ROGUE ONE: A more accurate subtitle for this movie would be A STAR WARS BACKSTORY since it’s a preamble to EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE (1977). The bare bones plot is about how the rebel forces go about stealing the blueprints on how to destroy the dreaded Death Star. Most of the characters feel like they’re either recycled or lifted from familiar cinematic stock. Once again, an independent, empowered young woman (Felicity Jones) surrounds herself with a gang of Rebel Alliance fighters which include a prickly intelligence officer (Diego Luna), a blind Oriental type (I swear these guys are always bald or blind.) who’s a martial arts samurai style warrior (Donnie Yen) and his protector (Jiang Wen) who sort of looks like Machete. Most of the human characters are rather colorless and non-descript. In fact, the standout is a reprogrammed Imperial droid named K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) who has a penchant for the sarcastic wisecrack. But Gareth Edwards’ direction is well-paced and hits its stride at the right time with a rousing assault by rebel troops on Scarifa that recalls past explosive Pacific theater battle sequences from World War II movies of yore. Screenwriters Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz demonstrate a healthy respect for the conventions and traditions of the film saga and even throw in a few cameos by characters from previous flicks. The combination of heist and war film editing is very audience engaging with an assist from Michael Giacchino’s musical score. I’m not sure I’d refer to this as a “standalone” work in the STAR WARS universe since a knowledge of EPISODE IV enhances the impact of the final shot and word of dialogue. After all, one of the positive attributes of the film franchise is the element of being an epic series of tied-together tales that are ongoing and consistently told well. It isn’t the most original entry but its redemption is that it’s one of the most entertaining. CRITIC’S GRADE: B

CLOSING CREDITS: Aficionados who saw the very first 1977 movie might well wonder how British actor Peter Cushing (THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN) is able to reprise his role as the Grand Moff Tarkin in ROGUE ONE since he died in 1994. During the film’s shooting, Tarkin’s part was performed by English actor Guy Henry (HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS). Afterwards, footage of his scenes were digitally altered in post-production to appear as if he was Cushing. The effect was also achieved by drawing on pre-existing footage of the late actor. Legally, the filmmakers had to get permission from the veteran horror movie actor’s estate and heirs to use his likeness in the movie. This is acknowledged in the closing credits.