“Rogue One,” aptly subtitled “A Star Wars Story,” became one of the riskier spin-offs in a year full of potential franchise starters. Imagine, if Lucasfilm (or really, Disney) had made an awful film? Would the saturation of Star Wars be met with box office receipts and derision? Luckily for fans (or really, Disney), “Rogue One” excites and astonished and brings a new look at the beloved franchise’s cinematic universe.
Unlike the decidedly nostalgic “Force Awakens,” “Rogue One” uses its place in-between Episodes III and IV to tell a new kind of story. Without straining too far from the established Star Wars norms, “Rogue One” has a new feel to it that ought to delight fans. The staples of Star Wars conventions are there from the roguish Jyn Erso to the is-he-isn’t he jedi Chirrut Imwe (played by a scene-stealing Donnie Yen). Each character is a welcome addition to the Star Wars canon and although the acting seems spotty at first, eventually each has their defining altruistic moment.
Story-wise, “Rogue One” is less like the other Star Wars films. Instead of light versus dark sides of the force, the narrative is a much more direct affair; Jyn’s group of rebels must steal the Death Star’s blueprints. Here we now have answers (mildly spoiler-ish) as to why the Death Star had that one extreme imperfection. Throwbacks like these to past Star Wars films are done deftly by director Gareth Edwards who understands that you don’t just drop names like Skywalker to get audience cheers. Instead, Edwards populates the film with past characters like Tarkin and, of course, Darth Vader. Vader’s scenes will elicit the most clamorous of applause from fans; just to see this cinematic behemoth fully realized through today’s special effects is worth the price of admission.
While the story gets off to a shaky start trying to balance the rebel’s mission against fleshing out the world, by the second act the story shifts into high gear. “Rogue One” really separates itself from previous Episodes by becoming more akin to a war film only with blasters and AT-ATs. Even with the changes from the Star Wars formula, “Rogue One” still manages to capture the vibe of space battles and hope.