by Alan Yudman

I try not to read other reviews before I write mine. But it has been impossible to ignore the press surrounding ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY. Most of the criticism I’ve read has focused on these themes: “it’s not a Star Wars movie”, “it’s too dark”, “there’s no character development”. And one critic I heard said there were too many dogfight scenes. To all that I say…. DID WE SEE THE SAME MOVIE?

Yes, it is not a “Star Wars” movie in the sense that it doesn’t follow the continuing story. It doesn’t feature many of our favorite characters. It also doesn’t have as much humor as the other 7 films.

And yes, it is dark. It is not necessarily a story of triumph. People die. Not in a gruesome fashion but they die fighting for a cause. So yeah, dark or as some people (me included) might say, emotionally more honest.

No character development? No, there is no a sweeping change like Luke becoming a Jedi and finding out his father is Darth Vader. Vader owning his goodness. Leia and Han falling in love. Han going from scoundrel to hero. Those arcs took 3 films to play out. That doesn’t mean characters don’t undergo subtle and noticeable changes.

Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso. Her father Galen (Mads Mikkelson) is a runaway scientist who was working on the Death Star for the Empire, but his conscience gets the better of him and he runs off to live with his wife and daughter on a remote planet. Galen is found and brought back into the fold. Jyn latches on with a group of extremists rebels led by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). She is on her way to prison when Rebels break her out in hopes they can persuade her to lead them to her father.

Meantime, Galen has sent an Imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed) to Gerrera with a message — he knows how to defeat the Empire’s new weapon. Jones is teamed up with a Rebel named Cassian Andor and his surly droid K-2SO to find her father. Jyn has major abandonment issues, at least that is the way it appears. She is hardened by her experience and mad at the world. Once she sees her father’s holographic message she knows she must find him. Andor has other orders — to kill Galen.

Yes, there are a few issues. Jyn’s turn toward hero doesn’t seem entirely earned. There seems to be some very subtle effort to make Jyn and Cassian a couple, but the filmmakers never commit to it and that leaves the audience wondering. There is also a very brief cameo by R2-D2 and C-3PO, which feels a little too much like fan service. But those issues don’t ruin the overall experience.

What almost does kill the ROGUE ONE is the CGI recreation of 2 characters, most notably Grand Moff Tarkin played by Peter Cushing (or some computer representation of him). Cushing died more than 20 years ago. So rather than recast it or write around his absence director Gareth Edwards and his crew decide to “re-create” him. The technology is coming along, but it is far from perfect and he looks odd and unnatural. There’s another use of this technology near the end which looks even worse. I wish they could have found another way to tell those parts of the story.

Back to the good stuff. Darth Vader is back and badass. There is one scene near the end of the movie that was an awesome example of his power and the power of the Dark Side. It is really spectacular. The complaint about too much blowing stuff up. Come on! Really? The whole point is to blow up the Death Star. It’s a war. Stuff gets blown up in war. Star “Wars”, remember?

Did the critics not read anything about ROGUE ONE before seeing it. Did they not know this was intended as a one off, a side story that explains how the Rebels got the plans to the Death Star. That’s it. This story ends right before A NEW HOPE begins. So, if you are confused by the themes or plot or intent of this film then I urge you to re-read the press materials.

ROGUE ONE fills a hole in the mythology and does it in a very satisfying way. It does exactly what it promises and expecting it to do more is unfair to everyone involved.

So, when does Episode VIII hit theaters. Waiting a year between these movies is almost too much to bear. Oh well, guess I’ll just watch THE FORCE AWAKENS for the tenth time.

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