The premise: Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is virtually orphaned when the Empire coerces her father into working on the Death Star, killing her mother as part of the deal. Years later, she is sprung by rebels to find her father and discover a weakness in this new super weapon. She is rescued by rebel assassin Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and droid K2SO (voiced to sarcastic perfection by Alan Tudyk). They take her to a very fractured Rebel Alliance on the verge of dissolving in the face of this new superweapon. When fear rules the day, Jyn and Andor take matters into their own hands. By the time they go after Jyn’s father (Mads Mikkelsen, who is criminally underused here), they have collected a motley group of Rebels from multiple factions.
In the meantime, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn, who pretty much owns this movie), the real brains behind the Death Star, is scrambling to make this new superweapon operational. He learns of the attempt to steal the plans and rushes to prevent the Rebels from getting the upper hand.
Rogue One does not open with a crawl as it’s not an episode in one of the trilogies. It builds on throwaway lines from A New Hope and does a phenomenal job at building out the world of the Empire/Republic. It doesn’t have the emotional grab of the original trilogy or The Force Awakens, but it’s increasingly dark story puts A New Hope into perspective. Several background characters from the first trilogy appear on Yavin 4 looking very much like they did in their first appearances while Jimmy Smits reprises his role as Bail Organa, Leia’s adoptive father. In the meantime, Mendelsohn imbues Krennic with the right balance of sympathy and menace. The Empire is bureaucratic and overly political, with one familiar character from A New Hope squashing Krennic’s ambitions. One character was CGI’d into the movie, a human character. Won’t say who since a lot of people would rather be surprised. I will say this person’s appearance is convincing and jaw-dropping in its accuracy.
Jones is appropriately irreverent in the beginning as Jyn, and Luna brings a certain bravado to Andor. But among the Rebels, it’s Tudyk and his CGI avatar as K2SO who steals the show. Tudyk’s dialog reminded me quite a bit of Rowan Atkinson as Blackadder while his look and posture recalls Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Maybe he’s Marvin’s cousin, K2 the Cynical Droid. Props also have to be given to Donnie Yen as Chirret Imwe and Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus, two radical Rebels. Imwe is a blind martial artist reminiscent of Daredevil from the Marvel universe. Imwe, when stressed, can be heard muttering “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me” as a sort of meditational chant. Wen’s Malbus is a gun-wielding cynic who doesn’t have time for your nonsense. Together, they provide lethal comic relief and a couple of the weightiest moments in the movie. And let’s be honest. They’re badasses.
When you see the movie, the first thing you want to do is go home and put A New Hope on. Rogue One really puts the original movie into a new perspective. You know why Vader and the Imperial officers are so angry in the original, and you realize what a miracle it is that a Rebel Alliance even existed long enough to win the day at the end of that movie.
And Darth Vader has a scene that shows why his someone to be feared even by the Emperor. That’s all I’m saying about Vader.