‘Rogue One,’ one with the force

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There used to be not much left to be said about “Star Wars” as a franchise. Everyone already knew the up and down path the beloved sci-fi series has taken since its inception in 1977. The original trilogy, for the most part, has captured the imaginations of audiences worldwide for decades, while the prequels, for the most part, captured everything corporate and wrong about the “Star Wars” brand. Then, a new hope arrived when J.J. Abrams took the reins and delivered “The Force Awakens” at the tail-end of 2015.

There used to be not much left to be said about “Star Wars.” That is until “Rogue One” hit theaters to finish the 2016 Hollywood movie circuit with a bang, quite literally.

While “Rogue One” has its place within the “Star Wars” timeline, between episodes three and four, it carries a far different take on the “Star Wars” that most people know and love, leading to a full of welcome additions, as well as overwhelming nostalgia.

The plot of the film follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a hard-nosed yet well-minded criminal, as she is coerced by the rebellion to attempt to recruit her to serve a special mission involving learning about and eventually obtaining the plans to the dreaded Death Star in hopes of finding a weakness in its infrastructure.

Jyn is joined by a ragtag group of allies, all with the shallow yet likable personality traits normally seen from films such as this. These characters range from the stern intensity of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to the stiff, dry humor of his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), each adding a certain likability to the crew as they take on their impossible mission.

The biggest strength of “Rogue One” is apparent very early on in the film. “Rogue One” is drenched in “Star Wars” nostalgia, as everything from some of the writing to a lot of the sets carries the same atmosphere of the original trilogy while maintaining its own sense of intensity and urgency in its plot that is a fresh and interesting perspective within the “Star Wars” mythos.

The film makes it known right from the start that this is a different take than most “Star Wars” fans are used to. Sure, it still has the space battles, hokey characters (Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera lays his character on a little thick) and over-the-top villains, but it is the dark and foreboding tone of the film that sets it apart from the happy-go-lucky adventures of the main storyline and essentially makes “Rogue One” the first film to focus on the “War” part of “Star Wars.”

The film can best be described as familiar yet different in a way that is both welcoming and exciting.
This works both toward the film’s strengths as well as its weaknesses.

There are some moments that exist only to call back to the original trilogy and can very much take people out of the movie. For example, the addition of entirely CGI characters such as General Tarkin and Princess Leia are definitely not out of place, but they can easily distract some from the film’s plot. Though both of these characters look convincing, for the most part, they still look a bit off, and it can be a bit jarring and awkward to see these computer-generated characters interacting with real flesh and bone.

Aside from that and a few other moments that could have been done without, the film’s familiar components greatly enhance the experience for people who know and love the original trilogy and have been longing for that same setting to be featured on the big screen.

The addition of Darth Vader within the film was one that panned out, as the few moments he has work to strengthen the audience’s perception of Vader as the big, sinister bad guy of the “Star Wars” universe. Where some could make an argument that Vader’s presence in the original trilogy was not quite foreboding, the end of this film creates that sense of devious power that Vader may or may not have been lacking for some audiences previously.

All in all, “Rogue One” functions as intended; a story that branches off from the main path of the films to share a story “Star Wars” fans wanted to know while showing them that the universe that they know and love can be viewed from different perspectives successfully. Sure, it has its issues, but none that are no more relevant or disconcerting as the original trilogy has, and in fact, the film fills one of the biggest plot holes in “Star Wars” history, so it is hard to hate on that.

“Rogue One” shows that these spin-off stories really can work and sets a quality precedent for future side-films.

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