Star Wars: Rogue One (****)
With the sheen of sci-fi and the benefit of distance, it's easy to forget that Star Wars was essentially a war film in space. Rogue One reminds us of the franchise's roots, and that's not a bad thing...but it's not quite as fun either.

From the boat-shaped Star Destroyers to the jet-like X-wings, Star Wars has always been about battles on the ground against faceless footsoldiers in masks (Stormtroopers had a precedent in World War I, of course) and in the air. Rogue One is about a combat mission that is so suicidal nobody wants to take it -- thus the name of the movie -- except Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who has a very personal connection to the Death Star. 

Jyn's father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen, playing a good-bad guy) is the mastermind behind the Death Star, and as such he is pressed into service against his will.  With his family at risk, Galen hatches a master plan that will surprise no one -- a hidden vulnerability built into the Death Star itself. 

Rogue One is essentially The Dirty Dozen with lasers and aliens. Our heroes track the rumors of a Death Star to its source, and when they realize there really is a doomsday weapon they stop at nothing to thwart it, including rebelling against the Rebellion. When the thrilling dogfights and ground battles aren't taking place, the film is dragged down by exposition, emotion, and the heavy weight of what can't possibly be much of a happy ending.

Rogue One's thrills are derived primarily from its non-human actors: the robot kind (K-2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk), the guys-in-suits kind (Darth Vader), and the CGI kind (Grand Moff Tarkin, among others).  They're terrifying at times -- yes even the "good guy" robot is acidly sarcastic and violent when he needs to be -- and perfectly realized. For fans of the original, this is as close to that feeling of awe that we're going to get from a Star Wars film.

But we're adults now, and Rogue One is an adult movie.  This is war that tears apart families, annihilates entire cities, and causes brave men (AND women, thank the Force!) to sacrifice themselves for a greater good.  It's Star Wars for grownups. 

Most importantly, Rogue One finally exonerates this guy

Uh, hey guys it's me. Uh, the architect behind the exhaust ports on the Death Star. I know, I know. "What a stupid design flaw! You are single-handedly responsible for the destruction of our ultimate weapon!" I've heard it all. I've gotten a lot of guff from my superiors since the Death Star blew up, about my shoddy design. I've been force chocked, force lightninged, regular choked more times than I can count...

Remember: I am with the Force. The Force is with me. The Force just got a little older, a little more mature, and maybe even a little jaded.  Rogue One is great, but it's stripped of the childlike wonder that made the original Star Wars movie so awesome. In that regard it will always reside in the first film's shadow.

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