By Richard von Busack
Rogue One answers a question that’s been plaguing geeks for decades: Why did the Death Star have a design flaw so similar to the ever-convenient self-destruct button in spy movies? Having answered this, director Gareth Edwards races along to the climax of a dangerous mission, carried out with a mixed cast of funny-name bearers. Central to it is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, as determined and rabbitty as ever).
Rebels join Jyn to eventually become the crew of a battered Imperial freighter stolen and renamed “Rogue One.” The crew roster includes a brain-damaged pilot, as well as Chirrut, a blind, semi-Jedi with Zen archer skills (Donnie Yen, whose tremendous martial artistry is the single most rapture-inducing part of the show).
With the rebels is a reprogrammed droid, K2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). He’s long-legged, 8 feet tall, snippy and only intermittently obedient. “I thought I told you to wait in the ship!” K2SO gets told by his companion person Cassian (Diego Luna). As per the nerve-wracked Dr. Smith in TV’s Lost in Space, this android gives the defeatists in the audience someone to cheer on: He likes to recite the exact percentages of how fail-prone a given mission might be.
The characters, including our guest-star Lord Vader, make stylish entrances—for example, Forest Whitaker as a blasted-up fanatic, stumping in on mismatched prosthetic feet—but they make even swifter departures. The Empire shoots back, for once, and with accuracy. Those who prefer the series’ explosions to the double-moonrises, should be slaked by what happens. It’s all action, hopping from planet to planet and blasting all the way. That makes it faster and more serious than anything in the series.
The seriousness also makes it less exhilarating than last year’s relaunch. One really wants to leave the recent election out of this experience, to go, watch and forget about the desperate times. This is difficult, given the huge emphasis on revolutionary self-sacrifice and battle lines being drawn; it’s an unpleasant kind of zeitgeist presented here, offering premonitions of possible struggle to come.