Trying to review a Star Wars movie is like breaking down the comfort level of your childhood teddy bear. Even though "Rogue One" tells a story with mostly new characters and exists outside of the typical Episode I-VII structure, it's so deeply rooted in the Star Wars universe that nostalgia holds tightly to every frame. Separating it from the larger story and reviewing the film on its own merits is possible, just kinda pointless.
"Rogue One" takes place in between "Revenge of the Sith" and "A New Hope," basically making the entire enterprise (wrong franchise) feel like "Star Wars: Episode 3.5" more than anything. If you've avoided all trailers for "Rogue One" and still somehow think this is the continuing adventures of Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron and Emo Ren, you're out of luck. This is not Episode VIII. That will be out NEXT December.
The original "Star Wars" was hugely focused on the destruction of the Death Star and the plans that showed the planet killer's fatal flaw. Princess Leia sending the plans to Obi Wan in the body of R2-D2 sets in motion everything that happens in the entire trilogy. "Rogue One" is about how the rebellion got those plans and the men and women that fought the Empire with everything they had to make sure the Death Star would be destroyed.
Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, a smart ass troublemaker whose father is a research scientist helping design the Death Star. Long story short, she teams up with a Rebel Alliance Intel officer, an insane pilot, a blind kung-fu warrior obsessed with the Force, his gunslinging bodyguard and a bleakly bitter enforcer droid to track down her father and steal the plans for the rebellion. Knowing more than that headed into the film will take some of the joy out of the picture.
The only thing "Rogue One" doesn't do as well as "The Force Awakens" is the characterization. Jones is fine as Jyn, but there's not enough depth to her character on the page, which means her performance is mostly surface. I never cared as much for Jyn as I did for Rey and having that emotional connection to her would have made an already great movie into an even better one.
"Rogue One" is Star Wars taking on the heist movie genre with hunks of "The Dirty Dozen," "Oceans Eleven" and "The Great Escape" throughout. The third act of the film is, hands down, the finest conclusion to a Star Wars film since the original. The final battle is staged like a true war movie. This isn't Ewoks flinging rocks at stormtroopers. This is a life and death struggle between good and evil and the movie never lets the audience forget it.
Minor nitpicks aside, "Rogue One" is excellent. Michael Giacchino's score is the finest since the first and, combined with Greig Fraser's lush cinematography, some great characters and a powerful story, "Rogue One" is up there with "Empire" and "A New Hope" as the best of the series. This is the first one that doesn't feel designed and created to sell toys, but instead is focused on the horrors of war and what sacrifice and heroism in the face of fascism really looks like. Pretty lofty goals for a space opera.
Dir. Gareth Edwards
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX, Sisters Movie House, Redmond Cinema