The original “Star Wars” trilogy (meaning episodes IV-VI) owed its success to a simple, easy to follow yet intriguing story, memorable characters and fantastic visuals. The second set of movies (Episodes I-III) lacked many of these qualities (Jar-Jar Binks, anyone?) and were considered inferior by many fans. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” falls somewhere in the middle, both figuratively and literally.
Set between episodes III and IV, this is the story of how the Rebel Alliance obtained the plans for the Death Star which Luke and his friends will use to later attack it. One of the biggest problems with prequels is the audience knows the future and the story had better offer surprises to keep interest. “Rogue One” unfortunately does not offer many surprises beyond the various cameos by familiar characters and endless nods to the other films. While these are fun and no doubt will please diehard fans, they are not enough to rescue a story that never really gets going and is only exciting during the climatic battle. Even then, the outcome is known and the peril never really seems genuine.
Visually, there is much to like. Even in the short year between the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and “Rogue One” there have been improvements in the effects. In other places, however, the film seems to have an identity crisis. It does not open with the familiar John Williams fanfare or text crawl and while some strains of the original music are heard in certain places, only at the end is the Star Wars theme actually used. In fact, the music might serve as an apropos allegory for the film itself. It looks and feels like “Star Wars” in many places, but it never quite delivers entirely.
The cast, overall, is fine, with Felicity Jones very capable as the heroine Jyn Erso and Diego Luna her equal as Cassian Andor. Guy Henry, thanks to some digital magic, is a perfect version of a younger Governor Tarkin (played by Peter Cushing in Episode IV). The film also introduces us to K-2SO, a new droid played by Alan Tudyk. Not as annoying as Jar-Jar Binks but not as charming as R2-D2 or C-3pO, this new character is the epitome of why this film falls flat. He’s entertaining enough but, much like the entire film, just feels forced and a bit unnecessary. At my screening the audience applauded at the end, so clearly they enjoyed the film overall, but I expect that this will not age well and rank low on the list of favorite “Star Wars” stories.
There are so many great characters and backstory in the existing “Star Wars” universe that one wonders why the producers and writers chose this particular moment to enhance and expand. When one can watch the opening text crawl for Episode IV and in essence read a recap of this film, it seems that more could have been done to find a more original or at least more entertaining story. In a day where I saw two science fiction films, I never expected this to be my least favorite of the two but I must say I found it inferior to “Passengers.”
**1/2 out of *****
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
Screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy
Story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Now playing in cinemas nationwide
Photo: Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”