It’s not the best Star Wars movie ever, but it’s certainly not the worst. This “non-series” prequel to Episode IV offers plucky characters, impressive sci-fi action, a fair number of laughs and enough nods to the original to keep Star Wars fans happy until the next installment in the series comes out. 3 out of 5.
Want Another Take? Watch Our Video Review of Rogue One
Set in the time immediately before "original" entry Star Wars: A New Hope, Rogue One sets out to answer the question, "Why was there such a whopping flaw in the design of the Death Star?" The answer is all to do with Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), a weapons designer forced to work for the Empire. When Rebel forces learn of the Death Star's existence, they co-opt Jyn to help find her father with the help of Cassian (Diego Luna) and a motley crew they pick up along the way. What Jyn doesn’t know is that the Rebellion’s plans for her dad are not the same as her own…
They've got the look and feel right: settlements and outposts teeming with assorted life forms, bleak desert-like terrain, and that wonder of modern intergalactic weaponry, the Death Star. Composer Michael Giacchino weaves in John Williams' iconic themes while adding his own touch to the score, so it sounds right, too. Fans of the franchise will enjoy all the bits that clearly set up A New Hope. It even explains why that one was called “A New Hope.” There are appearances by much-loved (and much-hated) characters from the old days—which, in the Star Wars timeline, are not some 40 years ago but just about to happen. I can just about promise you'll like K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) as much or more than any of the humans in the movie. A reprogrammed Imperial droid who serves as Cassian's personal Chewbacca, K-2SO gets all the best lines. Picture a snarkier version of C-3PO who’s been working out with a personal trainer, with a tiny bit of special forces thrown in for good measure.
With so much screen time devoted to mowing down storm troopers and blowing things up, there’s not a lot of opportunity to develop the characters. As a result, this bunch isn't as appealing as Rey, Finn and Poe (from The Force Awakens) or Han, Luke and Leia. As mentioned, there are a number of characters to keep track of and several seem like they’d be more interesting if only we got to know them. But why bother with people when we can bomb something? Some of the actors—I’m looking at you, Forest Whitaker—tend to over-emote, maybe to make up for the cheesiness of their lines. The script veers from witty to pompous and back again at the speed of hyperdrive; when it's good, it's very good, but when it’s bad? Felicity Jones' Jyn is appropriately plucky, but her emotions seem to go only skin deep. Of course, she only had about a heartbeat to morph from angry criminal to inspirational rebel leader, so there wasn’t much time to build inner emotional strength.
SPOILER ALERT: The whole Shakespearian tragedy-esque ending is about as tiresome as, well, the end of most Shakespeare tragedies. Clearly, these characters weren't in previous Star Wars movies so there had to be some explanation as to their non-appearance, but watching them die off was quite the downer.
Christian Worldview Elements / Spiritual Themes
One character—a cool blind dude who fights like a Jedi-Samurai hybrid despite his disability thanks to the power of the Force—is often found “praying” to The Force by reciting “I am one with The Force; The Force is with me.” This new age philosophy is nothing new to Star Wars; the first appearance of "The Force" set off a firestorm in 1970’s Christian circles. On the other hand, "There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one’s friends," and that's exactly what several characters do. Leading into a movie about "A New Hope," hope is a major, repeated concept and word, as we find out how that hope originated through bravery and sacrifice. And while my Bible doesn't recommend rebellion as a personal way of life, I believe it was Jefferson who wrote, "A little rebellion now and again is a good thing." Rogue One has several such political angles.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers)
- MPAA Rating: PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action
- Language/Profanity: None.
- Sexuality/Nudity: None.
- Violence/Frightening/Intense: The majority of the movie is one battle after another; many, many people die but very few of them bleed, at least where we can see. One character is interrogated by a giant squid-like thing that wraps its tentacles around him, which could freak out littles but is more creepy-cool than creepy-scary.
The Bottom Line
RECOMMENDED FOR: Star Wars fans (of course) should love this, as should sci-fi aficionados of any kind; viewers who like battle scenes and war stories, and anyone who doesn't want to get left out of the conversation.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR: Star Wars newbies (assuming such people exist) should probably start elsewhere in the series; all the in-jokes and "hey, that's so-and-so" moments will go over their heads. And of course, those who don't get the appeal of spaceships and blaster battles can find plenty of other options at the theater this time of year.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, directed by Gareth Edwards, opened in theaters December 16, 2016; available for home viewing April 4, 2017. It runs 133 minutes and stars James Earl Jones, Forest Whitaker, Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Jimmy Smits, Genevieve O'Reilly, Mads Mikkelsen and Riz Ahmed. Watch the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story here.
Susan Ellingburg spends most days helping to create amazing live events and most nights at the movies, at rehearsals, or performing with vocal ensembles in the Dallas area. This leaves very little time for cleaning house. A natural-born Texan, Susan loves all things British, Sunday afternoon naps, cozy mysteries, traveling with friends, and cooking like a Food Network star (minus the camera crew).
Publication date: December 16, 2016