Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PG-13)
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This is the first of the so-called "anthology films," which just means "side story" films that aren't part of a major trilogy within the Star Wars saga. (As such, the anthology films don't have the opening crawl that is familiar from the main movies. The animated prequel The Clone Wars is also sort of a standalone film, but that was before Disney took over the franchise, before the term "anthology" was applied, and it does have an opening crawl.) It starts out on a planet whose name I'll never remember, where a scientist named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) has been hiding from the Empire, along with his wife, Lyra, and their young daughter, Jyn. They're finally found by an Imperial science officer named Orson Krennic, who intends to take all three Ersos back with him. However, he only captures Galen; Lyra is killed, and Jyn manages to hide. She's later taken in by a friend of Galen's named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
The movie then flashes forward fifteen years, to Jyn as a young woman (played by Felicity Jones). She's now a prisoner of the Empire, and has apparently committed various criminal acts under various aliases, though luckily they don't know who she really is. Apparently, it's been several years since she's seen Gerrera, who had been a member of the Rebel Alliance, but has since become too much of an extremist for the other Rebels, whom he no longer trusts. Anyway... the movie takes some time introducing us to various characters and showing how they all come together. And a lot of stuff happens that I don't want to go into detail about, more because it would be tedious than spoilery. I spent awhile just waiting for things to really get interesting, because I was sure they would. (And of course I was right.) But in addition to not wanting to bore you with the setup, I do also want to avoid spoiling too much of the plot. So, I basically just want to mention the major characters. There's a Rebel captain named Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), whose copilot is a droid named K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). K2 was probably my favorite character in the film. He's very amusingly snarky, and his design was unlike any previously seen droids in the Star Wars films. I felt like he had a very retro-futuristic look, like something out of an old-school sci-fi serial (or maybe Batman: The Animated Series).
Cassian leads a team that frees Jyn from the Empire, though at first she doesn't really want to go with them. But they take her to the Rebel headquarters, where her true identity is known. They want her to help them find her father, but first they want her to help them gain an audience with Gerrera (without being killed). So, Cassian and K2 to Jyn to the planet Jedha, where Gerrera and his people are currently doing everything they can to interfere with the Empire's theft of kyber crystals (which are used to power lightsabers, but the Empire has some new, unknown use for them). While there, they meet a couple former guardians of an old temple that the Empire has taken control of: Chirrut ╬mwe, a blind monk-like warrior who relies on a connection to the Force, though he's not a Jedi; and his best friend, a warrior named Baze Malbus. Jyn talks with Gerrera, who shows her a holo-recording of her father, which Galen had sent with an Imperial pilot named Bodhi Rook, who defected so he could deliver the recording to Gerrera. The recording tells of a superweapon the Empire had forced him to develop, the Death Star, as well as saying that he'd built a vulnerability into it, which the Rebels could use to destroy it. Meanwhile, Cassian meets Bodhi and helps him escape from Gerrera's cell (as he still didn't fully trust Bodhi). And... well, various events transpire that lead to Jyn, Cassian, K2, Chirrut, Baze, and Bodhi all leaving the planet together, and returning to Rebel headquarters.
While all this is going on, Krennic, who is the director of the Death Star project, has been overseeing the completion of the battle station, and demonstrates a small fraction of its power to Governor Tarkin (appearing via motion-capture CGI and archival footage superimposed over an actor's face). Incidentally, I thought this effect was well-done, and didn't look to me at all like CGI. Well, maybe his appearance felt slightly unreal to me, but not enough for an uncanny valley effect. I mostly felt like it was really Peter Cushing reprising his role. (His voice sounded fairly close to me, too.) Anyway, Tarkin plans to take over the Death Star (as we know he will), but Krennic isn't going to give up command so easily. He has a scene with Darth Vader (still voiced by James Earl Jones), which I rather enjoyed, in which he hopes to convince Vader to convince the Emperor to let him retain command of the Death Star.
One thing I really liked about the movie is that it does a good job of showing that the Rebel Alliance is just that: an alliance of disparate groups of rebels, rather than a single, unified organization. And they are all very much a fringe element, with little hope of truly defeating the Empire. And when Jyn tells them of her father's message about the Death Star, the Rebels pretty much either disbelieve her, or believe that if it's true, they now have absolutely zero hope of defeating the Empire, so they might as well disband the Alliance and hope simply to survive. However, the word "hope" is repeated quite often in the movie; part of me just thought of this as playing up the title of Episode IV: A New Hope, but it really is an important, central theme to the story. And it's something neither Jyn nor Cassian is willing to abandon. So Cassian gathers a number of Rebels to join them (and the other members of their little group) in going to planet Scarif, in the hopes of obtaining the schematics of the Death Star, to find the weakness Galen had built into it, so that information could be passed on to what was left of the Alliance.
Well, I feel like I've said a lot more than I intended to, but I've also left out a lot. The story goes in a lot of different directions, with scenes on several planets that are hard for me to keep straight. Like, I haven't even mentioned the events on Eadu. Nor am I going to spoil any details of all that transpires on (and above) Scarif. I'll just say it's all very complicated, and desperate, and thrilling. The movie has great humor, drama, action, and again... hope. It's not something I feel like I could watch repeatedly, as I could the original trilogy, but I definitely enjoyed it, and appreciated what it added to my understanding of Episode IV. And... I guess anything else I might want to say I appreciated about the film really would be too spoilery, so I guess I've nothing more to say.