A task as big as building a Death Star fell to director Gareth Edwards to create the first of what is intended to be a series of stand-alone tales based on events in the “Star Wars” universe.
His contribution is “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” a fast-paced adventure that takes place just before events of “Star Wars: A New Hope.” If you ever wondered how Princess Leia got the plans to the Death Star and loaded them into R2-D2, this film fills in the back story.
So how did Edwards do? Great.
Here’s what the director, whose previous credit include “Godzilla,” did right.
The biggest test was how to make a movie interesting when everyone already knows the ending (let’s call it the “Titanic” affect). There’s more chance of finding a hairless Wookie than this movie not ending with the plans being recovered. Edwards turns to the journey, developing an entertaining and engaging story. “Rogue One” maintains elements of the other “Star Wars” films – such as family – while telling a logical story of stealing the plans.
He spends the right amount of time showing the history of the film’s main hero, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones). She’s well established as the flawed and driven character necessary to keep the plot moving forward.
Edwards also correctly surrounds Erso with a great supporting cast. One of the traits of the “Star Wars’ films is that secondary characters – C-3PO, Chewbacca, Boba Fett, Lando Calrissian – have been interesting enough to be stars of their own films without overshadowing the real stars of the movie.
In “Rogue One,” the stand-out supporting class includes the mysterious Chirrut Inwe (Donnie Yen), the new villain in Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and the blunt droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). Officials with Lucasfilms have made it clear there will be no sequels to “Rogue One,” but they should consider prequels that could feature these three.
The biggest accomplishment by Edwards is that he’s created battle sequences that trump any of the other films. The final fight is a multilevel action sequences that takes place on land, in the air and in space. The well defined and explosive action never gets jumbled.
Edwards has also dropped in a few surprise moments that will delight fans.
There were a few parts of “Rogue One” that didn’t work as well. Here’s where Edwards came up as short as an Ewok.
Jyn’s story is well defined, but she and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), her chief partner in this Death Star plans caper, are the least interesting of all the players. There’s no sexual tension, as seen with Han Solo and Princess Leia. There doesn’t even seem to be a mutual respect, which makes the final scene far less emotional than it could have been.
Much of this problem falls on Luna. Jones has an expressive face and has shown she can play a deeply emotional moment as long as her partner is strong. Luna’s performance is stiff and lacking the enthusiasm of a Luke Skywalker, the charisma of Han Solo or the determination of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
There’s also the problem of Forest Whitaker’s over-the-top performance as Saw Gerrera. These characters can be bigger than life, but not to the point of melodrama.
The film’s biggest flaw has to do with some special effects work. In an effort not to spoil anything, all I can safely say is that an effect to allow a major character to return is so creepy it looks more suited for a Tim Burton movie. The decision to go with special effects instead of new casting was a major mistake.
In the end, the good work Edwards did outweighs the bad. He has mixed great action scenes with an interesting story to make a movie that is designed to be a one-shot adventure but will still leave you wishing there could be more.
The Force is strong with this film – a perfect fit as a prequel to “A New Hope.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker
Director: Gareth Edwards
Rating: PG-13 (sci-fi violence, action scenes)
Opens: Friday, Dec. 16