If you’ve somehow lived your whole moviegoing life outside of the “Star Wars” galaxy and you wouldn’t know a Lord Vader from a droid from a Rebel Alliance, I believe you’d still enjoy “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” for what it is:
A rousing, fast-paced, action-jammed, spectacular-looking thrill ride with spirited performances from a thoroughly likable cast of characters, both human and CGI.
It’s a solid space adventure, teeming with exciting action sequences, peppered with laugh-out-loud one-liners and made all the more memorable for the darker turns of the plot.
So yes, “Rogue One” works as a stand-alone story.
Ah, but if you’re a hardcore “Star Wars” fan and you’ve seen all the movies multiple times and you’ve been eagerly lapping up every report about casting, every online leak about production issues, every Internet nugget about this adventure set just before the events of the original “Star Wars,” aka “A New Hope,” I believe you’ll be absolutely delighted by the myriad ways in which director Gareth Edwards and the team of screenwriters incorporate more than a half-dozen “Star Wars” touchstone moments into the story without it ever coming across as forced or gimmicky.
(I’ll say no more than that about these visual treats. You deserve a spoiler-free viewing experience.)
This is a very “Star Wars”-y “Star Wars” movie. It’s not quite on the level of the original or “The Empire Strikes Back” (the best of ’em all, of course), but it’s on a par with last year’s “The Force Awakens” and it’s light years above “Attack of the Clones” and “The Phantom Menace.”
Felicity Jones kicks galactic ass as Jyn Erso, the smart, spunky, chip-on-her-shoulder daughter of one Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a brilliant scientist who tried to escape the clutches of the Empire but was forced back into service when Jyn was just a little girl and has spent the last 15 years working against his will on plans for the Death Star, a weapon of mass destruction capable of destroying an entire planet. (You may have heard of this Death Star deal.)
Jyn’s pretty great. She professes not to care that the oppressive terrorists of the Empire are running the galaxy, but we know it’s only a matter of time before she joins the cause in a big way — and boy can she fight and shoot and scheme and plot and lead when the Sith hits the fan. (I’m not saying there’s a Sith element to the plot here. I just liked that pun.)
In the First Act of “Rogue One,” we bounce from moon to planet to trading outpost, with helpful title cards telling us where we are — but it gets a little confusing and dense as we suss out each situation and meet various new characters, including:
• Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a brash and dashing Alliance pilot and intelligence officer who just might remind you a little bit of Han Solo.
• Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), an extremist rebel who has broken from the Alliance. Saw is an old friend of Jyn’s father and raised her after Pops was captured by the Empire and forced to work on the Death Star. Saw is paranoid and wild-eyed and in failing health, and RIGHT on the edge of being flat-out crazy.
• Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an Empire pilot who has defected and is carrying a key piece of intel that could save the world. I mean, the galaxy.
• Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior-monk who believes in the Force with all of his being.
It’s a wonderful — and wonderfully diverse — cast, but the multi-ethnic makeup of this band of heroes is the furthest thing in the world from a stunt. In a galaxy populated by creatures of all sizes and shapes, not to mention droids with distinct personalities, why would the humans be of one race?
Much of “Rogue One” is about Jyn and the obligatory rag-tag band of unlikely heroes trying to steal the plans to the Death Star. (If you remember the opening crawl from “Star Wars,” it’s not much of a mystery as to whether they succeed.) But of course those plans are just the MacGuffin to trigger the action and to give Jyn, Chirrut, Cassian et al. their chances to find out who they really are and their individual and collective moments in the sun.
Jyn and Cassian don’t trust each other and they bicker in classic “Star Wars” fashion. Chirrut Imwe and the freelance mercenary Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) have a funny and ultimately touching friendship. The ever-talented Ben Mendelsohn is a hiss-worthy, Death Star-building villain, Director Orson Krennic.
Big props to Alan Tudyk for voicing K-2SO, a Galactic Empire security droid re-programmed to serve the Alliance as Cassian’s sidekick. This lanky, wisecracking, independent-“minded” droid is one of the most endearing characters in “Rogue One” and hands-down the funniest.
The special effects, production design, costumes and editing are all first-rate. Loved the cast. Admired the filmmakers for not hedging their bets and for giving us a real story with real consequences.
So why three and a half stars? Why not the full four stars? There was a little too much “We’ve got to do this!” and “I’m going to explain that!” in the dialogue — and the score was a bit heavy-handed and overbearing in the transitions from “inspirational music to accompany our heroes” to “foreboding harbinger of bad things to come” when various villains enter the picture.
Small stuff. Mostly and most memorably, “Rogue One” is a bright light in the “Star Wars” canon.