This is a spoiler-free review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I wont reveal any story points or surprises per Disney/Marvel request. I will exhibit professional courtesy. In doing so, I will pad out the rest of this review to meet my length requirement in much the same way the filmmakers fulfilled theirs by stretching out their already-thin premise and turning the movie into a 2 hour, 13-minute slog of political unrest, near-miss escapes, drippy dialogue and uninteresting characters. Besides being a complete money-grab, Rogue One accomplishes the feat of bumping off The Phantom Menace as the worst Star Wars movie ever. I will warn you, too, considering the franchise has always been aimed at kids, that there is some heavy stuff for pint-sized Jedis to digest as dark as Anakin killing Younglings in Revenge of the Sith. This is a suicide mission after all, we know that already.
Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) working from a script by Chris Weitz (Cinderella) and Tony Gilroy (the Bourne movies) does, just like the title implies, go rogue. (Warning. Heres a pair of reveals to support that point): The opening crawler set to John Williams glorious score is not used and neither are there any light-saber battles. There are a few nostalgic nods to the earlier films, but Rogue One doesnt care about scratching that itch in the same way that last years vastly superior The Force Awakens did.
The story takes place after the events in Revenge of the Sith and before A New Hope. A pre-title sequence shows a young Jyn Erso and what happens to her family when the bad guys come calling. Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), her father, is an Imperial scientist with expertise in Kyber Crystals – the mineral used to power light sabers.
Years later, Jyn is grown up and played by Felicity Jones (an Oscar-nominee for The Theory of Everything). The Galactic Civil War rages on. A ragtag group of rebels mounts a successful theft of the Death Star blueprints, which in the next movie a young Jedi named Luke Skywalker uses to blow up that interplanetary weapon of mass destruction. Rogue One chronicles the run-up to securing the plans. Theres a lot of backstory to get through, which means tons of expository dialogue. Telling rather than showing especially in a visual medium presents problems that the movie cant overcome. Edwards is long a master of visual effects, but style never beats substance, and thats what missing. Theres nothing to sink our teeth into, especially when we already know how it ends. Theres no suspense. Also, the story location hops at hyper speed between Jedha, Yavin 4, Scarif, Eadu and aboard the Death Star. Its a lot to keep track of and none of it as exciting as it should be in this beloved franchise. The stakes seem low.
Alan Tudyks K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial security droid now loyal to the Alliance, isnt human, but hes the films most interesting character. Hes got more heart, humor and personality stuffed in the that hunk of black metal than all the humans combined. Hes programmed to speak with no filter and its often very funny. Diego Luna is Cassian Andor, a heroic Alliance intelligence officer. Riz Ahmed is Bodhi Rook, a captured Imperial pilot. Forest Whitaker is Saw Gerrera, a rebel extremist. Ben Mendelsohn is Orson Krennic, the galactic commander responsible for security of the Death Star. He works under Lord Vader (James Earl Jones returns to voice) and Grand Moff Tarkin (the late Peter Cushing, via movie magic), so you can imagine the magnitude of Krennics responsibilities. Jiang Wen is pretty terrific as the trained assassin Baze Malbus. Donnie Yen is Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior trained to use the Force who the scriptwriters rely on at plot-convenient moments to move the story along when it gets stuck, which is a lot.
This is the second post-George Lucas adventure, and if this is the direction Star Wars is heading, then its a galaxy I want to stay far, far away from.
Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Cast: Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen.
(PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.)