Let’s be clear — “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” won’t replace “The Empire Strikes Back” as the best film in the beloved franchise.
That doesn’t mean “Rogue One” isn’t both satisfying and grittier than any film in the “Star Wars” canon.
The new adventure is set before the events of “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.” We finally learn how those Death Star plans were stolen in the first place. The prequel stars as diverse a cast as you’ll see in a mainstream movie: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen and Donnie Yen to name a few key players.
So how does the movie shock our expectations?
1. Good vs. Evil (Without Pearl Clutching)
What matters the most about the “Star Wars” saga is the white and black hat storytelling. Sure, the shades of the Force can be confusing, to say the least, but the stories always hinge on good versus evil without the hand-wringing seen in some modern tales. Not only does “Rogue One” embrace that concept, it doubles down on it.
2. Your New Favorite Robot
“Star Wars” makes grown men teary-eyed over a beeping, booping can of bolts. Sorry, R2D2, but it’s true. We can’t help loving that squat ‘bot. For the new feature, we’re introduced to K-2SO, voiced by the serially underrated Alan Tudyk. This former Imperial droid is droll, cynical and a steady hand in a fight. He enlivens the film’s oh, so serious first half and steals every other scene he’s in.
3. It Has Nothing to Do with Donald Trump
News outlets eagerly weaponized the movie against Trump supporters. First, it magnified a few yokels protesting the movie over alleged late-minute additions that mocked the president-elect. Said changes never happened. Then, reporters claimed Trump Train passengers hate the fact that the film offers such ethnic diversity. Again, it’s unlikely those folks represent any large swath of movie-goers. The film itself is free of overt politics.
4. Sacrifice Matters
We’ll sneak up to spoiler territory by saying not every hero in “Rogue One” will make it to the end credits. This is war, straight up, and the rebels will give everything they have to secure those Death Star plans. The sense of sacrifice seen here trumps anything in previous “Star Wars” films.
5. Practical Magic
“The Force Awakens” embraced old-school, or practical effects, far more than George Lucas’ justly mocked prequels. The same holds true here. Sure, there’s digital wizardry in play, but the film’s gritty texture is unmistakable. That makes the heroism on display all the more potent.