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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – A Slice Empire Pie with a Dollop of Some Hope

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 Since this film is considered part of the Star Wars canon with it also being dubbed a standalone story, viewers must consider the ramifications of what is learned as well as the implications of what is not. I am not going to go into spoiler territory here, but there are some surprises along the way despite there being one glorious problem – we already know the ending of the story. With the box office exploding this first weekend the film is in theaters, it doesn’t seem to be presenting any problems for Disney thus far.

People have gone to see movies before when they already knew the ending – everyone knew the Titanic was going to sink, but that didn’t stop anyone from going to see Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in the film because the story surrounding the sinking mattered more than the ship actually hitting that iceberg. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has the quest to steal the Death Star plans as its central story; we already know from Star Wars IV that this deed is accomplished, but the characters (led by a tenacious Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso) are compelling enough for us to go along for the ride.

All the while watching the film with my seven year old son (a more avid Star Wars fan than I it seems at times), he kept asking when we were going to see Darth Vader (again voiced by the incomparable James Earl Jones) and then when he does finally show up, instead of a menacing visage we get an answer to a question I long wanted answered – how does old Darth take a shower?

rogue-3That said Vader does then appear in a much more frightening moment, confronting Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn as the new villain in this film). Krennic’s obvious competition with a recognizable Star Wars face in the form Grand Moff Tarkin (more about him later) spells trouble for him as Vader gives Krennic the invisible force chokehold as a convincer to get his act together.

Felicity Jones does a great job as the leader of a rag-tag group who take it on themselves to steal the Death Star plans after the rebel council declines to pursue the dangerous mission. This group includes Captain Cassian Andor (a solid Diego Luna), former Imperial pilot Bodhi (a terrific Riz Ahmed), droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk as a wise-cracking but action hero alternative to the stolid C-P30), and super duo Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus (Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang). Along with some of Andor’s ready to rumble rebel buddies, they steal an impounded Imperial ship and as they fly off on their mission Bodhi christens it Rogue One.

rogue-5That these totally new characters can capture our attention and bring us along on their journey with interest is a credit to director Gareth Edwards and writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. While there are many nods to the Star Wars fans throughout (and even a couple of surprise cameos of old favorites), the central focus remains on the new characters and their dogged efforts to get those Death Star plans. Since most of the film’s action takes place a few days before the events of A New Hope, we get a good idea about how dark and evil a place the galaxy has become in the years since Revenge of the Sith.

There are many great action sequences throughout, and this is the first Star Wars film to really emphasize the “war” factor of the title – we get lots of combat and casualties on both sides. Against more than staggering odds Jyn, Cassian, and company push forward with individual motivations. Jyn’s back story adds complexity to the mix – her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) was a scientist who had a hand in creating the Death Star. Scenes of her as a little girl are reminiscent of Rey’s (Daisy Ridley) in last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and make us wonder why all our heroes in this galaxy are either orphans or from fractured families.

As is expected in any Star Wars film, the battle scenes, space sequences, and vistas of numerous alien worlds are exceptionally realized, this time by cinematographer Greig Fraser, and the stirring music by Michael Giacchino swells and flows appropriately to accompany the many visual delights. It goes without saying that some of John Williams’s iconic score comes into play in the Darth Vader scenes, and it’s difficult not to feel that same unsettled but welcome feeling as he stomps into a scene.

Now to get to the eerie inclusion of Grand Moff Tarkin (so memorably played by the late Peter Cushing in A New Hope), the computer effects are such that he is inserted into the film almost flawlessly, except for the fact that Cushing died in 1994 kept gnawing away at me. Audiences know it can be done now and seem to accept the use of a deceased actor in this manner, and my son had no clue that Cushing was dead until I told him later on, yet there is something disturbing about it even though Tarkin has to be there on the Death Star at that moment because it would not make sense otherwise.

rogue-4Besides the Tarkin issue, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a fine addition to the growing Star Wars canon. We know that Disney has plans for many more of these lucrative adventures, including a film about a young Han Solo. Since the appetite for Star Wars related projects seems insatiable (my son and I devour the TV series Star Wars Rebels as proof of that hunger), there will be no end in sight for tales from a long time ago in a galaxy quite far way. All I can say to Disney about that is “May the force be with you.”

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