Rogue One occupies an odd place on the Star Wars timeline; a prequel set just a handful of days before the original 1977 Star Wars, this film follows the exploits of the brave Rebels who capture and curry the Death Star plans to Princess Leia shortly before she slips them into R2-D2. It’s a vital juncture in this decades-long interstellar fantasy, yet it’s also very compartmentalized with no strong connection to the other seven entries. The heroes of Rogue One have never been identified previously. Their harrowing mission is a blip in the distant future during the other three prequels and by the time we meet troubled rural teen Luke Skywalker their exploits are yesterday’s news.
Rogue One is also occurring at a weird moment in our own world—just a year ago we were hit with The Force Awakens, a continuation of the main Star Wars narrative set 30 years after Return of The Jedi. Why walk us back pre-Hamill already? Where’s the ball droid? Where’s Adam Driver? Where the hell are the singing cats?
The arrival of Rogue One may not make a ton of sense, but the movie is so fantastic and gripping it doesn’t matter. Director Gareth Edwards paints with astonishing visuals, using perspective and scale and rich special effects to inject a “wow” factor absent in many of the previous chapters (it is extremely satisfying to watch a space battle that looks like a space battle, not a video game). Rogue One even makes the unthinkable work—the film resurrects Peter Cushing 22 years after his death (digitally, of course) for another turn as Imperial official Grand Moff Tarkin. As other characters interact with the Moff it is difficult to tell they are acting against a cartoon. We must consider the possibility Gareth Edwards is an occult priest who used black magic to literally raise Peter Cushing from his grave.
Tarkin assumes control of the nearly completed Death Star early in the film, which we learn was the brainchild of a morally conflicted architect named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). The Empire tears Erso away from his family for the home stretch of this space laser project and that surely motivates his decision to leak compromising intelligence about the Death Star’s reactor to the Rebellion. The Rebellion turns to Erso’s daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), who is willing to throw in with this galactic coup malarky if there’s a chance her father can be freed. Along the way Jyn builds herself a posse, including a handsome Rebel dude (Diego Luna), an extremely droll robot (Alan Tudyk), a blind holy man who may or may not be Jedi (Donnie Yen), and this sort of space Rambo (Jiang Wen). The group only grows tighter as the game changes around them.
Rogue One’s heroes may lack the radioactive charm of a Han Solo or a Chewbacca but they are resolved and strong and you root for every single one of them in the enormously satisfying (and somewhat heartbreaking) third act. In an era where Hollywood loves nothing more than to hit you with false endings, this venture gives you but one, an audacious and stimulating one, and sews it pretty well to the start of the founding late ’70s passage we all memorized growing up. Rogue One may have single-handedly saved the fate of the word “prequel.”
Also, somewhere in the middle of this adventure, you get to see Darth Vader’s house. It’s not carpeted.
FINAL SCORE: Four fistfuls of ewok fur (out of four).