These are not the droids, Rebels or stormtroopers that casual observers are looking for in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Scarcely a lightsaber in sight and any familiar faces from the seven-movie (so far) Skywalker saga are CGIed, in one case morbidly so.
Rogue One is set in the same galaxy far, far away as Anakin's then Luke's and now Rey's quests, depicting events leading to the opening crawl of 1977's Star Wars, now known as A New Hope. That signature introduction told of Rebel forces stealing plans for the Death Star, leading to its destruction. How it all went down is Rogue One's relatively narrow focus.
As the first spinoff from George Lucas' original scheme, Rogue One doesn't have the luxury of nostalgia enjoyed by last year's The Force Awakens nor its reclaimed buoyancy. It's the darkness of The Empire Strikes Back without A New Hope's establishment of mythic characters and quests, understandably as it turns out.
Instead, director Gareth Edwards (2014's Godzilla) steers an adventure of foot soldiers and guerrilla warriors against the evil Empire. As with The Force Awakens, a young woman leads the charge. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of a scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) who helped design the Death Star. His motivations are among several plot points that won't be spoiled.
Jyn was raised by militant rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and dragged into the Rebellion in order to locate her father and the Death Star plans. She's paired with Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who has ulterior motives of his own plus a scene-stealing android named K-2SO (voice of Alan Tudyk). They're being pursued by Empire commander Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and hordes of stormtroopers.
Jyn and Cassian collect a small but motley crew of warriors: the blind Force believer Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), big-gun enthusiast Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) and Empire defector Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Of the three sidekicks, Yen's rueful but deadly martial artist leaves the best action impression.
For all the discussion of the Force, Rogue One is short on mysticism; a Jedi mind trick here, a phantom choke hold there. An octo-polygraph is the film's lone memorable creature. Edwards loads up on tracer bullets and celestial demolition, in sequences occasionally hanging around too long to sustain the CGI thrill. Of course, the Comic Con crowd appreciates any TIE fighter on X-wing action they can get and never turns down an opportunity to memorize more fictional planet names. Rogue One will engage such diehards but making new friends for the brand is unlikely.
Edwards lends one distracting connection to the Skywalker saga, using CGI technology to "exhume" a deceased actor who appeared in the original trilogy. Each time the character appears is slightly unnerving, a rigored blankness in his eyes; death digitally warmed over. The effect is used on someone else later, to briefer, better effect.
Rogue One is a Star Wars story with a surprise ending for such a formidable brand, perhaps a sign of Hollywood things to come. It'll be interesting to see how things play out in the expanding Star Wars universe or don't.
Contact Steve Persall at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.