Note: this review is virtually spoiler-free
Now that we're apparently going to get our Star Wars movies in annualized form, it's only natural to question the validity of Rogue One, the first in a series of non-core films in the franchise, and one to tell a story outside the main plotlines we've come to know and love.
We follow Jyn Erso (The Theory of Everything's Felicity Jones), the daughter of an Imperial science officer played by Mads Mikkelsen (Hannibal). Jyn is orphaned when her father grows a conscience and doesn't want to fight for the Empire anymore. She's young and brash and doesn't much care about anything, but when the rebel alliance needs to track down someone close to her, she enlists in exchange for whatever semblance of freedom is available in this particular galaxy. And so, along with a Rebel captain named Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who is beginning to question his place in the fight, and a wise-crackin' reprogrammed Imperial droid (voiced brilliantly by Firefly's Alan Tudyk, even if he's awfully similar to Douglas Adams' Marv from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Jyn must traverse the planets to uncover the plans for an Imperial mega-weapon you may have heard about called the Death Star.
Rogue One separates itself from previous Star Wars films with a tale that's more about the individual human cost of war than the admittedly fun fantasy of space magic. This isn't to say that known elements from the Star Wars realm don't find their way into the film, but rather than focus on one young man's journey to self-discovery and missing hands in a black-and-white, good-versus-evil universe, Rogue One isn't afraid to point out that the Rebel alliance must sometimes do ugly things in the name of peace. This paradoxical concept not only helps to flesh out a chapter in the saga that we've always kind of wondered about, it is a solid foundation for the humanization of the Rebels who, in previous outings, had proven disappointingly dimensionless.
The CGI is obviously quite brilliant, save a few creepy choices such as a computer-generated version of Peter Cushing (RIP) as Governor Tarkin that is understandable given he's not alive, but that still falls victim to the uncanny valley. It's also possible that the heavy emphasis on fan service for the second Star Wars film in quick succession could arguably be perceived as a crutch. Regardless, the action sequences are just right and every conceivable detail seems to have been considered. We actually grow to care about characters that represent a fairly huge shift in a monumental piece of shared culture, and Rogue One does a fine job in establishing a number of new characters.
If this is a fair example of the kinds of side stories we can expect from the Star Wars universe, we say bring us more. With such a massively rich vein for storytelling, there's ample opportunity to win new fans while pleasing entire generations of others. One must be careful not to allow this film to be overhyped, and there will always be minimal things to pick apart if you're one of those sci-fi fans. But, if you've ever been into Star Wars to any degree whatsoever, you'll want to see this film immediately; the last three minutes alone are worth it.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story