The Star Wars expanded universe is thoroughly gargantuan. For every minute that Han, Luke and Leia spend on screen in the original trilogy, there are countless books, comics and video games explaining and expanding on the stories of characters that blip in and out of the corner of the screen, barely brushing shoulders with the characters at the forefront of the conflict between the Empire and the Alliance.
"Rogue One," the latest entry into the sci-fi behemoth's canon, is a bit of a melding between two worlds — the main episodic entries that have been cemented into pop culture history (and which brought the phrase "I am your father" to playtimes everywhere), and the wider Star Wars universe that has mostly been reserved for fans more committed to gobbling up everything even tangentially Tatooine-related.
The film's story follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and a scrappy band of rebel miscreants as they stage a suicide mission to recover the plans for the Death Star, the iconic planet-destroying battle station whose destructive power loomed over the original trilogy. Jyn's father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), was one of the main scientists forcefully conscripted by the Empire to build the station, and passing on its secret weakness is his way of sticking it to the emperor.
These plans, you may remember, are what allowed Luke to complete his force-aided run on the Death Star's poop chute way back in 1977's "A New Hope." (Spoilers or whatever I guess, but I really think that warning stops carrying any weight three decades after a film's release.)
And that's all cool. Like most people sitting down to see "Rogue One" on its opening weekend, I wanted to see the Death Star blow the shit out of some planets again and maybe catch a glimpse of the Millennium Falcon or other Easter eggs hidden in some corner of the frame.
But aside from these admittedly superficial inklings, linking Jyn and company's story to the more familiar arc of the original series has the effect of boxing the story in. The Star Wars universe has so many different stories to tell, but as the first major movie to branch outside a focus on Luke and his lineage, "Rogue One" plays it a little too safe, sometimes coming off as a forced retcon to line up with the primary trilogy more than an original story. Characters are introduced and smooshed together, and the assemble-a-crew narrative doesn't give much time to develop personalities — just 20 minutes after leaving the theater, I was having trouble recalling the names of everyone I'd spent two and a half hours watching.
Even with the blurred edges and tethers to the past, though, it's an entertaining flick (and yes, still leagues better than any of the core prequels). The battle scenes are impressive and look very good, and soon-to-be fan favorite droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) manages to deliver the quips without getting cutesy.
Star Wars looks to be on schedule to invade every December with a new movie entry from now until oblivion, and with Han Solo and Boba Fett sidestory sorta-prequels in the works alongside episodes VIII and IX, more boxed-in reimaginings of beloved characters in a galaxy far, far away are bound to pop up. "Rogue One" was good, but with more willingness to cut the cord from a proven formula, future one-offs could be better.
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