Rogue One’ brings new hope to Star Wars story with gritty battles, killer droids


Don’t take this stand-alone business too seriously.

The folks who made “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” didn’t.

This second entry in the Disney Empire’s conquest of George Lucas’ space opera does indeed have a mostly new cast of characters — at least one of which, the rebel-reprogrammed Imperial security droid K-2SO, is more snarky fun than all the other robo-characters from this nearly 40-year-old cinematic universe put together.

• PHOTOS: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’

But aside from the industrial gray battlebot’s killer lines, wonderfully voiced by the indispensable Alan Tudyk, most big satisfactions in this big, big movie come from references to “Star Wars” adventures you’ve loved before.

Familiar ships, equipment and aliens get louder cheers when they appear than the well-designed new stuff that’s introduced. Recognizable actors from the not-so-beloved prequel trilogy are here to be greeted warmly as well, though the real thrills in that department come from what digital technology can do to regenerate players from Lucas’ film that started this whole pop-culture enterprise in 1977 (“Rogue One” is set just before that one, timeline-wise). And even though lightsaber action is all but banished here in favor of more 20th century-looking combat, the new film gives very good Vader.

Oh, and the Death Star. Always with a Death Star when these things set out to please the fans.

It has just been built when “Rogue One’s” main action gets going, and the white-caped creep in charge of developing the massive weapon, Ben Mendelsohn’s expertly hissable Director Orson Krennic, is itching to show the Empire its world-destroying capabilities.

So, as others have/will done/do before/after them, a ragtag crew of rebels sets out to stop it, this time by stealing the plans that may reveal the Death Star’s Achilles’ heel. Key to this band is Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, whose estranged father, Galen (“Doctor Strange’s” Mads Mikkelsen), engineered the moon-sized device (always with the generational conflicts …).

Jones sneers a lot more than Daisy Ridley, and Jyn is not initially into the cause of freedom as much as Capt. Cassian Andor, whom Diego Luna plays with a kind of Che Guevara ruthlessness until one of the scriptwriters or rewriters remembered we’re supposed to like him.

Besides the delightfully cranky clanker K-2S0, the big standout from this motley crew is Donnie Yen’s blind stick-fighter Chirrut Imwe. The martial arts star not only delivers the movie’s best smackdowns — although great “Zatoichi in Space” possibilities were missed due to the series’ weird anti-anti-gravity stance — he makes Imwe’s relationship to The Force really rather poignant.


Perhaps the best thing director Gareth Edwards (the 2014 “Godzilla”) brings to the “Rogue” party is a determination to have the bigger battle sequences resemble real recent wars. We’ve seen Middle Eastern-like combat in earlier “Star Wars” movies, but there’s a very Fallujah feeling of disorienting danger during this movie’s desert city ambush. And the climactic free-for-all has been quite watchably set on a planet of tropical causeways. It’s like the Marines stormed Tarawa only to find Imperial Walkers in waiting, or “Apocalypse Now” with X-wings instead of Hueys blasting from overhead.

Edwards has stated that he was going more than before for the combatants’ points of view in these big confrontations. Maybe, but there seemed to be the usual amount of wide shots and massive explosions, which all looked good. “Rogue” was supposed to employ more handheld cameras and appear grittier. But isn’t that said about every new “Star Wars” film?

So it’s pretty much what you’d expect with a load of nostalgia on top. Toward the end, though, Edwards and company actually make something out of it. An event we’ve seen many times before gets given a much-needed, humanizing spin. And how the film pivots toward “A New Hope” made even someone like me — who long, long ago had enough of this interlocking Lucas lore — grin like a big, satisfied, formula-loving fool.


PG-13 (violence)

Our rating: Three stars

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen and Jimmy Smits, with the voices of Alan Tudyk and James Earl Jones.

Director: Gareth Edwards

Running time: 2 hours, 13 minutes.

Playing: Universe-wide