Courtesy of Tribune News Service, Lucasfilm Ltd.

Review: 'Rogue One' pushes 'Star Wars' to new limits

Movie: "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"

Director: Gareth Edwards

Runtime: 134 minutes

Release Date: Dec. 16

Rating: A-

Following “The Force Awakens” and its incredible success last year, Disney already has a long list of “Star Wars” movies to continue coming out every year until 2020, with more likely to be announced until either the sun swallows the earth or we get tired of watching them, whichever comes first. Fortunately, the first of the planned spinoff films, “Rogue One,” is here and with it comes the best world-building, action and possibly story that the series has ever seen.

“Rogue One” is effectively Episode 3.5 as the events take place after the end of “Revenge of the Sith” and just before “A New Hope” and has ties to both of them. “Rogue One” tells the story of the rebels who stole the plans to the Death Star that Princess Leia is in possession of at the beginning of “A New Hope.” We follow Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who is the daughter of one of the engineers behind the construction of the Death Star, and her journey as she is captured by the rebels and promised her freedom in return for helping them get in contact with a defected Imperial pilot who might have information crucial to stopping the Empire.

It’s clear from the opening seconds that “Rogue One” is taking lengths to separate itself from the other entries in the series when it cuts straight from “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” to the movie without the opening crawl and booming anthem that we have come to expect. This felt strange and very un-”Star Wars”, but that was likely the point — it was never meant to feel like the “Star Wars” you’re used to. In a series defined by space wizards with laser swords and magical powers, “Rogue One” managed to show genuine humanity in a way that George Lucas never did in his films. The presence of the Force, the Jedi and the Sith is minimal in this movie, allowing us to see the fight and struggles of the ordinary people in “Star Wars," and the result is a highly refreshing and intriguing story.

In many ways, “Rogue One” feels like “Star Wars” for adults. From the dark themes to the surprisingly deep plot and the fact that the comic-relief droid this time around was funny because of clever dialogue and jokes instead of cute sounds and visual gags, the movie seemed to target a more mature audience. This might deter some of the younger fans who jumped on board last year, but for me, this was fantastic. The story unfolds in smart ways, and the pacing was just slow enough to take in all the information and formulate questions without falling into boredom. This could be a divisive issue, as some will likely view the first half of the film as slow or confusing, but, if you are paying attention, it is actually one of the most intriguing plotlines of the series and helps build to an incredibly strong third act.

However, it is in this section that one of the only negatives I have with the film comes in, and that’s with the character development. This is a very light negative, as by the end of the film I actually did care about the characters to the level that I should, but this was in part because of the strength of the film’s climax. During the middle, the relationships between the characters and their motivations felt a little glossed over, and there were a few big moments where it was clear I was supposed to be feeling something for the characters, and I was, but not to the extent that the film wanted me to. The acting was great, especially from Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang who did a great deal with their small roles and had arguably the best on-screen chemistry in the movie, but it wasn’t until close to the third act that I truly felt I had connected with the characters.

That minor complaint plus a slight uncanny valley effect from a digitally-recreated character from the original trilogy aside, “Rogue One” did everything else masterfully. The effects and action was beautifully done, and the film’s various set pieces were stunning. In an interview with earlier this year, Riz Ahmed, who plays the defected pilot, said that director Gareth Edwards compared "Rogue One" to other war movies and it shows on screen. “Rogue One” is a film that finally lives up to the name of the series as it's a gritty view at the desperation, passion, regret, anger, hardship and moral ambiguity that goes into war. “Star Wars” is the poster child for black and white, good vs. evil storytelling, so seeing a film in this series walk a more gray line where the good guys aren’t always without blood on their hands is highly interesting and adds a layer of realism that I respect.

In addition to the change in tone, one of the single biggest compliments that can be given to “Rogue One” is that it held commendable restraint in dealing with references to the other “Star Wars” films. While “The Force Awakens” was a lot of fun, it has received criticism for leaning too heavily into nostalgia without doing enough to make it original. This isn’t the case for “Rogue One.” The writers put in a fair amount of Easter eggs and ties to the greater series, but almost all of them were subtle and relevant to the plot, and they rarely felt forced or cheap. In fact, “Rogue One” actually gives important context to “A New Hope” that makes it a better story, and answers some crucial questions that have been left hanging since the original trilogy in the '70s.

While it is a departure from the traditional “Star Wars” style and it may not be for everyone, those “Star Wars” fans who are looking for a deep, dark and mature dive into the lore of Lucas’ universe will be in for a treat with “Rogue One.”

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