Movie Review: ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’


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***WARNING:  MINOR SPOILERS BELOW***

Plot:  Nineteen years after the founding of the Galactic Empire, the Rebellion enlists the help of renegade Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to lead a ragtag team to steal the plans for the Death Star.  Joined by the likes of battle hardened Rebel Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Clone War veteran Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), and droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Jyn and her team must confront the Empire head on.  Standing in their way are the Death Star’s Advanced Weapons Research Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and the evil Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Vader (James Earl Jones).  With the Death Star set to make its initial weapons test, it’s a race against time for Jyn and her band, with nothing less than the fate of the Rebellion and the Galaxy in their hands.

 

Review:  After seeing Rogue One Friday night, my intent was to write my review immediately.  In hindsight I’m glad I didn’t.  Occasionally, you need a couple of days to let your thoughts percolate.  I walked out of the theater slightly conflicted.  Not because Rogue One was garbage (it wasn’t), it’s just that it was so different from any Star Wars movie I’d ever seen it took me a few days to process.  Obviously I knew that intellectually going into the film, but not emotionally.  All of this preamble just leads to the ultimate question.  Was Rogue One a good movie?

No.

It’s a great movie.

Moreover, from a cinematic standpoint (acting, directing, writing, editing, cinematography, et al) this is easily the best Star Wars film.  I know there’s a tendency to have a knee-jerk reaction after viewing films of this magnitude.  I mean let’s face it Star Wars in and of itself is a whole different beast compared to any other franchise.  Yet I’m confident enough to render that opinion with no hyperbole.  I’ve watched all of the Star Wars films dozens of times, but this is the first Star Wars film I’ve ever seen that actually demands multiple viewings.  That’s not say that Rogue One is a perfect film as I did have some minor quibbles which I’ll get into.  However, it in no way takes away from the brilliance of this film.

 

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I’m going to keep the spoilers to a minimum here because I don’t want to ruin what’s a fantastic adventure.  Anyone who’s even a casual Star Wars fan knows the story of A New Hope and that the Death Star plans were stolen and given to Princess Leia.  Rogue One is of course the back story behind that theft.  And damn does it deliver.

Writers Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz offer a superb script to match Gareth Edwards flawless direction.  And I don’t mean “superb for a Star Wars film.”  I mean superb for a film period.  The ability for all three to make us so emotionally invested in the characters and then to have the testicular fortitude to make some decidedly un-Disneylike choices, was nothing less than inspired.  Rogue One was exactly what Edwards promised it would be:  a Star Wars war film.  Think The Guns of Navarone meets The Seven Samurai–but in space.   It’s dark and gritty but ultimately with a hopeful undertone.

But make no mistake, this film shows the dark underbelly of the Rebellion, the black and white, all or nothing people.  These are the hard men and women you see in war, especially Rebel Alliance Intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna).  He’s a man who’s been in this fight since he was six years old.  Andor has seen his share of death and destruction and become jaded.  He’s willing to do the morally questionable acts  by (as Malcolm X once said) any means necessary. You know this from an action he takes very early on that sets the tone for the rest of the film.

 

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Luna has never been better as Cassian Andor, and lights up the screen with his energy.  Although ostensibly billed as Jyn Erso’s (Felicity Jones) tale, he matches her in every way.  Jones is excellent here and proves that her Oscar nomination for The Theory of Everything was no fluke.  In fact unlike some characters in the Star Wars universe, we see her progression as a character from hardened criminal misfit to determined Rebel.  Yet she also possesses a vulnerability especially when it comes to her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) that gives her a human quality that balances out the rough edges.  In fact Cassian and Jyn have a contentious relationship that by the end of the film results in them seeing each others perspective.

As for the supporting cast, you couldn’t ask for a better group.  Tudyk delivers as droid K-2SO.  Forget BB8 or R2D2, K-2SO is where it’s at.  He’s snarky, determined, willful, and loyal.  K-2SO delivers some of the funniest lines in the film that adds levity without going overboard.  Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker shines as grizzled Clone War and Rebel Alliance veteran Saw Gerrera who’s barely kept alive by a series of medical implants.  The former father figure to Jyn, Whitaker sports a raspy voice and is the extremist of the group.  And I dare you not to fall in love with Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior who kicks all kinds of ass. Imwe believes stridently in the Force despite not being able to wield it himself.  His compatriot Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) balances out Imwe as the friend who doubts the Force and despairs of the future of the galaxy.

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Donnie Yen) Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm LFL

 

Star Wars would be nothing without a great villain and Rogue One contains three of them, two familiar and one brand new.  Newcomer Ben Mendelsohn brings it as Commander Orson Krennic the Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Navy.  He’s the first nuanced villain that’s not pure evil like Emperor Palpatine.  Think of him as a Nazi bureaucrat with high ambitions, stymied by an Old Boys Club.  Krennic’s history with Galen Erso also factors heavily into the plot.

As might be expected Grand Moff Tarkin makes an appearance despite actor Peter Cushing having died twenty-two years ago.  The wizards at Lucasfilm were able to render his face digitally however.  While at first jarring and distracting, I eventually got used to it.  Technology has come a long way since Jeff Bridges’ face in Tron: Legacy.  I swear we are about ten years from not being able to tell the difference at all.

Then there is Darth Vader .  I have to admit I got chills when I heard James Earl Jones’ reprising his voice as the Dark Lord of the Sith.  He’s only in two scenes but he makes the most of them.  Aside from a cringe worthy CSI: Miami line, Vader is everything you want.  And the way we are re-introduced to him and WHERE is so delightfully perfect it made me giddy.  And the second scene.  Well let’s just say it’s one of the darker moments in Star Wars history and it’s awesome.

 

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From a technical standpoint, I can’t stress enough how great Rogue One is.  Naturally the special effects are on point but Greg Fraser’s cinematography is breathtaking.  Matte shots, tracking shots, memorable panoramic shots–every combination available that makes for a dynamic and powerful film aided by John Gilroy and Jabez Olssen’s editing.  Michael Giacchino’s been getting unfairly crushed for his score.  It was good and certainly not deserving of the harsh criticism.  The guy had four weeks to put this sucker together.  It’s a score that’s separate from the saga films and rightly so because this is such a different movie.  I would like to have heard more of the Imperial March though.

For fans of the Star Wars franchise there is a ton of Easter eggs within Rogue One, probably some I didn’t even notice.  For people who also complained about the obviousness of the Death Star’s weakness, there’s also a very plausible explanation.  Don’t forget to watch for some “blink and you’ll miss it” cameos too, such as Ian McElhinney who plays General Dodonna.  Fans will recognize him as Barristan Selmy from Game of Thrones.  There’s some shoehorning in of certain characters at the end of the film that I thought was unnecessary but I still liked.  I also appreciated the focus on Khyber crystals, the living crystal that powers both the Death Star and Jedi lightsabers.  Many hardcore Star Wars fans have complained about the prequels and even The Force Awakens not being Star Warsy enough.  Believe me when I say that the last thirty minutes are nothing but pure, unadulterated, classic Star Wars.  And the last five minutes will have casual and hardcore fans jumping for joy.

Rogue One has the distinction of being the first Star Wars film to veer away from the saga.  It was a risk, but a gamble I’m happy to say succeeded.  Disney and company went bold, went big, and like its brave band of Rebels, ultimately won the day.  It makes for a new and exciting chapter in the Star Wars universe.  With a plethora of material ripe for the picking, I eagerly anticipate the non-saga Star Wars stories to come.

 

My rating System:

0-1 God Awful Blind Yourself With Acid Bad
2 Straight Garbage
3 Bad
4 Sub Par
5 Average
6 Ok
7 Good
8 Very Good
9 Great
10 A Must See

My rating: 9/10

Would I:  A) Buy this movie B) Accept as a gift C) Burn on site  Answer:

You can follow me on Twitter at @DarthGandalf1 and for the latest movie, television, and other relevant news geeks love, visit my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/flicktasticmovies

 

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