The origins of hope

Star Wars spinoff/prequel is a rousing space adventure

Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen and Ben Mendelsohn. Directed by Gareth Edwards. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

There was a brief moment in the very first Star Wars (now known as Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope) when a character mentions rebels possibly obtaining vulnerability secrets regarding the Death Star. That group of people actually gets its own movie in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a spinoff that is technically another prequel.

In fact, it tells a story that leads right up to where A New Hope begins. And it’s a strong, rousing action-adventure that should please Star Wars geeks along with newcomers to the franchise.

It’s also a little different from your typical Star Wars movie in that it doesn’t mainly deal with the Skywalker saga (although there are a couple of notable familiar appearances) and doesn’t prominently feature the John Williams score (although that makes some appearances, as well). Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) goes for something a little different here, a tonal shift that reminds me of the big change The Empire Strikes Back brought to the saga.

The film starts sans the long narrative crawl and theme music we’re used to, and goes straight into its story. Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a renowned scientist, gets an unwelcome visit at his remote farm from the evil Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Krennic wants Erso to continue his work on this crazy new thing called the Death Star, but Erso isn’t interested. The whole emerging Empire thing has him generally turned off, and he wants no part of it. Bad events ensue, and Galen Erso’s young daughter, Jyn, goes into hiding.

The action picks up 15 years later, and Jyn has grown up to be played by Felicity Jones. Jones brings the same level of competent acting skills to the franchise that Daisy Ridley brought last year in The Force Awakens (and they both have awesome English accents). Jyn eventually finds herself joining the Rebellion, and becomes a key player in getting the Death Star secrets and setting up the events of the original Star Wars trilogy.

She gets paired up with a generally grouchy rebel in Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his wiseass droid, K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). They go on that mission mentioned in Episode IV, leading up to an action-packed finale reminiscent of A New Hope’s climactic battle scene in many ways, some of them truly unexpected and wonderful. (There are also some rather surprising cameos.)

Among the returnees from earlier films in the franchise is Bail Organa, still played by Jimmy Smits, a surprising nod to the prequels that displeased so many. CGI trickery (some of it a little shaky) leads to the return of a major Empire figure that won’t be revealed here. And, of course, the commercials have already shown that Darth Vader (still voiced by James Earl Jones) is back in all of his dark glory. That’s a major Star Wars treat.

This year has been a major letdown for blockbuster franchises (Ghostbusters, Jason Bourne, Independence Day: Resurgence, etc.), so it’s nice to finish the year on such a high note. Rogue One is a blast and further proof that Mickey Mouse taking over the Star Wars responsibilities from creator George Lucas is a very good thing. Star Wars VIII comes to us next year, and a standalone Han Solo origin story the year after that.

There was a time when we had to wait many years for our Star Wars fixes. Now, in this New Age of Total Impatience, we get Star Wars every year.