This is a spoiler-free review of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story." I won't reveal any story points or surprises -- per Disney/Marvel request. I will exhibit professional courtesy. In doing so, I will pad out the rest of this review to meet my length requirement in much the same way the filmmakers fulfilled theirs -- by stretching out their already-thin premise and turning the movie into a 2 hour, 13-minute slog of political unrest, near-miss escapes, drippy dialogue and uninteresting characters. Besides being a complete money-grab, "Rogue One" accomplishes the feat of bumping off "The Phantom Menace" as the worst "Star Wars" movie ever. I will warn you, too, considering the franchise has always been aimed at kids, that there is some heavy stuff for pint-sized Jedis to digest -- as dark as Anakin killing Younglings in "Revenge of the Sith." This is a suicide mission after all, we know that already.
Director Gareth Edwards ("Godzilla") working from a script by Chris Weitz ("Cinderella") and Tony Gilroy (the "Bourne" movies) does, just like the title implies, go rogue. (Warning. Here's a pair of reveals to support that point): The opening crawler set to John Williams glorious score is not used and neither are there any light-saber battles. There are a few nostalgic nods to the earlier films, but "Rogue One" doesn't care about scratching that itch in the same way that last year's vastly superior "The Force Awakens" did.
The story takes place after the events in "Revenge of the Sith" and before "A New Hope." A pre-title sequence shows a young Jyn Erso and what happens to her family when the bad guys come calling. Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), her father, is an Imperial scientist with expertise in Kyber Crystals -- the mineral used to power light sabers.
Years later, Jyn is grown up and played by Felicity Jones (an Oscar-nominee for "The Theory of Everything"). The Galactic Civil War rages on. A ragtag group of rebels mounts a successful theft of the Death Star blueprints, which in the next movie a young Jedi named Luke Skywalker uses to blow up that interplanetary weapon of mass destruction. "Rogue One" chronicles the run-up to securing the plans. There's a lot of backstory to get through, which means tons of expository dialogue. Telling rather than showing -- especially in a visual medium -- presents problems that the movie can't overcome. Edwards is long a master of visual effects, but style never beats substance, and that's what missing. There's nothing to sink our teeth into, especially when we already know how it ends. There's no suspense. Also, the story location hops at hyper speed between Jedha, Yavin 4, Scarif, Eadu and aboard the Death Star. It's a lot to keep track of and none of it as exciting as it should be in this beloved franchise. The stakes seem low.
Alan Tudyk's K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial security droid now loyal to the Alliance, isn't human, but he's the film's most interesting character. He's got more heart, humor and personality stuffed in the that hunk of black metal than all the humans combined. He's programmed to speak with no filter and it's often very funny. Diego Luna is Cassian Andor, a heroic Alliance intelligence officer. Riz Ahmed is Bodhi Rook, a captured Imperial pilot. Forest Whitaker is Saw Gerrera, a rebel extremist. Ben Mendelsohn is Orson Krennic, the galactic commander responsible for security of the Death Star. He works under Lord Vader (James Earl Jones returns to voice) and Grand Moff Tarkin (the late Peter Cushing, via movie magic), so you can imagine the magnitude of Krennic's responsibilities. Jiang Wen is pretty terrific as the trained assassin Baze Malbus. Donnie Yen is Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior trained to use the Force who the scriptwriters rely on at plot-convenient moments to move the story along when it gets stuck, which is a lot.
This is the second post-George Lucas adventure, and if this is the direction "Star Wars" is heading, then it's a galaxy I want to stay far, far away from.
-- Dana Barbuto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"
Cast: Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen.
(PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.)