The bad guys have a new super-weapon and the heroes have one shot to find its weakness; what are you going to do about that?
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has a secret: she’s the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), an engineer working on a new weapon for the Galactic Empire — one with the power to destroy a planet — an idea so fantastic, even those who hear of its existence disregard the possibility. Rescued from a prison camp by the rebellion and taken to their hidden base on Yavin 4, Jyn is tasked by Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) to find her father and halt construction, but the only one who knows where to find him is an old acquaintance, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Leading her mission is Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), but his orders also include a provision to find a more permanent way to keep the Empire from completing their pet project: a moon-sized mobile weapon of mass destruction they’ve named the Death Star.
Images have been teasing this non-incremental Star Wars story for over a year, but when the first trailers appeared, we got our first actual look and why it should matter: the story of how the rebellion got ahold of the stolen plans Princess Leia placed into that feisty R2 unit. AT-ATs on the beach, a blind martial artist kicking Stormtrooper butts with a stick, lots of explosions and lots of lives on the line. Whereas George Lucas has confessed his love for old cliffhanger cinema serials inspired his episodes of Star Wars, here’s a film that looks more like The Guns of Navarone and The Dirty Dozen. No one’s kissing anybody for luck around these parts, but will someone have a bad feeling about this?
No title card and no crawl, just — BOOM — we’re in the story. This isn’t part of the numbered installment series but more of a footnote in how the Death Star plans were won for the rebellion… but wow, it sure doesn’t feel like a footnote. If there was one bad thing about this movie, it would have to be that it makes many of the other Star Wars films feel inferior — can we postpone the numbered movies and just tell these little big stories for a while? Yep, that’s how it makes you feel, and we finally can talk about something other than those damnable Skywalkers! If there was a second issue, it’s this: we still don’t get to see the Death Star traveling through hyperspace like someone launched an intergalactic pinball… dang it.
This isn’t the worst place to start for introducing someone to Star Wars, but fans young and old will lose count of all the Easter eggs. Director Gareth Edwards went out of his way to marry the look and tech to blend seamlessly into Episode IV: A New Hope, including filching old unused original Star Wars footage. Did we really see Darth Vader in a trailer and maybe a certain Grand Moff in a reflection? You sure did, and the cameos don’t stop there. Besides those actors already mentioned, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, and Jiang Wen also have plum roles… and yes, James Earl Jones ensures Vader sounds his best. A special treat is Alan Tudyk for his on-screen motion capture — similar to his part in I, Robot — in order to both perform and speak for this film’s obligatory droid sidekick, K-2SO, not to mention steal some of the best lines in the film.
Rogue One is rated PG-13, but there are some dark elements herein that exceed even those of The Empire Strikes Back. No Gungans and no Ewoks… heck, the cutest thing to look at is Jyn herself, and she still looks like she’d cut you as soon as look at you. Be prepared for an edge-of-your-seat finale, cheers and sads, and something fans have wanted to see one of their favorite characters do since they were introduced… which won’t be spoiled here. Go see it!
4 Skull Recommendation Out of Four