Remain calm, Star Wars fans. Rogue One, the first spinoff from George Lucas’ beloved franchise is not just a good film, but one of the best action movies we have received in the last several years. Godzilla filmmaker Gareth Edwards has delivered a dense, riveting story of hope that addresses the price of freedom in ways no previous film in the Star Wars canon has come close to matching since the release of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Rogue One is the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones in a career-defining role), the daughter of the man who is responsible for enabling the Empire to build what we now know as the Death Star. Jyn was forced to live life on the run after the Empire took her parents away while she was just a little girl, and when we catch up with her she’s being recruited by the Rebel Alliance to aide them in finding her missing father. The rebels have ulterior motives for the missing man, which are only known by the person assigned to watch Jyn, Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), but that reveal is one best left for the silver screen.
Joining Erso and Andor on their adventure is a droid with an attitude (Alan Tudyk in a scene-stealing performance), a defected cargo pilot (Riz Ahmed), a blind warrior (Donnie Yen), and a gun-toting rebel (Wen Jiang). It’s a group that is just as diverse in person as they are on paper, but they unite through their blind faith in the idea that hope is all one needs in order to fight for what they know to be right. The Empire’s forces vastly outnumber that of the Rebel Alliance, but to this select group of individuals that does not matter nearly as much as the simple fact that they know what needs to be done if order has any hope of being restored. Where others turn away, this group does not, and it’s not because they lack the intelligence needed to grasp the risks that lie ahead. They know what awaits and still they stand firm because it is the only thing they can do without allowing the Empire to break their will.
The only similarity Rogue One has to The Force Awakens—aside from tying into the biggest arc of the franchise—is its decision to keep all inklings of romance at bay. Jyn Erso is not a woman who needs anyone, let alone a knight in shining armor, and even if she did there is no one of that sort to be found in this film. The members of her team are each on a personal journey towards redemption that they hope to fulfill through their participation in Jyn’s quest to help the Rebel Alliance. They have all done things they regret, and they are far too focused on righting their paths to think much, if at all, about romantic entanglements.
Recognizing the parallels between the current sociopolitical climate here on Earth and that in a galaxy far, far away does not require any type of degree or formal education. At one point very early on the necessity of a device like the Death Star is called into question and when one member of the Empire claims it will ensure the security of all people, a rebel, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), responds by saying the promise of a planet-destroying machine sounds more like terrorism than security. The Empire figurehead quickly fires back, “It’s a start,” and in that moment the differences between the Rebel Alliance and Imperial Forces could not be more clear. Still, many refuse to act for fear of what may happen, and as a result evil forces are able to advance their twisted agenda.
There is a lot of time spent in Rogue One showcasing the diversity of the galaxy and the political tensions that have begun weighing on the hearts of all its inhabitants. The desolate, sand-covered planets you’re used to seeing are accounted for, but there is also a lot of new sights and sounds as well. There are planets lush with life and vegetation, as well as those that look scorched despite somehow remaining intact. Edwards does all this to express just how much of this galaxy has yet to be seen in this franchise, which is later mirrored through the diversity of the film’s principal cast—but the real magic is found in how he uses just enough restraint to keep you wanting more.
Rogue One is a dense, dirty (almost everyone and everything is covered in some amount of mud, blood, or dust) slice of science fiction that not only advances the Star Wars universe, but improves upon its foundation as well. Here we are presented with a one-off story that under any other circumstances would spawn a trilogy of its own, but can’t because of its setting and timeline. The results are an epic prelude to an equally epic, though far more sprawling story that the world has already come to know incredibly well. There is never a doubt as to whether or not Jyn’s mission will be a success, but Gareth Edwards and his team have crafted a story so relentlessly compelling you feel just as connected to each step along the way as you have with every other turn this series delivered.
If this is the type of material we can expect from the future of the Star Wars universe I will happily accept another new film every year from now until you put me in the grave.