If there's any group of people that have reason to be wary of prequels, it's Star Wars fans.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story treads risky grounds: a story where everyone already knows the ending (since it's about the search for the Death Star plans), a director who's neither George Lucas nor J.J. Abrams, and almost entirely new group of characters.  Still, it's a solid movie.

As a little child, Jyn Erso was living happily with her parents -- until tragedy struck.  Imperial general Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) shows up to insist Jyn's father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) return as an engineer on the Empire's superweapon.  Jyn's mother is killed, Galen is taken away, and Jyn flees, to be rescued by Rebel fighter Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).
Years later, a grown-up Jyn (Felicity Jones) just wants to be left alone, but the Rebellion rescues her from an Empire prison ship.  Imperial shuttle pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has defected to the Rebellion, with news about Galen and the planet-killer weapon he's been working on.  Unfortunately he's been taken prisoner by Saw, who's become more extreme and paranoid, so the Rebellion hopes he'll open up to Jyn because of their shared past and turn Galen over to the Senate for testimony.   She's joined by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who has secret orders to kill Galen; and K-250 (voiced by Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed Imperial strategy droid whose snarky honesty is the source for the most of Rogue One's humor.
The trio travels to several locations: a desert planet, a rainy Empire base, and a beach-covered different Empire base, in their quest for first Galen, then the plans for the Death Star.  Along the way, they're joined by new allies: Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior and possible former Jedi who's skilled with a staff; and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a well-armed mercenary and friend of Chirrut.  Together they sneak, fight, and lie to maneuver around the Empire and risk everything to obtain the plans to and weakness of the Death Star.  Meanwhile, Krennic has been charged with making sure there are surprises or hidden weaknesses in the Death Star, a mission sending him on a collision course with these Rebels.
I liked Rogue One.  There are several cameos from the other movies; some advancing the plot, some gratituous, some for nostalgic reasons.  While the characters are a bit bland -- Jyn as the reluctant hero, Cassian as the defiant soldier, Chirrut and Baze as very different companions -- but there's some very good action in the movie and several surprises (including one that will... limit the merchandising of this movie compared to other Star Wars films).  I don't know if we needed the backstory behind getting the Death Star plans, but I'm glad that story worked as well as Rogue One did.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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