‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ grounds space saga in unconventionally gritty entry

Nic Baggetto, Editor-in-Chief

Lucasfilm Ltd.

In an age of cinematic universes, anthology films and endless sequels, it seemed for the longest time that “Star Wars” might be one of the only franchises to make its mark on history and stay put there. That is, until creator George Lucas sold his company Lucasfilm Ltd with the rights to “Star Wars” over to the Disney Corporation in 2012.

Now, a little more than a year after the release of the box office shattering “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the world is getting a glimpse at an expanded “Star Wars” mythos with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the first in an onslaught of spin offs and solo films set in the beloved “Star Wars” universe.

Occurring directly before the events of 1977’s “Star Wars: A New Hope,” “Rogue One” delves into the story of a band of rebels who steal plans to the planet destroying superweapon, the Death Star.

Directed by Gareth Edwards and starring the likes of Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk and Donnie Yen, “Rogue One” launches the “Star Wars” brand in a new direction at hyper-speed, for better or worse.

Upon leaving the theater in my ugly “Star Wars” sweater with all the other fans who saw the film on opening night, I came to the realization that what I had just watched was not my grandpa’s “Star Wars.” There were no cuddly ewoks or wacky alien sidekicks in “Rogue One.” Instead, I had just witnessed a dark war film about a morally ambiguous group of rebels fighting against a totalitarian government that, for the first time, actually seemed to be oppressing its subjects in a graphic manner. The clear cut light vs. dark theme of the main episodes was replaced with grit and complexity, and that is the biggest praise I can give this film. It is a uniquely different experience than what the common “Star Wars” fan would expect.

There were instances in which I genuinely feared for the lives of the protagonists because I honestly didn’t know if they would live or die. The studio took a tremendous risk in making a film that could potentially disinterest casual viewers who simply wanted to see a vividly shot, oversaturated lightsaber showdown. I give high praise to the filmmakers for crafting a film that sometimes feels more like “Saving Private Ryan” in space than a conventional “Star Wars” movie.

That being said, “Rogue One” is in no way a perfect film and doesn’t compare to say, “The Empire Strikes Back” or even the more recent “The Force Awakens.” While director Edwards once again proved his talent for visualizing the impossible, and his knack for depicting scale on an incredible level, I can’t help but feel that the film suffered from the extensive rewrites and reshoots done in early 2016.

The opening 20 minutes, in particular, were uncomfortable as the movie stumbled out of the gate introducing its main characters, some of which had arcs that never materialized into anything of interest. Conversely to “The Force Awakens,” a film with a basic plot that stood out for its gripping characters, “Rogue One’s” characters acted as bland vehicles for telling a new, more exciting story. I have a sneaking suspicion that several of the supporting characters have scenes on the cutting room floor.

Additionally, Michael Giacchino’s score paled in comparison to the brilliant work of John Williams, the composer of each previous “Star Wars” movie. The warping of classic musical cues, such as “The Force Theme,” often left me dissatisfied and took me out of film.

On the whole, “Rogue One” was an interesting introduction to an expanded “Star Wars” universe that no one asked for. Through analyzing two “Star Wars” films since entering high school, I’ve come to question whether I really want to see this franchise grow into the next Marvel cinematic universe. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve had superhero fatigue for about two years now. Maybe “Star Wars” should have ended with George Lucas?

After seeing “Rogue One” however, I can safely say that my issue with franchises lies with the originality of each entry, and because “Rogue One” stands out as a welcome, albeit imperfect, breath of fresh air, I’m excited to see where Lucasfilm will take us next.

So, to the “Star Wars” fanatics who purchased their tickets months in advance, hopefully you can appreciate what “Rogue One” means for the saga moving forward, and to those who were on the fence about this film, give it a chance. Perhaps you’ll discover an exciting new side to everyone’s favorite galaxy far far away.