It’s not easy to be a Stars Wars movie.

While movie fans may love you, many fear you, and most will be quick to criticize if you don’t meet their expectations. Remember how people reacted to the Phantom Menace? But if you satisfy the public’s hunger to visit a galaxy far, far away, you can send millions to a special movie place where few films travel.

Yes, the new Rogue One delivers on its promise for fun movie adventure. Fueled by the ambition to tell a new Star Wars story, and driven by Felicity Jones’ rich portrayal of a young woman confronting personal challenges, the movie refuses to play it safe. With Rogue One, we get most of what we expect from a Star Wars movie and much of what we hope. What makes the film so entertaining is how it delivers what we don’t expect from the opening credits that bypass the usual John Williams music, to the leading lady’s grit and the creative ways screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy fit this chapter into the Star Wars narrative. While this movie will be a distant memory by Oscar time, it should not be dismissed when fans assess the Star Wars collection.

Anyone who knows Star Wars will recognize the narrative wedge this film explores. In A New Hope – the original 1977 film – we first glimpse a young Carrie Fisher (as Princess Leia) planting secret information into the robotic R2-D2. But how did she get these details? What’s the significance of the secrets? And how can these plans help the rebellion? Rogue One answers the mystery by creating its own plot about a brilliant scientist who dreams up the Death Star before he tries to escape the power of the Empire and help his young daughter flee for safety. Like the best of the Star Wars films, Rogue One gives us enough narrative and character to help us absorb its moral while delivering, along the way, a rollercoaster of exciting visuals. And, fortunately, the movie avoids getting caught up in characters we don’t care about and hope never to see again. Remember how we reacted to Jar Jar Binks?

Of course, as with most Star Wars films, the message in Rogue One takes a back seat to the thrill ride. Even when the story gets murky – as in the scenes with Forest Whitaker as Jones’ one-time protector – the action sequences deliver. Director Gareth Edwards shows a real sense of rhythm and resolve as he stages grand confrontations with confidence, pays homage to the legacy he revives and reminds us that we are, in fact, experiencing a new story.

Yes, Rogue One lives up to the hype. And it gives us hope that, in the hands of the folks at Disney, opportunities are limitless for more movie fun. Only when director Edwards tries too hard to replicate the original – as in his heavy-handed approach to the first 30 minutes – does the film fall short. But when Rogue One creates its own world, and finds its own rhythm, this movie knows how to entertain.

We can’t wait for the next installment.

Rogue One

  • Content: High. Director Gareth Edwards rolls the dice and comes up with a winner despite the challenge of living up to the expectations.
  • Entertainment: High. Thanks to the fun in the script from Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy – and the delight in Felicity Jones’ lead performance – the movie makes us anxious to see the next one.
  • Message: High. The film reminds us that any day can be brighter when we get to visit a galaxy far, far away.
  • Relevance: High. Any opportunity to relive movie memories and make new ones can be a worthwhile time at the theater. Especially when we share the film with family and friends.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You will find yourself talking about your favorite sequences from this and other Star Wars movies.

(Rogue One is rated PG-13 for “extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.” The film runs 134 minutes.)

Reel Dad Rating: 4.5 Popcorn Buckets.

When movies excite: Star Wars, A New Hope

by Mark Schumann, The Reel Dad

As we celebrate the fun of Star Wars in Rogue One, the classic original episode from 1977 reminds us how much we can learn at the movies about the love that families share.

Yes, we have fun at the movies when a cinema chef surprises us. And, just when we think we know what we are going to be served, we experience something we have never observed.

That’s what it was like to see Star Wars for the first time in 1977.

It’s not that the ingredients were special. Many movies had gone to outer space. None of the cast, except for Alec Guiness, were well known, and George Lucas was known for the quirky comedy American Graffiti and the disastrous Howard the Duck.

No one expected anything from this film that dared to be different from its opening moments.

Few movies dared to start with the middle of a climactic sequence or launch into a conversation without first providing obligatory backstory. Few action films took time to develop characters or let interactions dominate entire sections. Few family movies treated its young audience with such respect, never compromising the details of the plot or layers of the characters because children might be in the theater.

From the start, Star Wars plays by its own rules. Few films had tried to combine a morality lesson and a venture into the supernatural in one narrative. Few tried to both dazzle and challenge; few attempted to use the science fiction genre to deliver such fun within a rich story.

Master chef Lucas uses his magic ingredients to create an ultimate movie surprise. He makes a young man’s journey to discover destiny and purpose so appetizing it appeals to anyone. He creates a spiritual hero for the young man to believe in and follow. He lets the hero follow his instinct to discover who he can be and what he can accomplish in life. And he sets the young man up for a coming of age moment as universal as a big screen can showcase.

So much, so good, and Lucas could have stuck to this recipe to serve a meaningful morality tale. But this creative chef chooses to set these lofty thoughts about life against the canvass of a widescreen sky. Luke becomes a symbol to illustrate a generation’s hopes and frustrations. Like others, he wants to achieve and experience. Only when he confronts the destiny he was born to pursue can he take steps forward with life.

But don’t take the film too seriously. Simply savor its magic as you travel back in time. Imagine, in 1977, the first moment you hear the John Williams’ score. Savor your reaction to the first time you meet the marvelous characters. Appreciate how Lucas uses the technology of special effects to frame one young man’s moral aspiration. This is science reality, not fiction.

As playful as its characters and situations, Star Wars reminds us to support the challenges our friends face. At its core is a yearning to create a safe and secure home, protected from the evil a universe can dispense, that become immune to the bad things that can happen to the good.

And then the fun begins.