‘Rogue One’ review: ‘Star Wars’ spinoff is out of this world
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, James Earl Jones
- Directed by: Gareth Edwards
- Written by: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy
- Duration: 133 minutes
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story does exactly what it is supposed to do by incrementally expanding the Star Wars universe that we already know.
Gareth Edwards’ movie does its job with style, energy and respect for the cultish Star Wars fans and the original creators. That also makes it tons of fun to watch. Rogue One may not have the gravitas and scope of The Force Awakens, but it is a quirky companion piece.
It is, however, violent. Battle scenes are prolonged. The death toll is staggering. Yet the violence is never bloody. So parents will have to decide for themselves what age, and which children, should watch.
Rogue One is a standalone episode, the first instalment of what will become the Star Wars Anthology. That means it has a beginning, middle and absolute end that makes sure there is no need for a sequel. The next Star Wars Story (focusing on a young Han Solo) will spin another tangental tale.
The story in Rogue One is pretty simple, although I will provide absolutely no details, and therefore no spoilers, beyond what is already known. Just before the events of George Lucas’ original 1977 Star Wars movie, a group of Rebel Alliance fighters fall into the orbit of a plucky heroine — Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso — and set out to steal the plans for the original Death Star. That means storming a Galactic Empire stronghold. That means Darth Vadar is involved, with the familiar basso profundo vocal tones of James Earl Jones providing the usual level of menace and pathos.
Beyond that, there are surprises. You will have to find out for yourself who and what those are. Plot twists, even if they lead to a foregone conclusion, are part of the excitement.
English-born director Edwards was just two years old when Lucas made the original Star Wars. No problem: It is obvious he consumed all the lore he needed to make this prequel — or sequel, if you are thinking about Lucas’ second trilogy of episodes, I through III.
Rogue One nimbly connects to the terrain and characters of the future-past movies and introduces its own lore.
Meanwhile, Edwards flashes his skill with contemporary digital special effects — like the techniques we saw in his 2014 reboot of Godzilla — to turn Rogue One into a state-of-the-art film. At the same time, and this is what J.J. Abrams did with The Force Awakens, Edwards skilfully roughens up the effects to make them appear similar to what we saw in the original trilogy. That means Rogue One is dirty enough, tough enough and eccentric enough to look like it could have been made decades ago by Lucas himself. Whether Lucas himself appreciates the gesture does not matter much now because Rogue One pays homage and then moves forward with better dialogue from screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy.
The Rogue One cast is international and excellent. Jones, of course, is an English lass. She is very similar in style and performance to Daisy Ridley of The Force Awakens, although Jones is nine years older and more world-weary, as is appropriate for Jyn.
Mads Mikkelsen, the Dane who is simply one of world cinema’s greatest talents for his nuanced approach, plays Jyn’s father and architect of the Death Star. Mexico Diego Luna is a Rebel leader with a dark side of his own. China’s Donnie Yen is a blind warrior who channels the Force with panache and courage. America’s Forest Whitaker adds integrity to the challenging role of Saw Gerrera, a veteran of the Clone Wars. A Pakistani-British rapper, Riz Ahmed, continues to show off his skill as an actor, playing an Imperial pilot who defects to the Rebels.
And the irrepressible Texan, Alan Tudyk, provides the motion capture and the sarcastic voice for the droid K-2SO after providing voice work for a string of Walt Disney animations from Wreck-it-Ralph to Zootopia and Moana. Tudyk’s K-2SO is an unabashed scene-stealer who provides Rogue One with much of its humour, a welcome relief from the tension.
There are plenty of other cast members, some in familiar roles, some not. One oddball gift to fans is the brief cameo appearances of Episode VIII director Rian Johnson and his producer Ram Bergman as Death Star technicians. Another twist is that I swear I saw a Wookie piloting a Rebel fighter, but it was a split-second image that I might have just dreamed up as a flashback to 1977.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens everywhere Friday, Dec. 16.