It’s not Star Wars.
Right from the get-go, with the opening shots, Rogue One does its best to distinguish itself from the official trilogy films, Episode I-VII. And in a sense, it’s true. There’s no opening crawl, and the beloved theme is conspicuously absent. Furthermore, this is the first film in which a Skywalker doesn’t feature prominently into the plot. One could follow this lead and argue that this is not Star Wars.
And yet, it is Star Wars.
Fans of the original trilogy will recognize several different cameos throughout the film. X-Wings, Y-Wings, TIE fighters, and AT-AT walkers play important roles in the film, as do several characters from Episode IV, for which Rogue One is a direct prequel. More importantly, what it is is a fun action-filled romp that manages to be suspenseful, even though we happen to know the ultimate outcome. The struggle of the Rebel Alliance to obtain plans to the giant Death Star base ultimately proves successful, as seen in A New Hope, but up until now, the actual story of how they managed to obtain the plans was never known.
Leading the motley crew of rebels is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), whose father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), happened to play a key role in designing the Death Star. Jones does an excellent job portraying Erso, a character that’s given a lot more initial depth than Rey was given in The Force Awakens. She’s fierce, determined, and the fact that we actually see some of her backstory gives us a little more sympathetic outlook as to why she’s led a life of moral ambivalence. Running parallel to her is Diego Luna, who plays Cassian Andor, an intelligence officer who also possesses a background consisting of more question marks than answers. It’s made pretty clear early on that Andor will do whatever he needs to in the name of the Republic, making him an anti-hero at times rather than the outright good guys the audience came to cheer for in the original trilogy.
No such ambiguity blemishes the motives of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), however. The director of weapons research for the Empire, Krennic shows little concern for others, especially those who get in the way of his career ambitions. And Darth Vader, who was seemingly made into a more sympathetic character in the other films, is at his absolute most evil (and, thus, best) in the scenes he has in the film, reminding us why he was considered one of the most feared people in the galaxy.