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Jones in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. She plays a she-warrior who lacks discipline but not courage, and she's willing to sacrifice everything to be reunited with her father.

Yen (right) in a scene from the movie. The team chemistry is not on par with the originals, but they have their moments.

The Force is strong with this (Rogue) One

As a stand-alone space fantasy, this feature-length prologue stacks up just fine in the Star Wars pantheon.
Dec 16, 2016 5:50 AM

TALK about a nifty feat of reverse movie engineering. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a feature-length prologue that takes us back to a galaxy far, far away - to that long-ago time just before the original Star Wars (1977) story begins, then connects all the dots to the moment that classic space saga takes off.

There's (almost) no sign of Luke, Leia or Han Solo and the rest of the gang. Instead, a full slate of inter-galactic characters, including some familiar figures and one heavy-breathing former Jedi knight, are back in the frame.

For the most part though, fresh new faces - human and otherwise - step up to fill in the blanks BSW (Before Star Wars) in this same-yet-different adventure about an uprising against the Evil Empire.

There are no Roman numerals attached to this movie's title because, although it takes place just prior to the events of Star Wars (also known as Episode IV: A New Hope), the most appropriate numeral (III) has already been taken (not that Revenge of the Sith is worth remembering). Still, gazillions of Star Wars fans will have fun following the new narrative.

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Directed by Gareth Edwards and written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, Rogue One is similar in style and tone to Star Wars, albeit with better special effects. The dialogue is predictable ("Trust The Force!", "All is as The Force wills it", and so on) but who can blame the filmmakers? It's worked well in the past.

Forty years on, George Lucas' concept of a Western set in space is still valid, and there's a strong sense of deju vu starting with the opening scene - a flashback to a homestead tucked into a rugged landscape on a remote planet. Instead of cowboys riding over the horizon, an Imperial spacecraft skims through the air and glides to a halt in front of the house, which belongs to Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a scientist who once worked for the Empire but now just wants to farm in peace - he's not destined to get his wish, of course.

Out of the craft steps a man in starched whites, looking more like a scary dental assistant than a pompous Imperial official named Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). He needs Galen back at a research facility to finish designing a super-weapon capable of obliterating entire planets. "The Empire's power is immeasurable," he declares.

Galen's young daughter Jyn (played as an adult by Felicity Jones) escapes Krennic's clutches and is raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a militant resistance leader whose extremist views are at odds with the Rebel Alliance. By the time she grows up, Jyn possesses the kind of feisty demeanour that will be displayed by major characters in Episode IV. This she-warrior lacks discipline but not courage, and she's willing to sacrifice everything to be reunited with her father.

Jyn crosses paths with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), an intelligence officer for the Alliance with a reprogrammed Imperial droid (voiced by Alan Tudyk) as a sidekick with a penchant for droll one-liners. They hook up with Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an Imperial pilot who has defected to the Alliance, Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior-monk type and his gun-toting friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). The team chemistry is not on par with the originals, but they have their moments.

Their mission is to locate and steal the plans for the Death Star, which has been built with a fatal flaw. Jyn and her motley crew are no match - in theory - for the might of the Empire, but then again, impossible odds have never been a deterrent for the rebels.

Overall, The Force is strong in this One. Rogue One is exhilarating in parts and dull as dishwater in others, but all is forgiven when the pace picks up considerably with an extended action sequence in the final reel. It won't wash away the disappointments of prequels past but as a stand-alone space fantasy it stacks up just fine in the Star Wars pantheon.

If only they could give it a Roman numeral.

Rating: B-