This Star Wars tale takes place way before Rey escapes the desert, just before Luke meets Han, while Vader is still a force-chocking jerk, but a few years after Anakin and Obi-Wan have a difference of professional opinion. Rogue One is a prequel/sequel/stand-alone journey that slips into the overall timeline but doesn’t have an official episode number. Pinpointing the exact chronology is like trying to draw a family tree when members keep multiplying, divorcing, re-marrying, and coming back from the dead.
Darkness is taking over the galaxy. Some have chosen to fight back and some, like Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), have resigned to the new galactic order. Jyn has lived her life in hiding, hanging with rebels (not the polite kind), or – though it’s never explained – in jail. The Rebel Alliance, however, believes she could be useful in finding Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the lead engineer behind the planet-destroying Death Star… and Jyn’s father. The Alliance plucks Jyn from jail and sends her on this mission with intelligence officer Cassian (Diego Luna) and his impolite droid, K-2S0 (voiced by Alan Tudyk). The journey leads them to a secret message Galen smuggled out of the Empire. Similar to, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kanobi; you’re my only hope,” Galen’s message informs Jyn that he Death Star was designed with a crucial flaw. This could be what the rebels have been waiting for – and it is definitely the information we have been waiting for regarding why a space station needs a central exhaust port.
We have a pretty good story here – just don’t be surprised if half the footage you saw in the first trailer isn’t in the movie. Apparently there was a Flashpoint conundrum and alternate endings needed to be re-shot. What we do see is Jyn’s character progressing from a punk criminal to a sad orphan to the leader this galaxy needs in less than a week. Accompanying her through the adventure is Cassian – who’s a bit of a challenge all around. Cassian’s motivations flip flop between distrust and bedroom eyes. He’s introduced as a guy who shoots key informants when they slow him down, but sees no issue in bringing aboard two space samurai he met begging in a market. There are some confusing trust issues here. Cassian’s personality feels a lot like the classic Star Wars situation of having the main controls just over here but the master switch waaaaaay over there.
While most of A New Hope‘s characters may be far away from this plot, ducking out to Tosche Station for some power converters, a few do make surprising reappearances. Next to Darth Vader who represents 100% of pure Sith badassness in a 30 second corridor shot, one of the most surprising cameos of all comes from the great Peter Cushing as Governor Tarkin. But… he’s dead. Cushing is brought back to life through the most magical Disney recipe of them all: computers and money. With the help of a body double, impressive technology, and no expenses spared, Cushing and a few others return from the past to insert Rogue One seamlessly between Episode III and Episode IV. It’s a little creepy, but kind of amazing. Rogue One is the new kid that wants to fit in with the alumni, so it weaves some creative storytelling to address a few common Episode IV questions. It’s a thoughtful nod to those who have seen Star Wars so many times they use an R2-D2 French press for their morning coffee.
Rogue One also exercises its power to add even more worlds to this already enormous stage. Planets and moons are like pit stops on a galaxy-wide road trip, clarifying once and for all that there really is a habitable ecosystem for everyone: some are earthy, some are desert, some are Aztec, some are Mordor, and some are the beachy arena from the 75th annual Hunger Games. These planets are populated with old alien favourites (fish men and tentacle-heads) and even more new species you’d rather not smell on a Disney ride. The prosthetics, costumes, and CGI to insulate the gaps is beautiful work.
Oh – and the space samurai. Love it. Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a samurai/monk/beggar from Jedha, is our only representation of the Force. He is that feeling of mysticism missing from Rogue One, which primarily spends its journey focusing on laser blasts and proper cataloguing methods. Chirrut and our other heroes shine during the exciting battle finale that throws all the blasters on the table. Multiple zones of rebel fighters mowing down storm troopers make us feel like we’re in the largest paintball beach day of our lives. Rogue One has an overall exciting story with stunning graphics, but a slow first half due to a male lead with a confusing list of priorities. It most certainly needs a re-watch to catch all the special details, but that’s a sacrifice I’m happy to make. Rogue One is an 8/10.