A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a man, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), decided he’d had enough of the Imperial evil ideating life and decided to take a time-out on a farm with his wife Lyra (Valene Kane) and daughter Jyn Erso (Dolly Gadsdon). The Imperial Army cancels his vacay by killing his wife (She shot first.) and dragging him away as his kid skedaddles to a faux rock safe place from which a Rebel dude friend of her father, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), picks her up.
By Imperial Forces I mean, there were actually six guys in black and one in a caped dress-white uniform, Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Krennic advises Galen: “The work is stalled. I need you to come back.” Yet we know from this beginning sequence that Galen feels Krennic and the Imperial is “confusing peace with terror” and that Galen loves his daughter, reminding her “Jyn, whatever I do, I do it to protect you.” Before her death, his wife Lyra provides the first mention of the Force, giving Jyn a necklace with a crystal and tells her to “trust the Force” and now aligning Star Wars with New Age crystal mythology.
Flash forward, and Jyn Erso is a twenty-something grungy and grumpy girl (now played by Felicity Jones) far from the farm and in the back of a military authority paddy wagon with her guardian Saw Gerrera nowhere in sight. The rebels led by Alliance intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) bust her out, but her parental units must have taught her not to talk with strangers and she whacks them back until the seven-foot-one android sidekick K-2SO (Alan Tyduk) of this movie surprises her (“Congratulations, you are being rescued. Please do not resist.”)
Cassian reunites Jyn with the guy who raised her Saw, but they aren’t the only ones looking for this looney rebel veteran of the Clone Wars. A defecting Imperial cargo pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), is there with a hologram message from the Jyn’s scientist father. Galen has created the Death Star.
This is essentially the tale of a girl and a guy with a sidekick android on a mission to find the girl’s father, a scientist who isn’t mad in the insane asylum way, but hasn’t forgiven the Imperial goons for breaking up his family. The Alliance guy decides to go Rogue as he and his attractive new rebel recruit take an ill-advised beach side vacation that includes some fireworks, archival outings and an air show.
“Rogue One” is a tale of redemption for the scientist and since this is Star Wars you can expect the kind of Nazi-like bad guys to which you’ve become accustomed as well as desert locales with Asian-themed heroes. But this time there will be actual Asians who get prime time: Donnie Yen as the blind light-saberless monk and Jedi warrior Chirrut Imwe (“I am one with the Force; the Force is with me”) and his wild-haired companion Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). There were Asians in the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” but this Star Wars movie moves forward in diversity on many levels.
As always, those stormtroopers still need firearm practice and can’t shoot a blind man taking a leisurely stroll. While there are moments of comic relief, usually supplied by K-2SO, and there is also a subverted romantic moment where a couple is bathed in golden light, “Rogue One” is a darker side of Star Wars, with some familiar faces and a few nods to other movies (“Planet of the Apes,” “Zatoichi” and the TV series “Kung Fu”).
This is a stand-alone movie that doesn’t mess with the original trilogy, but informs on them and occurs before them. Like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” there are some howl-worthy plot holes that I don’t discuss now; I’ve written this review to conform with the request to avoid plot spoilers and detailed story points. Just remember, “Rebellions are built on hope.”