Where “The Force Awakens” triumphs and the Prequel Trilogy miserably fails, “Rogue One” – the truest of true narrative predecessors to “A New Hope”, the Prequel We Deserve – succeeds in capturing the tone, charm, and aesthetic sensibility, the very essence, of its source material as well as this fan could dream. With the Evil Empire at the height of its powers, director Garreth Edwards and his duo of co-writers have fittingly crafted a “Star Wars” film as bleak and dystopic as any in the series, a world in which we’re thrust into head-first complete with Storm Trooper-occupied cities, a Bad Man with an even an badder cape, and a ragtag band of ethnically diverse resistance fighters (all of which are generally awesome and contribute their own unique energy and flare to the story, by the way).
At its core, “Rogue One” is a film set in a time of war about the very human costs of it, but the film also does a fine job in bringing to life the most iconic themes of its predecessors: heroism, friendship, belief in a cause beyond one’s self, and most prevalently here, hope. This may not be the story of Luke or Anakan Skywalker, but is it every bit a “Star Wars Story”, full of endless connections to the Original and Prequel* trilogies, the appearance of miniature model-sized Star Destroyers akin to how George Lucas originally deployed them, and an amazing John Williams-inspired score (here brought to life by his spiritual successor, Michael Giacchino). The action sequences – particularly those taking place on the climactic battle field – are breathtaking, and the performances – chief among them, the one provided by my beloved Madds Mikkelsen – are first-rate. This is the best action movie of 2016.
*There’s an especially close tie to the Prequel Trilogy that got me, a Prequel Trilogy hater, pretty excited
Where the obligatory ties to the main series at times serve as this film’s greatest strength, they also contribute to some of its most glaring weaknesses. Chief among them, there is a comic-relief droid character that primarily exists to occupy the C-3PO void that is entirely unnecessary to most of the plot and only funny about 1/3 of the time. James Earl Jones, the legend that he is, sounds like an 85-year-old man, a far cry from the spry, high-powered vocal chops he unleashed in the Original Trilogy. And as great as the return of this particular character who will remain nameless was, the film leans a bit too heavily on his motion-captured-achieved presence for the technology to feasibly sustain.
But these are minor grits. Pay for a “Star Wars” experience and you will get an upper-echelon “Star Wars” film worthy of sharing a name with any of the very best in the franchise. Considering it’s only the first in what could be an infinite number of standalone “Star Wars” films, it boasts a terrific sign of what could be to come.
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, and Forest Whitaker
Runtime: 134 min