Taking place inside of the nineteen-year gap between the Prequel and Original trilogies, while opening four years after the infamous events of Order 66's mass-murdering of the majority of the Jedi Knights throughout the galaxy and the ascension of the Galactic Empire, as seen in "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith": We meet the Ersos, a peaceful farming family who've gone into self-imposed exile after the patriarch, Galen, abandoned the Empire following his near completion of the iconic weapon-of-mass-destruction known as the Death Star for the Empire.
Soon located by the film's primary antagonist, Director Orson Krennic - the Imperial Manager of Advanced Weaponry, the Erso family are tragically torn apart when Krennic has Lyra Erso, the wife of Galen and mother of Jyn, murdered for their family's resistance to return back to the construction zone of the Death Star until its completion. Her father kidnapped, mother dead, and hiding in a cave herself, the story amplifies when Clone War hero Saw Gerrera, a friend of Jyn's parents, takes the seven-year-old girl under his care. Jumping ahead by fifteen years, we reunite with Jyn as a twenty-two-year-old woman in an Imperial prison, played by Felicity Jones: Hardened after years as the protege of her mercenary guardian Saw and experienced as an outlaw since we'd last seen her, we're treated to a barrage of examples as to how time has since changed our heroine, by acts of violence perpetrated by her, immediately after she's sprung from prison by the Rebellion in a ploy by them to find her father and sabotage the final touches on the Empire's Death Star by any means necessary.
Battling hordes of Stormtroopers with her newfound allies in order to reach Saw and Bodhi Rook, a defected Imperial pilot who was entrusted with a vital message for the rebels by Galen, Jyn is assisted on her journey by Cassian Andor - a handsome senior spy for the Rebel Alliance; Chirrut Îmwe - a lethal-yet-friendly and blind force-practitioner; Baze Malbus - an Alliance-leaning mercenary, as well as Chirrut's best friend; and finally K-2SO - Cassian's witty enforcer droid, who longs to be respected as an equal to organic beings.
Finding Saw and Bodhi eventually, thanks to the assistance of her newfound friends, Jyn witnesses her father's message for herself finally: In it, it is revealed that there's an intentional flaw in the design of the Death Star, as created by Galen himself, that could destroy the weapon and possibly even level the battlefield for the Rebel Alliance if exploited. However, the obstacle of obtaining the blueprint for the Death Star remained and would require the rebels to steal them by force on the planet Scarif, unfortunately an Imperial stronghold.
It's not long, however, until Jyn and her rebel friends' pit-stop at Saw's compound runs short thanks to a blast from the Death Star (under the command of Krennic and Governor Grand Moff Tarkin) annihlates the capital city of Planet Jedha, in an effort to kill Gerrera's uprising against the Empire there. Forced to flee, the group escapes the planet just before the destruction claimed the life of Saw Gerrera himself, who'd decided to stay behind on his own.
Arriving at a testing site where they'd traced her father Galen to, the contrasting values between Jyn and Cassian are explored when it's revealed that Cassian plans on killing Jyn's father despite his consistent efforts to assist the Rebel Alliance. Unwilling to let that happen without a fight, however, Jyn attempts to save her father from both Cassian and Krennic who both have a vested interest in Galen's hypothetical death when he's outed as a traitor, a death of which comes to fruition when Alliance bombs inadvertently kill him in the midst of a surrounding dogfight between the Alliance's X-Wings and Empire's Tie-Fighters. Dying in her arms, Jyn commits fully to her father's cause against the Galactic Empire, though the irony of his death being the fault of the Rebel Alliance isn't lost on her whatsoever.
Overlooking the nature of her father's demise, however, Jyn proposes a plan to the leaders of the Rebel Alliance after arriving on Yavin 4, the Alliance's long-established headquarter planet: Though proving futile at first, considering that the proof of her father's intentionally-botched design of the Death Star had been lost on Jedha at Saw's compound. Unable to secure the support of the High Command, Jyn and her team volunteer to steal the Death Star's schematics on Scarif on their own, leading them to commandeer a ship independently, which Bodhi would fatefully improvise the call-sign "Rogue One" for when pressed for verification by Imperial personnel at a checkpoint during the mission.
Bloody, the infiltration mission into the Empire's data bank would go on to cost the Rogue One crew their lives, one by one, including Jyn and Cassian when Tarkin commanded the Imperial base on Scarif destroyed by way of the Death Star in a ruthless act of all-out war, however not before Jyn confronted Director Krennic as revenge for his past trespasses against her family - and by successfully relaying the Death Star blueprints to the Rebels' supporting fleet in Space: Jyn's heroic and final act of defiance before getting vaporized with Cassian by the Death Star's blast-wave. Jyn dies, yes, but she dies for her beliefs and that's all any of us could ever aspire to do.
In a last act of desperation, however, the film's epilogue showcases Darth Vader absolutely decimating the crew members of a Rebel command ship where Jyn's blueprint transmission had been traced to. Narrowly passing the schematics along like a baton, despite all of them succumbing to Vader's crimson saber and proficiency with the force, the sensitive plans successfully make their way to Princess Leia Organa who proclaims the information as "hope" - a scene which takes us minutes ahead of the opening events of "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope", effectively designating "Rogue One" as the new prologue to the franchise's original story as well as acting as an explanation for the Death Star plans' mention in Episode IV's opening crawl.
As predicted, I really enjoyed this film and am proud to say that I completely consider it canon unlike the case with J.J. Abrams' "Force Awakens" from last year. Providing many tastefully-executed retcons, filling in many long-discussed plot-holes, and proving itself to be the product of great storytellers, there wasn't much that left me unhappy with this standalone film in the "Star Wars" franchise. In many ways, even the aspects that I'll list as my gripes with the film are so insignificant that they can be written off as nitpicky - honestly because I couldn't find much not to love in this film: I simply adored it as a fantasy fan, as a "Star Wars" franchise buff, and as a writer myself. So, for the sake of discussion, here's everything that I enjoyed about "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" and (not really) the things that I didn't.
- Jyn Erso/Felicity Jones' Performance: A strong female character is something rare to come across in media and something that I admire very much, which may come as a surprise to the feminists who've criticized me in the past. Jones' performance in this film made me believe in the danger that her character was going through and got me to care about what happened to the character. Showcasing an amazing range of emotion and telegraph, this role may possibly be Jones' most iconic -popularity-wise - going forward in her very promising career, even as a former Oscar nominee already. A credit to Jones' ability as an actress, too, I left the film wanting to know even more about Jyn and would love to see the character's adventures (and capers) with Saw Gerrera as a teenager explored, perhaps through a novel or comic book.
Proactive, independent, resilient, human, and capable: Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso, to me, is a great addition to the long line of strong female characters perpetrated by the "Star Wars" franchise in the tradition of Padmé Amidala, Leia Organa, Jaina Solo, and yes, even Daisy Ridley's Rey - which was one of the very, very few things that I objectively enjoyed about "The Force Awakens".
- Faithful to the Original Vision:
"Star Wars", like the "Terminator" franchise beside it, has become so vast that it's hard to remember the intent of the series' creators unless you're a hardcore fan and have done your due diligence as far as research and time-investment is concerned.
If anything, my biggest problem with "The Force Awakens" was that Disney went ahead and contradicted the established character traits like Luke's apathetic reaction to losing an apprentice, or the relationship dynamic between Han Solo and Leia Organa - as far as the way they crumbled as a couple post-"Return of the Jedi" after their son turned heel; Whereas the original stories, overseen and consulted on by George Lucas himself, featured the couple's relationship surviving not only a child of theirs turning to the Dark Side, but also the loss of two of their closest friends in Mara Jade Skywalker & Chewbacca, as well as the death of both of their sons: One of which was killed in combat by their own daughter.
Here in "Rogue One", however: The tone felt faithful to its era (The point of by blowing up the second Death Star and killing the Emperor & Vader in Episode VI was futile, going by "Force Awakens" logic), all characters had their parts to play (Who cares about Captain Phasma outside of having a shiny chrome suit for the sake of toy sales?), and the villain here actually meant business (You won't catch Krennic throwing tantrums on machinery like Fanboy Ren did). And though I know it won't last because the Sequel Trilogy will take the reigns back again next year, "Rogue One" was a very nice throwback: Not only to the rules and aesthetic of the Original Trilogy, but to the intention of the franchise's creator also. Which I appreciated.
- Focused Storytelling:
To the advantage of being a prequel, there was always an intended place for the story to go but to the credit of both the writers and director of the film: This film made it's own argument for it's existence by showcasing serious characters, high stakes, and real consequences for both heroism and villainy - all things of which aren't common in Hollywood storytelling nowadays unfortunately. By the end of the film, you look at "A New Hope" in a brand new light and that was the intention. Also, for what it's worth: That's an incredible feat to pull off for a film that'll see its fortieth birthday next year.
- Visual & Practical Effects:
Like one of the other few things that I enjoyed about "The Force Awakens", "Rogue One" made phenomenal use of practical effects: Something that many other people missed during the Prequel Trilogy. When I looked into the eyes of K-2SO, I felt like I was looking into the eyes of a being with a soul or some sort of sentience, both of which I knew to be false in reality but it was true in my heart and that's a credit to the effects department on this film. However, I must give credit where it's due and acknowledge the use of facial reconstruction here in this film for characters like Grand Moff Tarkin (whose portrayer passed away in 1994) and Princess Leia (whose portrayer is currently 60-years-old, a far stretch from the 19-year old character featured here in this film).
Though it wasn't that long ago, the notable facially-reconstructed Marlon Brando in 2006's "Superman Returns" and Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009's "Terminator: Salvation" pale in comparison to the ones seen here in "Rogue One". The authenticity of Tarkin and Leia's portrayals here will probably be the subject of much discussion for a long while.
In accordance with the theme of inclusiveness in the series' legendary storyline, it was nice to see a large cast featuring many people of color and women in important roles in this film. Hot off the heels of HBO's excellent "The Night Of", I hope that Riz Ahmed's turn here as Bodhi Rook propels him even further into the critically-acclaimed stratosphere like none other. Notable, as well, I won't be forgetting Donnie Yen as the awesome Chirrut Îmwe anytime soon neither.
- The Message:
By the end of the film, the rebels succeed in evading defeat by working together across philosophical, gender, ethnic, and species lines. In an era where Donald Trump, a man who's race-baited and instigated and hate-mongered is in place to hold the most power in the world come next month and spitefulness is the brand of the week: It was great to spend two hours and thirteen minutes with a story that demonstrated the rewards of inclusiveness, tolerance, hard work, and sacrifice for the heroes - all traits of which run counter to arguably the most morally-bankrupt President-elect and supporters in the history of the United States of America.
- The Length
A hallmark of any good film, like "Skyfall" when I saw it in theatres, you should want to see more of it by the time it finishes. While surely, I wanted to go home and re-watch Episode IV for the thousandth time since I was probably six-months-old or younger, I wouldn't have minded if this story had ran a little longer. As mentioned earlier, I wouldn't have complained one bit to see more of Forest Whitaker's Saw Gerrera care for and train a teenage Jyn Erso for about ten or fifteen minutes to add even more depth to an already-deep story.
- No Bail/Leia Interaction
The relationship between Leia Organa and her adoptive parents has always been a piece of the "Star Wars" mythology to evade deep exploration and I would've liked to see that explored a bit more here in the story given Bail Organa's cameo, which could've done much to contextualize Leia's infamous stoicism following his death on Alderaan. Perhaps Bail had parted ways with Leia with words of encouragement for her mission, hence why she kept a strong front on throughout "A New Hope"? We may never know, and I think that that was a really missed opportunity here. What this story did to legitimize the plot-hole of the Death Star's easy destruction, it could've also done to explain Leia's seemingly nonchalant attitude as well.
- No Climactic Orson Krennic Fight Scene
A pretty decent villain, I would've loved to see much more of a fight between Jyn and Krennic during the climax of the film. Not that I minded Cassian saving Jyn from him but a struggle to Krennic's death might've worked better for the character. Throughout the film, I got the impression that Krennic was much more dangerous than he'd led on but the final scene between he and Jyn ended slightly anti-climatically, though it didn't take anything major away from the story for me.
Hard to accomplish, especially since I'm in the minority of people who actually appreciate the Prequel Trilogy, "Rogue One" highly impressed me. It's a film I'd recommend to anybody, especially those not familiar with the "Star Wars" franchise, and I will be buying it on DVD when it is released. Without a doubt, Gareth Edwards' "Rogue One" will always be apart of my personal canon from now on. Phenomenal experience watching this story unfold on the big screen!
My Rating: 5/5.