DATEWORTHY?: Are you kidding me? Everyone in the galaxy wants to see anything "Star Wars"!
When George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney in 2012 for $4 billion, there was a mix of trepidation and anticipation among the fans of the “Star Wars” film series. After all, the word was immediately out that Disney intended to milk the franchise by not only completing the final three official films envisioned by Lucas, but to also create a possibly infinite number of standalone films.
The first movie under Disney’s watch was the official seventh film in the series, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” and fan nostalgia helped propel it to a $2 billion worldwide gross. But despite being solidly made to the point that 92 percent of critics rated it “Fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, its story was essentially a gender-flip on the legendary original film in the series from 1977 - a move that sparked the term “remakequel” among some fans.
As a result, interest is high in seeing how Disney handles the first standalone movie, “Rogue One,” which opens this weekend. It’s designed to be an immediate prequel to the events in the fourth episode (but first release), “Star Wars,” because it tells the story of how a ragtag faction of rebel forces teamed up to steal the official plans for the Death Star, thus enabling other rebels to destroy the evil mother ship.
Thankfully, “Rogue” has a fully original plot by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, both veteran screenwriters with their own distinct voices, a smart move away from the much-maligned Episodes 1-3 in the main series. Lucas wrote or co-wrote those three, and their narrative weaknesses and stupid character choices such as Jar Jar Binks reflected the bubble he was in where no one could tell him he was wrong.
“Rogue” follows the story of a young woman rebel named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she first tries to reconnect with her long-lost father (Mads Mikkelsen), who helped design the Death Star, and her eventual quest to find the plans for the ship. She teams up with other rebels played by actors including Diego Luna and Riz Ahmed, who all give the film a refreshing diversity that the original series sorely lacked at a time when Lando Calrissian seemed to be the only non-white guy in the galaxy.
The team of rebels square off primarily against an Empire official (Ben Mendelsohn), who is determined to protect the Empire-held planet where the plans are kept. The rebels must figure out how to penetrate the enormous protective force field that envelops that planet, then learn how to find the plans themselves and figure out how to transmit them while trapped in the middle of a raging fighter-ship battle royale between rebel and imperial forces.
The action in “Rogue One” is extremely well-staged and exciting, and it’s fun to see its small connections to the larger “Star Wars” universe, including a split-second appearance by R2D2 and C3PO and a last-second surprise appearance by another beloved character. Most interesting is the fact that CGI has brought Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) back to life for an extensive role, 22 years after Cushing’s death.
As always in the “Star Wars” series, there is no foul language to worry about, nor any sex or nudity. The violence is bloodless, although when some heroes die, the film does a good job of making the viewers feel the loss. It’s perfectly fine viewing for anyone who’s ever seen a prior “Star Wars” film and of course those who haven’t.
The one weak spot in the film is that the characters don’t show a lot of individual flair, and lack the breakout pizzazz of a Han Solo. But director Gareth Edwards, who did the most recent American version of “Godzilla” and earned hot indie cred before that with a Sundance stunner called “Monsters,” keeps the movie propulsively paced and exciting, and fans should be pleased that this is a great sign that the rest of Disney’s extensive plans will be carried out with care as well.