“Rogue One” is most definitely a “Star Wars” story. As a spinoff chapter with a cast of new characters and a darker tone, the possibilities were endless for just how different “Rogue One” could be. The results are in: It doesn’t break the mold, and it’s an enjoyable installment in the canon. But it’s not much more than that.
The story concerns a rebel effort to thwart a world-destroying weapon wielded by the Imperial forces, led by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), a sneering captain, resplendent in a white cape and jodhpurs. Continuing the trend started by last year’s sensational “The Force Awakens,” “Rogue One” has a steely heroine, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the long-lost daughter of Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), a weapons scientist forced to work for the Empire.
Jyn’s been on her own since childhood, but her familial connections make her an asset for the Rebel Alliance fighting the Empire. She’s soon teamed with Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a lifelong rebel, and his reprogrammed Imperial droid, the droll K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who offers strategic assessments with no tact or filter. Along the way, they pick up pilot Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), spiritual warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donny Yen) and his buddy Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). Legendary martial artist Yen steals the movie as Chirrut, a blind, bow staff-wielding worshiper of the Force.
The plot follows the standard action-adventure format about a band of plucky fighters in pursuit of a thingamabob that might save the world. Blasting and shooting and crashing and exploding ensue. But if you have a sense of the main events of the series, there inevitably comes a creeping sense of darkness over the proceedings, as you deduce the foregone conclusion.
Despite that pallor, the third act is a bombastic, unrelenting action sequence on the tropical beaches of the planet Scarif. It’s all a bit much — the fighting is overkill, literally. A glut of heroic moments in a row drain the impact of each one. But the film sticks the landing on the emotional payoff.
There have been debates over whether “Rogue One” contains overt political messages. It is decidedly for standing up to dictatorships and abuse of power. Audiences can draw their own conclusions to current events in light of exhortations to “save the rebellion, save the dream,” and “rebellions are built on hope.” But “Rogue One” is open enough to be what you want, and if that only happens to be a very good “Star Wars” installment, this will do just fine.
‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action. 2:13. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond. 2D only: Winchester. (Opens Thursday night at most venues.)