Author: JoAnne Hyde
Date: December 13, 2016

SYNOPSIS: In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire's ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has been advertised as a stand-alone film, but it’s really a lead-in to Episode IV: A New Hope. It’s not a prequel, exactly, because it doesn’t focus on the Jedi, but you’re going to see many characters and/or items that appear in A New Hope pop up throughout the film. In tone, however, it’s much closer to The Empire Strikes Back, in darkness and depth. For me, this was a huge positive, but if you’re looking for a light-hearted tone, you won’t find it in Rogue One. What you will find are excellent performances and mind-blowing effects.

The film begins with the Erso family, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), Lyra (Valene Kane), and daughter Jyn (played by Beau and Dolly Gadsdon as a child and later by Felicity Jones), on a remote planet where they’ve been hiding from the Empire. Galen was a scientist working on the dreaded Death Star when he had a change of heart and went into hiding. Knowing they might be found, Galen and Lyra had devised an escape strategy for their daughter. She’s found and taken in for a time by rebel leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Flash forward 15 years and Jyn is a cynical, rootless petty criminal in custody of Empire enforcers, when she’s liberated by a rebel raid on her transport. She’s reunited with Saw, now old and ill, who informs her about the rumored Death Star. She’s already aware of Kyber crystals used to make light sabers, and Saw tells her that the Empire is seizing and searching for all Kyber crystals to power the Death Star. A holographic message from Galen inspires her to try to steal the plans for it.

There are all sorts of rogues in this story in addition to the commandeered ship Rogue One. Joining her in her urgent and hazardous task are a disillusioned rebel fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk in motion capture), a blind monk/savant devoted to The Force (Donnie Yen), his companion/bodyguard Baze (Wen Jiang), and a pilot defector from the Empire, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed).

During the perilous trek to steal the plans, viewers are treated to scenes on new and fascinating planets and moons. The sequences in space produce spellbinding special effects, and the final battle between the Empire ships and the newly-inspired Rebel forces is worth the price of your ticket.

Ben Mendelsohn makes a formidable villain as Orson Krennic, director of the Death Star construction. Darth Vader, once again voiced by James Earl Jones, appears menacingly to assert his authority in the war against the Rebels.

Reprising their roles as Mon Mothma and Bail Organa from The Revenge of the Sith are Genevieve O’Reilly and Jimmy Smits. Their screen time is brief, but they set the scene for the events in A New Hope.

The themes in Rogue One are familiar: courage in the face of death, redemption, and hope. As Jyn says, “Rebellions are built on hope.” The actors’ perform masterfully and, therefore, allow you to care what happens to them. In fact, if you’re the sentimental type, you may tear-up a bit at some outcomes.

Although I enjoyed last year’s The Force Awakens, I found Rogue One considerably better. Plus, I loved all the allusions to A New Hope. In the “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” crawl at the beginning of that film, you’ll find events from Rogue One referenced. Now, I’m going to have to view A New Hope again! And I guess that will lead to The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi!

What can I say? If you’re a Star Wars fan as I am, Rogue One is a must-see. - JoAnne Hyde


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