‘I’ ON CULTURE
The new Star Wars movie Rogue One is the first standalone film, not part of one the trilogies. While that creates important story-line differences, it is also clearly part of the main story, fitting in neatly before the first of the movies done back in 1977. It is tougher than the other films, far grittier. Although we do get to meet a handful of characters who are old friends (Darth Vader, R2D2, C3PO and a few surprises), most of the characters are new.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is first seen as a child watching her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) being conscripted to work for the Empire by villain Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who shoots her mother. Hidden, she is rescued by rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
We see her 15 years later under arrest by the Empire but rescued by the Resistance, which wants her to find her father, who has become the key scientist building the Death Star, so they can discover how to destroy it. She agrees, rather unwillingly, to carry out the mission, which she begins more or less under the direction of spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), along with snarky robot K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk).
They go to the planet Jedha to find Gerrera and meet blind samurai Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a man deeply connected to the Force, and his warrior companion Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), who join them in their adventures. They first go to rescue Galen Erso. They have the usual fun battle as part of that, with a twist that is remarkably similar to previous Star Wars lore. They learn that the Death Star has a deliberately built-in flaw, but there is only one place to get the plans and it is very well-guarded.
The Resistance Council has great reservations about fighting the Empire because of the Death Star, but Jyn, Cassian and friends decide to get the plans. The last third of the movie is a huge battle both on the planet and in space around it.
The special effects in the battle scene, some of which is reminiscent of World War II, are spectacular. It worked very well with constant switches between space, the battle on the ground and the special mission as the leads crept into a key installation. The film ends neatly, right before the events of Episode IV: A New Hope begin.
The movie is a lot tougher than the usual Star Wars. For a change, some of the good guys die. The politics are more complicated, and the galaxy seems a far darker place.
The cast is uniformly very good. Jones is tough but also vulnerable, and she handles all of it well. Luna is a strong balance wheel for her. Wen managed to handle more than a bit of humor, along with some real feats of Jedi derring-do. (We never learn if he is actually a Jedi, but he behaves as if he is.) Tudyk’s voice as the robot got the vast majority of laughs. He is a worthy robot in the grand tradition of all the great ones of the Star Wars galaxy.
One of the stranger elements was having Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, reprise his role of Grand Moff Tarkin. It was done digitally and, although it felt a bit spooky, it helped unify this film with the one that follows it on the Star Wars timeline.
There have been a few strange complaints. One is that somehow it is critical of Donald Trump (a bit strange since it was actually filmed a year ago), but the politics do not stray from that of the Star Wars films that have been around for the past 40 years. Some critics feel the need to politicize anything.
Is this a worthy film in the genre? Oh, yes. Actually, I would rate it just behind A New Hope, although Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is still champ. We sat enthralled throughout this film. This is the kind of movie you do not want to miss, one of the most entertaining of the year.