Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. A Review


It's curious that once Disney took over the Star Wars universe, they managed to do what Star Wars creator George Lucas couldn't: give us a sensible, real prequel to his Magnus Opus.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story wasn't the spin-off I remember being promised, a film set in the Star Wars universe that wasn't connected to the overall Star Wars story.  Far from it: it is directly connected to said universe.  That, however, isn't a negative.  Far from it: Rogue One manages to create an exciting, original world where it comes close to equaling what made the original series so unique and beloved.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of scientific/engineering genius Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen).  Galen has been forced to help the Galactic Empire create a new and powerful weapon: what is known as the Death Star.  Before he was taken, Galen helped Jyn escape, where she was helped and raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), leader of a splinter group of the Rebellion who became too radical for the Rebellion and broke off from them.

Many years have passed, and the Rebellion has heard whispers of the new and powerful weapon. An Empire defector, pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) tells them of the Death Star, but he defected Gerrera's forces.  The Rebellion and Gerrera are not allies, but the former hopes that with Jyn acting as intermediary, they can win his confidence and get Galen's message regarding the Death Star that Bodhi has with him.  To this endeavor, they send Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who brings the reprogrammed Imperial droid K2SO (Alan Tudyk).  Eventually, Jyn and Gerrera reunite, but as she hears Galen's message the Empire decides on a small test of the Death Star, on the city where they are at.  Both Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and Governor Tarkin (Peter Cushing, returning from the dead with help from computer generated imagery and Guy Henry doing the physical and vocal work) are delighted with it, but a power struggle begins between Krennic and Tarkin for control.

Now Jyn, Cassian, Bodhi, and two others must warn the Rebellion on the awesome power of the Death Star.  Galen's message tells his daughter that he deliberately created a flaw in the Death Star that if triggered would destroy the monstrous creation.  He entrusts her with finding the plans, which are on the heavily guarded Imperial planet Scarif.  The Rebellion does not want to go and try for a raid, but Jyn and her friends will not be denied.  They go rogue, and a major battle ensues, with Krennic fighting furiously to stop them.  Eventually the Rebellion joins in the fight, and while Jyn and Cassian manage to send the plans to them, the Death Star opts to destroy their own base in a failed effort to stop them.  The plans are smuggled aboard a Rebel ship, where they are received by Princess Leia Organa (the late Carrie Fisher, also digitized to her Star Wars: A New Hope phase) as Darth Vader himself storms the ship, desperate to get said plans back.

I know many people, particularly the Star Wars fanbase that thinks cinema started with the first Star Wars film, are thrilled.  Part of me can see how they got excited.  Rogue One is the first new Star Wars film to be worth our time.  This adulation Rogue One has received is up to a point warranted.  The final act, the assault on Scarfin, is a particularly thrilling sequence, full of action and excitement that puts you squarely within the battle.  It has all the elements: gigantic machines fighting it out, Chirrut Imwe, a Force-loving blind samurai swordsman (Donnie Yen), quiet but tense moments as Jyn and Cassian search the massive archives to find the Death Star plans, the sneering Krennic after them, and even some comedy with both Bodhi and K2SO.

I also see that the Star Wars universe now is going all-out with creating diversity within it.  We have, like in Star Wars: The Remix, a strong female protagonist.  We have Hispanic, Asian, and Islamic actors in major roles. We even see dead people making a comeback.   It makes it a bit interesting in some respects (one, for example, wasn't aware the galaxy far, far, away had people with Spanish accents). 

I'm Hispanic myself, so I can get away with that.

On the issue of Peter Cushing, it worked on the whole.  Cushing did look a bit waxwork, even a little creepy, but it wasn't so obviously a fake.  It does seem a bit unfair in that it isn't the Peter Cushing and thus we can't say this would have been the performance Cushing would have given.

Everyone else, with perhaps one exception, did solid work.  Jones' Jyn wasn't the greatest, but she was smart, competent, and courageous, qualities that are admirable in anyone.  Luna was a little funny to me, but that probably comes more from the fact that I know more about his background than most, so picturing him, accent and all, as this heroic figure struck me as a little amusing.  Then again, as I said, that's just me.  He too did a strong job.  Ahmed balanced being serious when captured and a little more amusing as he attempts to help link up the universe to help send the message.

Tudyk is creating another 'cutesy' robot with his sensible K2SO, and I wasn't overwhelmed or underwhelmed by it.  I was just whelmed.

The only performance I had issue with was Whitaker, who appeared to be channeling Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth in Blue Velvet for the soft-voiced Sol, down to sucking a version of an oxygen mask in his brief role as the slightly crazed anti-Imperial rebel leader.  His sotto voce performance was already a curiosity, but his sucking up air was slightly hilarious.  I half-expected him to call for his Mommy.

Other things I had issues with, things that director Gareth Edwards and screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy came up with.  First, we had bits of dialogue that are, I think, geared for more Millennials than meant to be timeless.  As Vader releases a choke-hold on Krennic, he tells him, "Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director".  Not a big fan of deliberate puns.  Another time, as Sol's men take the small rebel group hostage, they put a bag over Imwe, who callous out, "Are you kidding me?! I'M BLIND!"

As a side note, I was so unsure of his name I kept referring to him as 'Samurai Jack', my only point of reference.

Other times, we had rather clichéd situations.  In one laser fight, we had to have a little girl caught in the middle of it, with Jyn forced to rescue her.  In another, when Galen is facing death, we had to have it in the rain.

A part of me thinks that the whole journey to find Sol wasn't a payoff, almost a diversion to make Rouge One longer (two hours and thirteen minutes).  Certainly, a message from Galen to Jyn (his 'Stardust') could have found its way to her and the Rebellion without having to go through a character who doesn't make it to even the half of the film.  I figure all this could have been trimmed. 

We also had a bizarre moment early on when Krennic and his Storm Troopers were searching for Jyn, who had escaped when Galen was taken.  In their search, they found her plush toy, which was of a Storm Trooper.

Color me odd, but why would a child have a Storm Trooper plush toy in this galaxy far, far away? 

Still, Rogue One does in one film what The Phantom Menace/Attack of the Clones/Revenge of the Sith couldn't do in three: tell a Star Wars story that actually leads somewhere and compliments the original trilogy.  It might not be the Star Wars spinoff I thought it was going to be, but it is a fine film on its own.

Yes, at last we have A New Hope.   


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