Review: Rogue One gives us a new (but familiar) blueprint for big-screen Star Wars

If Rogue One makes anything clear, it’s this: The standalone movies are the new Expanded Universe. Now, I mean this from a wider perspective than just “how the Death Star plans got stolen.” (Yes, there were a number of stories about that in the old EU. I am, full disclosure, happy to not be particularly familiar with any of them.) But this is a movie that has as its basic concept a handful of lines from the opening crawl of A New Hope. And that alone feels to me like a very EU concept.

In short: Ten years ago, Rogue One would have a been a novel or a comic series. There was a big move to this exact sort of thing in the late days of the Legends EU – Heart of Darkness starring Mace Windu (Shatterpoint,) a small-town western starring Obi-Wan (Kenobi,) zombie stormtroopers (Deathtroopers, a term reused here – with a space – for black-clad but presumably not-undead troopers.) These books took big concepts and genres and rendered them as Star Wars. And that’s precisely what Rogue One does – Star Wars through the lens of a gritty war movie.

Rogue One is the evolved version of this, envisioned as a real movie for a franchise that’s only recently revived itself back onto the big screen with a $2B bang. For those that felt that The Force Awakens may have played it safe, well, here’s something entirely different. It’s recognizably the same galaxy – you don’t need Mon Mothma or Darth Vader to remind you of that – but it’s a different spin on it. (The daddy issues, though – those remain.)

I’ve never been a war movie aficionado, but I’m sure there will be dozens, if not hundreds, of them out there to rhapsodize about how well Rogue One works on that level. I can tell you that I enjoyed it, despite a few minor (and spoiler-filled) misgivings I won’t go into just yet.

The cast is all pretty great, and the main ensemble – Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang and Riz Ahmed – bounce off each other well. Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic is just the right amount of slimy, while Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso is… Restrained. The hints at backstory for Yen and Jiang’s Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus is intriguing enough that I hope the middle-grade novel isn’t the only thing in the pipeline for them. Plus, Yen gets the film’s most spectacular non-enhanced action sequence.

Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO is also a highlight, bringing some much-needed lighthearted moments, as well as one of the film’s most heartbreaking.

The contrast between Saw Gerrera’s (Forest Whitaker) forces and methods and that of the Rebel Alliance is also on full display, and another backstory that offers plenty to explore.

As for sheer scale and spectacle, the film has it in spades. (It’s gorgeous.) From the moment the (functional) Death Star actually shows up until the end, there are some fantastic effects, including what may be one of the most impressive Star Wars space battles ever. And the Darth Vader sequences – including a couple of big surprises – are top notch and just enough.

In short, Rogue One is a great, if not traditional Star Wars movie. I didn’t love it – war stories will never be my speed – but I was impressed by it. As both a film and a statement for what the standalones can mean to the franchise as a whole, it works. It’s a whole new kind of Star Wars – which is exactly what it needs to be.

Grade: A

Note: A press screening invitation was provided by Disney and Lucasfilm.

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