Full disclosure: Before I dive in with the nitty-gritty of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” let it be known that I’m a rabid fan of the franchise. The Star Wars galaxy has been dear to me since I was a wide-eyed 7-year-old, and since then I’ve been getting my grubby little hands on everything from the toys to the posters to the video games and yes, even cereal. I even have my own Star Wars themed room in my house, complete with displayed vintage toys, pinball machines, stand up and sit down full-sized video games. It’s safe to say I have an obsession (don’t worry though, I stop at dressing up in character – at least in public).
Now you know where I’m writing from (semi-nerdville) in regards to the newest entry into the Star Wars universe. I promise I won’t get too fan-boyish in my thoughts but I will just come out and say it: “Rogue One” delivers a Star Wars movie like we’ve never seen before: A high-flying adventure centered around a ragtag group of characters who unite for a greater cause – the rebellion against the tyrannical Empire – a movie filled with fantastic space battles, amazing ground wars, all the while tugging at heart-strings in a most welcome addition to the beloved universe.
In short, this is the movie we’ve been looking for.
A prequel but not a prequel in the sense that it’s a stand-alone movie and has no chapter attached to it, “Rogue One” takes place directly before “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” and follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the young-adult daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) who has been forced against his will to help construct the small-moon-sized Death Star, the famous battle station that is later destroyed by Luke Skywalker and Han Solo (and Chewbacca of course!).
“Rogue One” shows us exactly how the small band of rebels acquired the plans that show the vulnerability of the Death Star and gets them in the hands of the Rebellion. The hells of war is evident here and director Gareth Edwards doesn’t hold back in placing the viewer smack dab in the middle of the fight.
Joining spit-fire Jyn is Rebel intelligence officer Casian Andor (Diego Luna), blind and Force lover Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), heavy-barrel-gun-toting Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), pilot defector Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and a new sarcastic and likeable droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).
As we whiz through hyperspace and visit planets during the two hour and 13 minute homage to the original Star Wars look and feel, we discover how the evil Empire is tightening their grip on the galaxy. Stormtroopers (those armor-clad soldiers who never were good shots) rough up citizens on the Jedha, a former Jedi Holy planet. We meet Imperial leaders and the inner workings of the Empire including antagonist Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who has been waiting to unleash the power of the technological terror both he and Grand Moff Tarkin are trying to take credit for. And for good measure the (unseen) Emperor continues to pull strings behind the proverbial curtain with the help of his caped apprentice.
But it’s how the plans finally get into the hands of the Rebels (no spoiler here, we see how the plans work in A New Hope) is where the real fun really starts to kick – the climactic final third of the movie is filled with jaw-dropping awesomeness reminiscent of the three battles that rage at the end of Return of the Jedi. There’s a massive land battle flanked by water (with AT-AT’s, those big walkers we first saw in The Empire Strikes Back), a massive space battle (with classic X-Wings and Y-Wings!) and Jyn Erso, Cassian and K2-SO infiltrating the Imperial security complex on the tropical planet Scarif.
And the last four minutes will BLOW. YOUR. MIND – when you get home you’ll want to pop in your Blu-Ray of “Star Wars: A New Hope” for sure.
And while last year’s “The Force Awakens” propelled the saga forward, and with other stand-alone projects in the works (a young Han Solo and Yoda movie are in development), “Rogue One” proves we can rest assured from our friends at Disney that the galaxy from a long time ago and far, far away is in good hands indeed.