Ordinary movie reviews often attribute a number of stars in an arbitrary attempt to value the merit of a film in relation to others. However, fans of Star Wars have their own means of measuring, and that benchmark is set to Irvin Kershner’s “Empire Strikes Back.”
The 1980 film has long stood as the best of the now eight-chapter series in the Star Wars saga. Fans who have grown up with the original trilogy hold “Empire” with the highest regard, and despite the years and the several films that have since followed it, the love for it has never waivered. Perhaps it is because, out of all the films in the George Lucas’ epoch, it is the only one that refuses to pander to young children. It stripped the shiny veneer that promises that the good guys always win, and introduced to some of my generation the fact bad things happen to good people.
It also introduced us to the agonizing struggle of a cliffhanger.
“Rogue One” is set in time before “A New Hope.” It delves into the story of how the Rebellion obtained the schematics of the Empire’s Death Star, and quantifies Mon Mothma’s statement of “many lives have been lost,” in that original story. Should you compare this film to that of last year’s “The Force Awakens,” like “Empire” was to “New Hope, ” this, too, strips the veneer right off.
Director Gareth Edwards is quick to the drama, forgoing the iconic introductory scroll of his predecessors and proceeding straight to the story. The intensity starts almost immediately, and Edwards seldom takes his foot off the throttle for the duration of the two hours and 14 minutes.
Of course, Edwards is tasked with framing this story within the context of the original trilogy, but challenged to do so without the major players of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia.
Felicity Jones plays the lead role of Jyn Erso, a rebel soldier enlisted by the Rebellion to help steal the Empire’s plans for its planet-killing weapon. It’s another strong, female role that refreshingly takes front and center.
Along her path, Erso is introduced and accompanied by Captain Cassian (Diego Luna), and ultimately Chimut Imwe (Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and a re-programed Imperial droid named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk of Firefly).
“Rogue One” is a dark and gritty story that doesn’t shy away from violence or the collateral damage associated with war. However, Tudyk’s K-2SO does provide a dark sense of humor, unlike that of Anthony Daniel’s C-3PO, for this film’s comic relief.
“Rogue One” is a stand alone film that hovers around the fringes of the trilogies we are familiar with. For that reason, the character development is encapsulated within this short narrative, instead of spread out over the course of three films, and from which is where this movie draws a lot of strength. Movie-goers grow attached to these characters, having learned their backstory and the fight that lies ahead for each of them.
By now, should you be reading this review, you reside in one of two camps: You either plan to see the film, or you have watched it and desperately hope to cling on to anything remotely related to the spectacle you remember seeing in the theater.
On storyline and execution alone, “Rogue One” is a superior movie to that of “The Force Awakens.” Unfortunately, this was the movie we were waiting for last year.
Tested on the true litmus paper Star Wars fans often use, I’m bold enough to say it challenges “Empire” as the best of the saga.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.