‘Rogue One’ brings new hope for ‘Star Wars’ spinoffs

by RYAN FITZGERALD//Staff Writer

For the second consecutive year, December found itself home to another Disney hit.

Building on the success of last year’s “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” premiere, the first “Star Wars” film outside of the interconnected saga brings a long-awaited expansion to the “Star Wars” universe and storyline.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the first of many forthcoming anthology films which seek to offer a new adventure into an expansive “Star Wars” universe, giving fans the prequel they always wanted – a detailing of the events, leading up to the original narrative portrayed in “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.”

Depicted in the crawl of “A New Hope,” civil war has reached the galaxy, and Rebel ships, striking from a hidden base, have garnered their first victory against the Galactic Empire. During that battle, Rebel spies have managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s Death Star, an orbital battle station which harnesses enough power to destroy an entire planet.

“Rogue One” chronicles the story of the Rebel spies, led by a jaded Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of the Empire’s lead engineer who is charged with powering the most destructive weapon in the galaxy, the Death Star.  Upon his death, he discloses plans that have been stashed away which could destroy the moon-sized space station, ridding the galaxy of Kyber crystal-powered super laser.

Reluctantly joining the Rebel Alliance – Jen, Cassian (Diego Luna), their rag tag team of Empire-hating misfits, and the prissy K2SO (Alan Tudyk), front the assault on the planet Scarif – a beautiful, tropical paradise which happens to be home to an Imperial military installation and Citadel Tour, home to the data vault which contains Death Star plans.

The movie brings tons of eclectic “Star Wars” feel to the modern fan. First, “Rogue One” delivers several minor characters that bring a lot to a film of its size, including K2SO, a new droid who is rivaled only by C3P0 in the amount of wit and sass a droid can dish out in one movie. This new droid does a fantastic job of bringing the classic, light-hearted humor that “Star Wars” is known for, even in the gloomiest of situations.

Fans are introduced to Saw Gerrera (a staple of Disney XD’s “Star Wars Rebels”), a paranoid militant who seemingly enjoys wasting his days away waging a guerrilla war against the Empire from underground. Second, devotees to the “Star Wars” universe are granted the cinematic return of Grand Moff Tarkin (though badly computer generated) and everyone’s favorite Sith Lord, Darth Vader. Third, dedicated followers get unseen, original “Star Wars” footage from 1977 in the climactic battle sequence.

The movie was not without its short comings, however. Much of the computer-generated enhancements were not very clean. The writing, generally speaking, was fairly poor. Again, this would make the third movie in the “Star Wars” franchise to use a giant space station as a planet-destroying plot point. In addition, the first third of the movie is also a bit jumbled, as viewers bounced between different planets, bases and even time periods. The audience is introduced to several key characters too quickly. Moreover, by the time the crowd begins to be drawn into the narrative with the introduction of Jedha and its role in the story line, the city is destroyed.

Overall, the movie feels like Gareth Edwards was aiming to bring the “Star Wars” universe its own “Saving Private Ryan” or “Hamburger Hill” – where a team of volunteers sneak behind enemy lines to embark upon a do-or-die mission, with nothing to lose. Don’t get me wrong, a war movie set in the “Star Wars” universe was well overdue. Fans of the franchise felt the same way. As of the weekend of Jan. 23, “Rogue One” surpassed the $1 billion mark at the global box office, and will stand as the highest grossing film of 2016, passing “Captain America: Civil War” and “Finding Dory.”

“Rogue One” successfully navigated new terrain for “Star Wars,” despite being a risk for Disney and Lucasfilm.  The film introduces fans to new landscapes, characters and depths within a universe that is story-rich, but vastly underexplored.

I give “Rogue One” 4 out of 5 stars.

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