Nothing worthwhile comes without sacrifice, and the superlative science fiction saga “Rogue One, A Star Wars Story” (**** OUT OF ****) exemplifies this notion. Basically, “Godzilla” director Gareth Edwards, “Golden Compass” scenarist Chris Weitz, and “Bourne” trilogy scribe Tony Gilroy have eliminated all those buffoonish, kid-friendly aliens primarily Jar-Jar Binks and given adults a chance to experience an unusually Spartan “Star Wars” saga. No, the PG-13 rated “Rogue One” is neither “Saving Private Ryan” nor “Hacksaw Ridge,” but the straightforward action will give you a reason to shed a tear since a palatable sense of doom looms over this skullduggery. Everything I’ve read about this entry in the “Star Wars” universe emphasizes the word ‘stand-alone’ so you won’t be seeing the gifted cast, featuring Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, and Diego Luna, reprising their roles unless Disney conjures up prequels. Of course, this doesn’t apply to Darth Vader who behaves like the ruthless ruffian that he has always been. Mind you, in some respects, “Rogue One” may seem hopelessly predictable for some aficionados. If you’ve seen George Lucas’ “Star Wars: Episode VI: A New Hope,” then you know that the Death Star didn’t survive that adventurous classic. “Rogue One” qualifies as a prequel. Chronologically, this outing takes place between “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” (2005) and “Star Wars: Episode VI: A New Hope.” Although we know the Death Star is ill-fated, what we didn’t know the identity of the individual who sowed the seeds for its destruction. Some of the finest moments in “Rogue One” occur when the Grand Moff Tarkin appears. This is the infamous character that the late British actor Peter Cushing of “Frankenstein” fame portrayed with such ascetic villainy. Cushing’s estate approved the physical recreation of the late actor’s personage, and actor Guy Henry’s impersonation is flawless. Quibbles aside, if Peter Cushing could see what they’ve accomplished, he’d be impressed. Similarly, what Edwards and his scenarists have achieved with Disney’s audacious attempt to expand the “Star Wars” time-line is sensational. Indeed, the House of Mouse has succeeded where few film studios have ever gone with a legitimate spin-off from a multi-million-dollar franchise.
Since “Star Wars: Episode VI: A New Hope” came out back in the summer of 1977, fans have complained about the sweet spot in the Death Star that enabled the Alliance to blow it up. “Rogue One” relates the story about that sweet spot, and “Star Wars” aficionados can argue about other things—primarily the time-line between the two films—because Luke and Leia were born at the end of “Episode III.” Nevertheless, who really cares about such things, when a movie like “Rogue One” fills the gap? Aside from Darth Vader, C3PO, R2D2, and Princess Leia, the primary characters in “Rogue One” are entirely new to the franchise. A brilliant scientist, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen of “Dr. Strange”), has been forced against his will to collaborate with the Empire to forge the ultimate weapon of devastation. The wicked Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn of “Killing Them Softly”) has commandeered Galen for the project, and he intends to use Galen’s wife Kyra (Valene Kane of “Victor Frankenstein”) and his adolescent daughter Jyn (Beau Gadsdon) as bargaining chips. Galen sends his daughter into hiding, and Kyra perishes trying to thwart Orson. Jyn grows up under the tutelage of an extreme radical, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker of “Platoon”), and she becomes a notorious criminal who has been imprisoned when the Rebel Alliance rescues her. It seems that an Empire pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed of “Nightcrawler”) has defected and given himself up to Saw. Bodhi insists that he has an urgent message from Galen Erso about the Death Star. Naturally, nobody believes the Empire could have forged such an awesome weapon. The Rebel Alliance isn’t prepared to be so casual about this booger bear. Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna of “Blood Father”) and his reprogrammed Empire Droid K-2SO (voice of Alan Tudyk of “Serenity”) break Jyn (Felicity Jones of “Brideshead Revisited”) out captivity when she is being transferred to a labor camp. Later, as Jyn explains to Saw, the Rebel Alliance is using her for safe passage into Saw’s camp on the planetary moon Jedha where Bodhi is being held captive. Saw surprises Jyn with a holographic message from Galen intended for her. Galen explains that the Death Star has the equivalent of an Achilles’ Heel that will render it vulnerable to the Rebels. No sooner has Jyn seen this message than the Grand Moff Tarkin brings the Death Star into orbit around Jedha and unleashes its formidable power on the city. During their rushed exit from Jedha, Cassian and Jyn pick up a pair of hitchhikers, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen of “Iron Monkey 2”) and his sidekick Base Malbus (Wen Jiang of “Let the Bullets Fly”), who become recruits for the cause. Chirrut is a blind martial arts warrior who wields a lethal staff and believes in the Force with all his heart.
“Rogue One, A Star Wars Story” depicts the efforts of the underdog Rebel Alliance to triumph over the Empire. Basically, this exciting escapade works on the level of a Republic Serial from the 1940s with one cliffhanger scene after another ensuing in a grand finale on a scenic Caribbean-like island named Scarif where the star fleets of the both the Rebel Alliance and the Empire wage the battle to end all battles.Although it doesn’t rely on the usual troika of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia, “Rogue One” imitates “Star Wars” in virtually every respect except its ending with a Pyrrhic Victory. Felicity Jones makes a sympathetic heroine that you won’t forget. Donnie Yen and Alan Tudyk as K-2SO compete as the ultimate scene stealers. The special effects are stellar stuff. Altogether, “Rogue One” qualifies as the best “Star Wars” epic since “The Empire Strikes Back.”