by Chris Feil
For even the Star Wars agnostic, you have to admit there is a certain appeal to Rogue One. Dubbed with the "A Star Wars Story" moniker, here is the most significant divergence from the main series yet: not only does it step away from the Skywalker family tree, but the pulsing trailers have promised a look and mood mostly its own. The final film is maybe less of a sidestep than we'd been promised but is still at its best when it sets itself aside from the saga.
Detailing the stealth mission to steal the Death Star blueprints before the events of A New Hope, the film has a host of new characters to go with its different vibe...
Felicity Jones's Jyn Erso is our main hero, a refreshingly thorny presence for the series. While its a great relief to have such diversity in its ensemble, the film does fall victim to the characterization troubles that plagued the prequel trilogy. Except for Jyn, most characters are live action figures with punchlines, especially Ben Mendelsohn's caped villain Krennic. Riz Ahmed is the unluckiest with nothing to do, while Donnie Yen is destined to be the cool Fan Favorite as blind Jedi wannabe Chirrut Îmwe.
It's a bummer that the first hour struggles to clearly define the characters after this was one of the strongest aspects of The Force Awakens. Both films also overemphasize their reverance for the originals. This may be its own entity, but get ready for a slew of character cameos. Rogue One even uses motion capture technology to bring back a familiar face or teo (no spoilers here), which seems bold at first but quickly becomes distracting. It looks like a massive technological leap forward from what we've seen before (like de-aging Jeff Bridge for TRON: Legacy, yeesh), but is still insurmountably unbelievable.
What Rogue One does have going for it is that it may be the most viscerally thrilling in the entire series. It sounds trite to say it's the first time you see the War in the title, but it holds true. You would think there would be a ceiling on audience investment considering we obviously know how this will end, as the prequels so painfully proved. But the stakes have never felt higher or the dangers more terrifying. If the Star Wars universe is entering an era in the Marvel mold, then Rogue One has a lot to teach Disney's other flagship on how to deliver more than mere diversion.
Much of this can be attributed to director Gareth Edwards. As he did with Godzilla, scale and memorable imagery go a long way here to energize and freshen staples of the series. The world he creates is more dingy and tense, the most distinct point of view granted to George Lucas's original world without deceiving that vision. The film is also the most gorgeous of the series, with versatile costume design from Glyn Dillon and David Crossman and transfixing cinematography from Greig Fraser.
Rogue One is an entertaining tangent from the Skywalkers, if not always an interesting one. Now that Star Wars has gotten back to the thrills, they can hope to match this one's rush.
Best in Show: Alan Tudyk at his most Alan Tudyk as hilarious robot K-2SO. He's like the top to C3-PO's bottom.