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Movie Review: Rogue One

One year after “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” landed in theaters and cleaned house at the box office, a new Star Wars movie has arrived. But it feels distinctly different than the other Star Wars “Episodes”.

Since Disney’s purchase of George Lucas’ company, plans have been announced to expand his universe and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is the first taste of these new side tales.  Despite moments of brilliance, the film is far, far away from being the best in the saga, but also nowhere near the nadir that was Lucas’ prequel trilogy.

“Rogue One” is set before 1977’s “A New Hope” and centers around Jyn, a woman who was left by her father when she was young after he’s forced into working on the evil Empire’s new weapon, the Death Star. After a brief opening of her as a youngster, we flashforward to her as a captured Rebel in an Empire prison. She’s later freed by the Rebel Alliance so that she can find her father in order for the Rebels to assassinate him before the planet-destroying weapon is completed.

Star Wars is known for memorable characters and villains, and while “Rogue One” has a few, it’s lacking compared to past releases. Though Felicity Jones performs admirably in her role as the gritty Jyn, her character isn’t as nuanced as past heroines like Princess Leia or Rey from “The Force Awakens”. Accompanying her are even less distinct Rebel pilot characters (played by Diego Luna and Riz Ahmed) who fade from memory as soon as the credits roll.

One of the takeaway characters from this galactic go-around isn’t even human, but the snarky, pessimistic droid K-2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk. Another clear personality is Donnie Yen’s blind warrior who’s driven by his belief in the mysterious Force which binds this fictional universe together. (Since “Rogue One” ties directly into “A New Hope”, there are welcome cameos from classic icons who shall not be spoiled here.)

The movie makes up for an unsteadily paced first act and a dragging middle section with an exhilarating final battle featuring all the Star Wars machines and ships you’ve come to know and love. When the dust settles, this skirmish ranks up there with the most thrilling moments in the franchise.

Director Gareth Edwards, who fronted 2014’s uneven “Godzilla” reboot, delivers to the best of his abilities with a screenplay that’s less gripping than “The Force Awakens”. Just be thankful that Disney was able to pry the franchise from Lucas’ reluctant hands.

As with all of the Star Wars films, the visual effects here are astounding across the board. In terms of music, composer Michael Giacchino does a decent job of filling John Williams’ shoes, though the beloved main theme is sorely missed during the film’s opening.

Ultimately, “Rogue One” is a solid companion film for the casual fan as much for the diehard, but it isn’t necessary within the entire saga; the events of the movie have nothing to do with what’s to come in “Episode VIII’’ next December. When “Rogue One” is good, it soars and at its middling parts, it’s simply mediocre.