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Rogue One Is The Star Wars Prequel Fans Deserve

Right on schedule, Disney has followed through with their promise to gift us with a new Star Wars entry every Christmas (two for two at least). While last year’s The Force Awakens was a highly amusing new chapter that logically played it safe in order to gain fans’ trust after George Lucas’ astonishingly horrible prequel trilogy, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first standalone film the franchise has ever had. But is this really a standalone Star Wars? Nah. Also, who cares.

There will be no direct sequel to Rogue One on any future Christmas, because there already is one. Taking place immediately prior to the events of 1977’s A New Hope, Rogue One introduces us to a new group of Rebels, who are tasked with the mission of stealing the plans to the Death Star right under the Empire’s nose—something fans have waited 40 years to see.

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We all know the outcome—they get the plans to Princess Leia, who puts it in R2D2, who gets it to Luke Skywalker, who blows up the Death Star—but director Gareth Edwards imbues Rogue One with a darker tone that dissociates it from Rey and Finn’s recent adventure. Unlike the MCU, which Star Wars is certainly in danger of becoming, these two instalments feel quite different. Granted, they both feature an orphaned female protagonist and a comic-relief droid, but that’s pretty much where their ties end.

Rogue One is also stylistically distinctive from past Star Wars films. The first instalment to forgo the series’ trademark opening text crawl, it essentially does away with lightsabers and even the Force. Instead we get a gritty soldier’s-eye view of war-torn streets all the way up to the stars. All of this builds to a 40-minute battle on the tropical planet of Scarif that’s as stunning and rousing as anything in the Star Wars canon. In fact, I’d say it’s the most dynamic blend of on-ground and in-flight action the series has ever seen.

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Following a short prologue that introduces us to the film’s hero and villain, we meet up with an older Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she’s promptly broken out of an Imperial prison camp by Rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his scene-stealing (aren’t they all) droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). En route to obtaining the Death Star plans created by Jyn’s father (Mads Mikkelsen), they assemble a motley crew of Rebels, consisting of a staff-swinging blind monk (Donnie Yen), his gun-blazing cohort (Jiang Wen), and an ex-Imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed). For a brief period, they’re also in the company of Jyn’s surrogate-ish father, Saw Gerrara (Forest Whitaker).

Over on the dark side, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is a power-hungry director of the Empire hell-bent on impressing his boss, who happens to be a very naughty Sith Lord. Once again voiced by James Earl Jones, Darth Vader’s brief-but-memorable cameos certainly deliver the goose-bumpy goods. Likewise, Krennic oozes with old-school Empire swagger. Another major villain who’s literally back from the dead here is the late Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin. Cushing passed away in 1994, so seeing a CGI recreation of him takes a bit of getting used to, but the upshot is for the most part convincing and his inclusion makes sense.

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This Dirty Dozen-esque outfit of unlikely heroes may not be as iconic as Luke and Han, but in just two-hours we manage to get a bolder and more adult Star Wars than anything since The Empire Strikes Back. It’s also refreshing and exciting to experience one concise narrative arc, rather than being tied to a larger trilogy. The conclusion comes swiftly here, and it packs a larger emotional wallop than you’ll likely anticipate.

Writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy could’ve padded things out with a little more backstory and dialed back with the constant planet hopping during the first act, but the payoff will leave you exhilarated and perhaps even with a little lump in your throat. Rogue One’s more subdued emotions don’t hit you over the head, and the actions of the Rebellion are far less cut and dry than we’ve come to expect. All of these elements add new, mature dimensions to a galaxy we’ve wanted to play more in for so long.

Rogue One may not have the same universal appeal as Force Awakens, but universal appeal is overrated. Give me stars and give me wars! Let’s hope writer-director Rian Johnson can keep the streak going next Christmas. I have faith.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out now in theatres. Check out the latest trailer below:

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