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Star Wars prequel spin-off crushes box office

Colin Vandenberg

Staff Writer

"Rogue One" tells the tale of how the Rebel Alliance obtained the plans of the Death Star. (Photo courtesy of engadget.com)
“Rogue One” tells the tale of how the Rebel Alliance obtained the plans of the Death Star. (Photo courtesy of engadget.com)

For those wondering, December’s “Rouge One: A Star Wars Story” is not a sequel to 2015’s smash-hit “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”. Instead, “Rogue One” takes place in the Star Wars galaxy, but doesn’t follow the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker and all the characters which surround him.

Rogue One is the first of many planned “Star Wars” spin-off movies to be continuously released in the intervening years between the main saga films. To ensure variety, these spin-offs are intended to explore other film genres besides the action-adventure of the Saga films. “Rogue One”—a prequel of sorts about how the Rebel Alliance obtained the plans to the first Death Star—is a war movie styled in the vein of “Saving Private Ryan”.

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The film has a slow build, is confusing at times, and features underdeveloped lead characters. However, the side characters stand out and are tons of fun. The story is engaging despite the inevitability of the outcome. The finale is so incredible that you can forget the film’s flaws and just enjoy a fun “Star Wars” movie.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, the Theory of Everything), is a human born on the Empire-controlled icy planet Valt. Not much about Jyn’s back-story is revealed in the film itself. The script offers very little insight into the details of Jyn’s life, the plight of her scientist father Galen Erso (Mads Mickelson), or how/why Galen is involved with Imperial Officer Orson Krenic (Ben Mendleson).

Those details are otherwise available at your local bookstore for $14.99 (the tie-in novel Catalyst). All the viewer sufficiently needs to know is that Galen worked with Krenic to design the first Death Star.

While on the run from the Empire, Jyn meets up with a team of Rebel spiders led by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). Jyn’s connection to the Death Star leads her and her new team on a harrowing mission to deliver the plans to the battle station to the Rebel Alliance.

The events of the film’s first half transpire at a gradual pace, because it serves primarily as set-up. It takes time to establish all the characters’ relationships, whereabouts, and goals, while also introducing the main threat (Krenic and The Death Star), a whole new planet (Jedda), and the ramifications that the Death Star represents for both the Rebel Alliance.

With the first half’s introductions to new concepts, not enough time is devoted to developing the main characters. Jyn and Cassian are likable and well-acted, and Krenic is menacing and charismatic. However, all three characters are under-written; you care about the characters more because of their actors’ performances than due to the paltry character development provided by the script.

The first half has its merits, particularly for those interested in the closer look into the in-workings of the “Star Wars” galaxy. While not detailed, the film provides insight into how the Empire maintained order, and how ordinary citizens lived under its rule. Another positive is the introduction of memorable side characters such as blind Force-user Churret Îmwe (Donnie Yen), and especially protocol droid K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk), a sort of funnier, more battle-ready version of the C-3PO character. The first half struggles with pacing and establishing back-story, but K-2SO’s humor, and the fun of further exploring the Star Wars galaxy, keep you entertained until the thrilling action of the finale.

Not since “Return of The Jedi” has a “Star Wars” film featured climactic action set-pieces that were as equally exciting and emotionally engaging as those in Rogue One. The multi-layered and well-shot climax is worth the price of admission alone.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” suffers from pacing problems and under-developed characters, yet still manages to be a fun genre-bending blockbuster that is sure to please “Star-Wars” nerds and casual fans.

Grade: B+

Running time: 133 minutes
Rated: PG-13
Now Playing in theaters