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Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was my most anticipated new Star Wars experience. The early trailers did not impress but the most recent ones did. So going in my hopes were high but I just wasn’t sure what we were getting. After the remake (albeit a pretty good one) that was The Force Awakens I was desperate for something different, something with the guts to stand alone. While Rogue One doesn’t fully satisfy as a film that doesn’t need the Skywalkers and company, it is damn close. To be fair, this film actually takes place during the heyday of the Skywalkers at the exact moment when their impact on the universe was the most important. The Force Awakens is so many years after the original trilogy that the focus on this family becomes much more criminal.

The original star Wars film tells us of the major galactic war happening, and it does a great job of making it feel dire but we don’t actually see much of it. Rogue One fills in the gap here. Not only do we see the struggle we also see the grunts that are relegated to being scenery or discussion fodder in Star Wars. Rogue One and Star Wars: A New Hope are literally bookends of each other. Rogue One also brings a layer of reality to the universe, finally giving us something relatable. We could always connect to the melodrama but the lives of these characters feel a little more familiar to us than those of the previous films pushing the universe further into the sci-fi zone and out of the fantasy zone where it has comfortably sat for the entire franchise to date. That doesn’t say anything negative about the franchise. It just says that Rogue One gives us a whole new layer of drama, familiarity, and depth. This film even makes forgettable characters from the prequels have meaning!

This film is darker than previous entries in the franchise, including The Empire Strikes Back. If we are to have spin-off stories I’d expect for them to delve into tone and story elements that aren’t as much a part of the main story arc and in that way again Rogue One does not disappoint. It’s no spoiler that Darth Vader plays a prominent role in the film. While I’d rather not see a Skywalker at all in the film, this Darth Vader affected me as an adult in the same way as he did as a child. He’s freaking scary! Thing is, the era in which Rogue One is set it would be hard not to have Vader play at least a small part in the film.

Rogue One introduces us to a merry band of well, rogues, tasked with saving the day essentially. The ensemble is entertaining one and all. One negative in the film is unfortunately Felicity Jones. She’s not bad in the film, but she’s not stellar either. Daisy Ridley set the bar high for this generation of Star Wars heroes and Jones just doesn’t, well exist in the same universe. Alan Tudyk however is a scene-stealer as the new android to the franchise K-250. K-250 isn’t the prim and proper C-3P0; he’s battle hardened and even more opinionated than even R-2D2. He’s a fantastic blend of the overt darkness of the film with a heavy dash of dark humor. His scenes are a great break from the drama throughout the film. Donnie Yen brings a new layer to the force in this film. His character is a believer. He’s force sensitive for sure, but not a Jedi. Yen’s character gives a much clearer voice to what the force is than the magic genes of the prequels.

The action scenes are riveting in the film both on the ground and in the air. Rogue One is grubbier, smaller, and more personal but still epic. The score for Rogue One is not hum worthy but it is utilized in that Star Wars way to perfection. We get swells on the ends melodramatic lines. Sure, this film doesn’t work nearly as well without the existence of the original star Wars but Rogue One is meant to be just that; a one off story that fills in gaps left by the original film. Rogue One: a Star Wars Story isn’t perfect, it takes about 15 minutes to find solid footing, but it’s the better of the two newest Star Wars films without a doubt.