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rogue-one-1By Chris Roll
Simply put, Rogue One, directed by Gareth Edwards (who also directed the 2014 Godzilla reboot), is the only Star Wars prequel that satisfies both in terms of spectacle and actual story. Even the acting, which has never been the franchise’s strongest point, is competent and engaging, despite the fact that none of the new characters will ever be as iconic as the likes of Han Solo or Princess Leia (although reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, voiced by the delightful Alan Tudyk, gives C-3PO a run for his money as Star Wars’ snarkiest character). Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) plays Jyn Erso, a spunky troublemaker whose scientist father (Mads Mikkelsen, who plays a good guy for a nice change of pace from his traditionally villainous roles) has been forced to build a super-weapon for the Galactic Empire. That weapon, of course, is the Death Star.
Perhaps the film’s greatest triumph is that for the first time in the franchise’s near-40-year history we finally see the dark side (pun intended) of the Rebel Alliance. Diego Luna (Casa de Mi Padre) plays Cassian Andor, a Rebel spy who has no problem getting his hands dirty and doing amoral deeds for his cause. When the Rebels receive word that the Empire is on the verge of completing its super-weapon, they have Andor seek out Erso in hopes of using her to find her father. Erso believes the mission is to save him; Andor’s mission is to kill him on sight. And beyond the general skullduggery that is to be expected in wartime desperation, the Rebels are also shown to have discord and distrust amongst themselves. On one side, you have the cautious, calculating (and even somewhat cold) Rebel Alliance as led by the likes of Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) and Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits), but then you also have radicals like Clone Wars veteran Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), whose zeal and extreme tactics have made him a potential liability to the cause. They bicker. They make poor tactical decisions. They’re distrustful and dismissive of key intel and potential allies. They’re human (some of them, at least), and they have human frailties. And that’s what makes these characters a refreshing change of pace from the good-and-evil archetypes we’re used to seeing.
That being said, we do get to see some of those classic heroes and villains we know and love, albeit mostly in cameos (some of them achieved through not-quite-lifelike CGI). One exception, however, is Darth Vader, voiced to perfection once more by the always-welcome James Earl Jones, who makes several appearances in the film and even gets a action sequence that will excite and also terrify. Another great action sequence comes from martial artist Donnie Yen, who plays blind butt-kicker Chirrut Imwe.
Although Rogue One does a great job of showing the seedy underside of the conflict between the Empire and the Rebels (think The Dirty Dozen in space, complete with a gloriously exhilarating, WWII-esque beach-storming scene), and also features some fun characters, it woefully misuses some of its talent. For instance, Mikkelsen’s character is one of his most charismatic and likable yet, but the script only allows him about three minutes total screen time. We are given precious little insight into Andor’s motivations as well, which is strange because he makes a pretty abrupt about-face from cold-hearted killer to honorable hero. Whitaker, too, seems shortchanged by the script, because his character clearly has some stories to tell. The film really could have used an extra 30 minutes to explore the characters before thrusting them full-on into the fray, but ultimately the film isn’t about them, but their mission, which is alluded to in the original <em>Star Wars</em> from 1977. Because it is a prequel, set directly before the original (Episode IV: A New Hope, as creator George Lucas retroactively renamed it), we know they succeed in their mission of stealing the plans for the Death Star, but now we know exactly how it went down and what became of the brave few who put their lives on the line. The conclusion is satisfying; to say more would be to spoil it.
Rogue One is not quite as good as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but it is still a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon, and has plenty of moments to thrill fans young and old. It’s definitely worth seeing in a theater, and I would even argue it’s one of the rare films that actually merits viewing in 3D.
Rating: 3.5/5

Rogue One is currently being shown only in movie theaters including Glass Sword Cinema in West Plains, Mo., and Highland Twin Cinema in Highland, Ark. (with both 3D and 2D versions being shown in both places).

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