father – though proof of the Death Star’s power causes a rift between rebel forces.
Undaunted, Jyn and a group of volunteers commandeer the Empire ship they used for their escape and set out to steal the plans.
That’s the basics – there are plot arcs within plot arcs and an appearance by a most unexpected character from the first movie – two, really, but only one had a working model to work from.
What makes Rogue One so good is that it is a real war story – there’s no real swashbuckling (except maybe from Chirrut, who is inspired by the blind swordsman, Zatoishi) and only a few moments near the end where there’s even a lightsaber.
For Rogue One to work it needed a solid story, and the script (by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy – from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta) is a solid war story in the vein of The Dirty Dozen – a small band of rebels against the might of an empire.
Then you need some solid characters – Jyn (with her conflicted past and initial self-interest), Cassian (who has done terrible things but has done them for a noble cause), Chirrut and Baze (guardians of a temple that no longer exists thanks to the Empire), Bodhi (a cargo pilot for the empire who defects in order to help a friend – and because it’s the right thing to do), and K-2SO (who steals every scene he’s in and will happily tell you he changed sides because Cassian reprogrammed him).
Finally, you need villains of the first and second orders – Krennic and our guest from the first film are adequately slimy and evil and the small but impactful appearance by Darth Vader cranks up the stakes in a hurry.
You take these vital elements and put them through the wringer – ground battles and space battles; evading the effects of the Death Star and creating the most interesting (if engagingly awkward) domino gag ever (here is the best place to note that the CGI and practical effects work of Rogue One are beyond brilliant – and the 3D is exquisite).
The result is a fast-paced adventure that feels real because all the parts fit into the history of the universe we’ve come to know and love (Rogue One ends literally moments before Star Wars (I refuse to call it A New Hope) begins. Who knew that the opening crawl of Star Wars encompassed so much!
Kudos to Gareth Edwards. Despite word of extensive reshoots, Rogue One has a unique vision within the Star Wars Universe. Edwards brings a grit and edge to the saga that we haven’t seen before.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. What a rare treat!
Final Grade: A+