Movie Review: ‘ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY’ – Rebels with a cause

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Preston Barta // Editor

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
Rated PG-13, 133 min.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan TudykDonnie YenWen JiangBen MendelsohnForest WhitakerRiz AhmedMads Mikkelsen and Jimmy Smits

Standalone ‘STAR WARS’ story pulls rabbit out of space-time continuum

After the travesty of the PHANTOM MENACE and the other two child-pandering, politically heavy prequels in the STAR WARS saga, it’s understandable to be a little worried about any new additions.

Last year’s THE FORCE AWAKENS won over most STAR WARS fans with rich nostalgia, beautiful visuals and thrilling sequences, and ROGUE ONE treads in the successful footsteps of its immediate predecessor.

Director Gareth Edwards (2014’s GODZILLA) proves to be a suitable leader to carry the torch of the beloved franchise with its first standalone feature. In his ROGUE ONE – set just before the events of 1977’s A NEW HOPE – we follow a wayward band of Rebel fighters (Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang) who convene to carry out a daring mission: to steal the plans for the Death Star before it is used to enforce the Imperial’s reign and destroy all that is good in the galaxy.

One thing that sets ROGUE ONE apart from the episodic stories is its true grasp of scale. As great and riveting as THE FORCE AWAKENS was, certain elements didn’t stick the landing as much as the marketing led us to believe, especially Starkiller Base. Intended to be an ultimate killing station 30 times the size of the Death Star, its reveal betrayed a sense of pointless escalation that plagued both the prequel trilogy and the now non-canonical expanded universe.

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, Diego Luna as Cassian Andor. Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

In ROGUE ONE, the Death Star regains its foreboding presence through its menacing presentation rather than simple numbers inflation. The renewed emphasis placed on its gargantuan size, its genocidal mechanics and the insidious way it creeps out of the shadows revives the Death Star as one of the most threatening figures in the history of cinema.

Where ROGUE ONE falls short of THE FORCE AWAKENS, on the other hand, is its characters. The charismatic presence of THE FORCE AWAKENS’ eclectic cast made it a hangout movie within a complex fantasy plot (same with A NEW HOPE).

ROGUE ONE focuses on the mission at hand at the expense of its character roster. It’s difficult to remember many of the characters’ names and they don’t individually stand out as much as previous installments, save for the film’s “foul stench” of a villain (a dominating Ben Mendelsohn as Lieutenant Commander Orson Krennic) and scene-stealing droid (Tudyk as K-2SO).

ROGUE ONE’s starkly different perspective of the franchise tractor beams you right out of the gate. Lightsabers and the force have always carried most of these films’ wonder. Controlling minds, deflecting lasers and climactic saber battles are what make STAR WARS what it is, especially during the prequel trilogy’s obsession with pizazz. Here, we have mostly ordinary people, armed with little more than blasters and grenades. Even though we know how everything ends – if you’ve seen A NEW HOPE – there’s something magnetizing about seeing regular Joes doing extraordinary things.

In all, there are things ROGUE ONE misses, but there’s a whole lot more it hits right on target. The pace may be more slow-cooked and its tone may be bleaker than we’re used to, but the film’s nostalgic images, Michael Giacchino’s vigorous musical score and Edward’s impressive action set-pieces (especially one involving Darth Vader, which will go down as one of the saga’s most iconic scenes) makes the force strong with this one.

ROGUE ONE opens nationwide on Friday.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.

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