For 39 years, “Star Wars” fans have been curious about the events leading up to Episode IV. We have become accustomed to the opening of “A New Hope” since most of us have seen it at least a dozen times, but it is actually rather perplexing. Who would ever expect the most popular movie franchise of all time to begin with a written synopsis of an event from a non-existent movie, and then drop us into the middle of the event’s ensuing battle scene as if we missed the first half of it? The abrasiveness has always made the opening feel incomplete to me but now the franchise has bridged the gap. “Rogue One” actually completes Episode IV. This is one of the smartest movie concepts that I have ever seen, particularly after so many years of wondering what happened in the Rebel spies’ mission to steal the Death Star plans. I believe that the future of Star Wars lies in the expansion of its universe through this Anthology series. It allows Lucasfilm (aka Disney) to continue the story for a new generation through Episodes VII, VIII, and IX while fleshing out the universe familiar to previous generations of Star Wars fans. This strategy is the perfect combination of innovation and nostalgia. Unlike the prequel trilogy, this film was done right. There is an emphasis on quality acting, the special effects never feel like a video game, and the new characters have depth. Honestly, the most important part of this film was the casting of Oscar-nominee Felicity Jones. She puts this entire film on her shoulders and carries it from start to finish. She delivers an emotional performance that is on par with any critically acclaimed drama while embodying the hope and heroism at the heart of the Star Wars franchise. She is surrounded by quality actors including “Ip Man’s” Donnie Yen as the blind Chirrut Îmwe. I consider him to be one of the best Star Wars characters in the galaxy with his unwavering faith in the force to protect him in battle. Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic as Galen Erso, Forest Whitaker provides a familiar face, and it was magic to hear James Earl Jones reprise his role as Darth Vader’s voice. I had heard that this film was significantly darker than the rest of the series and lacked the humor that we love to see between Han and Chewie, but I thought that some of the best comedy that I’ve seen in the entire series occured between Cassian and K-2SO. Alan Tudyk puts on an awesome motion-capture performance as this robot. One of the larger controversies of this film was the CGI recreation of the late Peter Cushing but I am fine with it. The Cushing estate gave permission, they were included in the process and consulted down to the tiniest details of his mannerisms, and I view it as a tribute to make him such an important part of this story. Creativity abounds in this film through the costuming, new alien beings, inclusion of similar-but-different characters as a throwback to the originals (like General Akbar’s relative), and brilliant new destinations. The entire sequence on Scariff is incredibly beautiful, especially with the giant AT-ACT’s walking around. I appreciate the inclusion of the names of each planet and moon as they travel throughout the galaxy. Die-hard Star Wars fans know the name of every planet and its significance to the Empire or the Rebellion, but for everyone else it is helpful to have that clarification as the movie progresses. I had a tough time accepting Michael Giacchino’s new theme. There are many parts of this score that I completely loved but I found an abrupt disappointment each time that I heard the Rogue One theme. Throughout the film, Giacchino pays tribute to John Williams’ original thematic material including The Force Theme and The Imperial March. The results are stunning, until we hear this new theme. We have been conditioned to expect the Star Wars theme any time that we hear an ascending sol-do-sol pattern, regardless of the style or genre of the music. The problem is that, as a tribute, Giacchino used this same pattern to begin the Rogue One theme. Each time that we hear those ascending tones, we anticipate the original theme and are let down when it is different. The shame is that the Rogue One theme is absolutely gorgeous with its inclusion of an ascending minor 6th and then a Lydian-sounding resolution on the IV chord (ti resolving to do), but it is overshadowed because it isn’t the original. I know that this theme will grow on me as I get used to it but it was distracting the first time around. If you couldn’t tell, I loved this film and the writers saved the greatest movie magic for the end. I won’t spoil anything but the final five minutes of this film will transport you back to your first time seeing “Star Wars.” The previews for “Rogue One” created high expectations and I am glad to see that the producers have found a way to transport us back to the Star Wars universe that we grew up with while maintaining the quality of Episodes IV-VII. I can’t wait to see what they create next!
[Pictured: The writers did a great job of creating new characters that feel familiar and quickly win over our hearts]