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Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 134 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. Similar to last year’s “The Force Awakens,” there is a lot of violence in this new “Star Wars” installment. Women, children, and countless soldiers and rebels are killed by gunfire, hand-to-hand combat, and other methods; worlds are destroyed; there are terrorist-style attacks and explosions; and spaceship shootouts. There is a running theme throughout the film about the methods of resistance, comparing and contrasting compromise vs. extremism; an unnerving torture sequence with a mind-reading octopus; and also some light romantic tension between the two main leads.

‘Rogue One’ is thrilling, harrowing, and slightly rushed, a beautifully shot film that could have given its characters more time to develop. As the first ‘Star Wars’ standalone film, ‘Rogue One’ sets a high standard for the expansion of this galaxy far, far, away.

By Roxana Hadadi

RogueOne ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewThe “Star Wars” series has always been about war—about a galaxy divided, the Rebels against the Empire, fighting for freedom from tyranny. To call “Rogue One” the first “Star Wars” war movie would be factually wrong, but in terms of style, this standalone movie is the first of its kind: a gorgeously shot, surprisingly violent endeavor, plainly showing the extremes of resistance and oppression. There are shortcomings here in terms of plot development and character arcs, but as the first “Star Wars Story,” “Rogue One” sets an impressive standard.

The film is set between the events of “Revenge of the Sith,” in which the corrupted Anakin Skywalker became the memorably voiced Darth Vader, and the original “A New Hope,” George Lucas’s first movie that kicked off this whole shebang. In “A New Hope,” Luke Skywalker receives the transmission from Princess Leia with the plans for the Death Star and must join with the Rebels to destroy it; in “Rogue One,” we see how the Rebels received the plans in the first place.

It all centers around Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, of “The Theory of Everything”), a young woman who 15 years ago saw her mother killed and her father, scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen, of “Doctor Strange”), taken by the Empire’s General Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn, of “Exodus: Gods and Kings”). In that time, Erso has grown from a scared young girl into a prepared-but-wary young woman, living under an assumed name and staying out of the conflict between the Empire and the Rebels.

She knows her way around a blaster and she doesn’t back down from a fight, but she’s given renewed purpose when the Rebels track her down and ask for her help: Jyn’s father has been alive all this time, helping the Empire build a deadly new weapon called the Death Star. For someone who used to be aligned with the Rebels, Galen’s actions are treason—and the Rebels want Jyn to find him and bring him in for questioning.

At least, that’s what they tell her. Her companion, the Head of Rebel Intelligence Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, of “The Book of Life”), has a different directive. But Jyn and Cassian gather together a group of allies to try and find Galen: the reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk, of “Moana”), pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed, of “Jason Bourne”), an Imperial defector; and guardians of a Jedi temple Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen, of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny”) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). As they travel across the galaxy, trying to find Galen, Jyn grows to understand the importance of the Rebellion—and to consider, after years of keeping her head down, finally rising up.

“Rogue One” starts with astonishing visuals and keeps them up for the entire 2-hour-plus runtime: General Krennic, flanked by all-black-armored Stormtroopers, striding toward the mossy mountain hiding place of the Ersos; a gigantic Jedi statue, fallen and buried under sand on the desolate Jedha; a mountain fortress, over a river of lava, occupied by a fan favorite character who makes a satisfying cameo; and a space battle on a jungle planet, with AT-ATs firing at Rebels through a lush green canopy. This is stunning stuff, and director Garth Edwards—much like he did with his previous film “Godzilla”—delivers beautiful images even in this universe of darkness and violence.

Narratively, though, “Rogue One” moves a little too quickly for its own good; the growth of Jyn from unwilling participant to inspirational Rebel leader is particularly fast-paced. And while Forest Whitaker has an excellent supporting role as militant Rebel leader Saw Gerrera, it’s frustrating how his extremist followers are depicted as Middle Eastern stereotypes; for a movie that shows such diversity in its casting, this shortcut is eyerollingly offensive.

Nevertheless, “Rogue One” has so much else going for it that those missteps can be accepted, although unforgiven. The world built here is so well-rounded and enveloping, so rich in detail in the various corners of the Rebel Alliance and the petty Empire power squabbles, that it sets an excellent path forward for the “Star Wars” universe. “Rogue One” makes real the war the Rebels have been fighting all this time, but still chooses hope—and there is nothing more “Star Wars” than that.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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