With the absence of its signature opening crawl, classic characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca and new characters like Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren, "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" deviates from the typical "Star Wars" formula. However, the film continues the "Star Wars" lore in its own way, captivating the audience with an ensemble of memorable characters and stunning visuals to bring the front lines of the Rebellion's insurgence to life.
“Rogue One” focuses on a ragtag band of rebels that take the Rebellion’s fate into their own hands when they set out on a journey to steal the plans to the original Death Star. Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, leads the group of rebels after her father—the head scientist helping to create the Death Star—is killed in a firefight between the Rebels and Empire, shifting her stance on the Rebellion from disinterest to devotion as she readily sacrifices her life to take down the Empire.
While “Star Wars” has often focused on two main characters, whether that be Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the prequels or Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the original trilogy, one of the biggest pulls of “Rogue One” is the uniqueness of each member in the rebel group. Cassian Andor assumes the role of captain of the group, often organizing troops, calling out orders for his team and pushing them to fulfill their potential. Donnie Yen—Hong Kong action star and martial artist master—brings an injection of the Force to the group as the blind Chirrut Îmwe, a skilled, staff-wielding soldier who holds an alarming confidence in the Force no matter the circumstances. K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial security droid, provides witty and sarcastic comments, especially towards Jyn at first, but proves to be willing to sacrifice anything for the mission. Director Gareth Edwards creates chemistry between the group that makes it hard to fathom how they haven’t fought the Empire their entire lives together.
One of the most promising elements of “Rogue One” and for the larger “Star Wars” universe is trusting a female lead to head the movie. Felicity Jones carries the torch that Daisy Ridley set ablaze in her empowering portrayal of Rey in “Episode VII.” Jones’ own inspiring performance of Jyn will progress the role of women in “Star Wars” as forces to be reckoned with. Erso is at her best when she has command over the room, unwilling to be shuttered from the conversation and redirecting it as her own. I found myself the most attentive when she rallied her troops, soaking in every word as the passion and emotion behind her calls to action lit the fire of rebellion in me.
“Rogue One” does suffer in some areas; what disturbed me the most was the lack of a “Star Wars” feel. I didn’t walk away in awe like “Episode VII” left me. Maybe it was the fact that “Episode VII” was the first content from a galaxy far, far away in a long, long time. Maybe it was the absence of John Williams’ score in the background working in tandem with the action. Maybe it was the film’s inability to separate from previous “Star Wars” episodes. Cheap, nostalgic throw-ins like Mon Mothma and a CGI Grand Moff Tarkin don’t allow “Rogue One” to be an original breath of life to the Star Wars universe. I ended up disappointed in its stubbornness to loosen its anchor from the base story and include characters better left in the original trilogy.
While “Rogue One” isn’t a separate story—it continues to revolve around the Death Star—the film sets its own unique mold for portraying a “Star Wars” story. With the upcoming anthology series films that Disney has planned for both a Han Solo film in 2018 and an unspecified film rumored to be about a young Boba Fett in 2020, “Rogue One” represents a successful first attempt in building the vast “Star Wars” universe beyond just the chronological movies. With a winning formula set by “Rogue One,” hopefully continued by the next two spinoff movies, Disney could reach into its vault and unleash a multitude of background stories fans like me will clamor over.