Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One Review

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Cast Headliners: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn, Many Others
Original Release Date: December 16, 2016

                After years of being in a subdued state (and depending on one’s views of the prequel trilogy, even longer) the Star Wars franchise gloriously returned in all of its beloved space opera wonder in 2015’s The Force Awakens under Disney. Almost immediately after the news of that Episode VII, plans also were revealed for something else… “Anthology” films, side stories in theaters on the years the main episodes were not. Although there is a plethora of precedence (Though no one’s missing out on anything by skipping the Ewoks films or The Holiday Special) this is the first time there’s been a deliberate effort to show as different a perspective as possible to the main saga.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is adapted from a mere line of text from the 1977 A New Hope: “Rebel starships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire”.  It’s with much awesome delight that the movie is far more than just a sentence. The film is a massively fun, action packed, and powerful time within its span and within the Star Wars timeline and franchise as a whole.        
                The film, in the first of many experiments to make it (effectively) unique, drops the classic Star Wars intro story crawl and theme song to a scene in present time. Instead, the franchise’s first ever flashback / time jump is shown before a traditional film style logo. In the early years of the Empire after 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, the Erso family are in hiding on a remote world. Galen Erso(Mads Mikkelsen) is wanted by the Empire’s Director Krennic(Ben Mendelsohn) to finish the Death Star against his will. Events transpire, leaving new important characters in important predicaments.
                Years later, a now adult Jyn Erso(Felicity Jones) is a prisoner of the Empire. She is rescued by the Rebel Alliance, and finds herself on their base planet of Yavin 4. She soon teams up with more Rebel allies such as Cassian Andor(Diego Luna), his droid K-2SO(Alan Tudyk) and more to find her father and his information on the fearsome Death Star.
                It’s logical that the movie takes a medium between the semi-straightforward adventure style of the Original Trilogy, and The Force Awakens, and the perhaps overly intricate Lucas-style narrative puzzles of the Prequel Trilogy. The first act is an extra-whirlwindy rush of momentary different planets and informants that offers some neat location variety but stops just short of letting what’s going on sink in. Things more than make up for this as characters and elements old and new are brought into the fray.
                The film, as often is with Star Wars, is jam packed with great characters and performance. The core Rebel protagonists in this are not well established heroes, both literally to viewers nor within the film’s universe. They are edgy, outcasts, criminals which makes things interesting. The film is led by Jyn who is certainly her own spin of ‘Wars heroine. While she may lack the charisma of Rey or others, she brings a fierceness , street smarts, and criminal angle that add a slightly dark nuance to her. Felicity Jones gives some decent work at times, including a resounding speech or few. Her best stuff comes when she is with her father Galen and there’s great emotional performances at work between her and Mikkelsen. Mikkelsen is also very fascinating and sincere if shortly in the film.  Some of her other best scenes are with Cassian Andor, the squad leader. Luna brings an edge of his own to the character, feeling so gritty and real in his role as Rebel Captain with a serious attitude and equally dark past.  The “warlike” main trifecta of characters is rounded off with K-2S0. Alan Tudyk extremely shines amongst the cast, delivering what may be the best Star Wars droid ever. He’s almost like a Bender from Futurama or Star War’s own HK-47 from older materials: he’s smart, sassy, a bit mean, and hilarious. That’s not to say the movie doesn’t have other humor with its leads, as the writing is great aided by the committed performances. It’s that classic Star Wars feel from a new grounded angle and crew.
                The ensemble cast of characters continue to overall impress from all sides. Soon the main crew grows to include two “Guardians of the Whills”( a lore reference sure to excite deep franchise fans, of which at times things get very deep) in Chirrut Imwe(Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus(Jiang Wen). It’s neat to see Star Wars add two Asian actors in such main roles. Perhaps stereotypically, or perhaps perfectly considering Lucas’ original inspiration, the two play very Jedi-like characters. Yen’s Chirrut is another show stealer, a devoted and humorous blind master of the Force in a new way with his staff and bow. His interactions with the fierce heavy machine gun toting Baze played greatly by Wen are also great.  Others on the protagonist or similar side are less impressive.  Imperial pilot defector (guess you weren’t the first Finn!) Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has his slight humorous and heroic moments but fades into the tapestry of things. It’s really cool to see the connective characters in Rebel Alliance top command of a younger Mon Mothma(Genevieve O’Reilly, from a Revenge of the Sith deleted scene!) and an older Bail Organa(finally played once again by Jimmy Smitts) who are important to the lore but do little else besides look the perfect part and drop some references and plot development.
                A great unique point to the film is found in some of these supporting roles. The most obvious is found in people like Cassian/Jyn/K2 but also in Saw Gerrera(Forrest Whitaker). Whitaker’s character Saw (originally from The Clone Wars animated show but it’s not mandatory plotwise) is crazed and leads an even more reckless independent brand of Rebel-like Partisans. His role is short, not too impactful but some regard of important in filling out the world which honestly makes sense: the Rebels were fractured ,and did bad things of their own. The movie is about shades of grey, moreso than perhaps any of the other 7 main SW main films, and whether it’s via characters or factions. It asks really interesting questions of this famed universe but not without compromising the fun, intensity, and action.
                It’s no surprise that the Empire gets much less sympathetic showtime. This is them at the height of their power, proving once again the elegant and epic-ly grim connections between the Prequels and Originals.  The primary villain is found in Director Orson Krennic(Ben Mendelsohn). Mendelsohn is a unique, often villainous talent and here he brings a powerful evil performance. He will stop at nothing to bring his Death Star and, of particular interest to the audience, impress his Imperial superiors. This allows for the reason to bring in THE Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, so great to be typing that name for the first time in over 10 years in cinemas). His role, possibly more than any similar cameo in recent Hollywood history, must be seen first hand to experience the awesome. That awesome is every bit as intense and evil as the legends, and hearing the familiar JEJ talk will give one chills. One could wish for more , but what we do get is incredible.  Less incredible is the choice to bring back a CGI Grand Moff Tarkin(played here, aside from Peter Cushing’s likeness, by actor Guy Henry).  He too looks just right out of 1977, but is clearly not a real person if almost there. Despite the surrealness , his interactions with Krennic and the Empire perspective moments are solid and fitting to the timeline.

                Once the movie gets going, it gets going to an amazing well done degree. Director Gareth Edwards is known to be a proud Star Wars fan, and like JJ before him, this bleeds through in every heartfelt aspect. The physical props, the sweeping energetic score (not done by Williams but here by an alright filler Michael Giacchino), the future sheen with an analog old school sensibility.. it’s all here. Perhaps even  a bit moreso than The Force Awakens, it feels like its cut out of the same cloth as the Original Trilogy though with its afromentioned unique identity. Edwards as well gives more beautiful  sweeping, natural breathing room to his shots and action moments which is a speck of his style but otherwise blending into the Star Wars taste.

                The visuals , whether they be creatures, planets(which are the most in one film in long time and diverse from ancient Jedi desert metropolis Jedha to tropical Scarif to classic A New Hope forest Yavin 4 and more) to the Stormtrooper armor, guns, vehicles(walkers!!) it’s all  gorgeously shiny yet also real. This becomes especially enjoyable in the action scenes. This perhaps is some of the most action in a single Star Wars film ever. There’s a plethora of ground and space action peppered through the adventurous experience. Dozens of troops on each side and gigantic ships in orbit not seen since Return of the Jedi.  The stakes heighten things even more, and if one desired a Star “Wars” movie, they got it here. One will feel more and more on the edge of their seat as the ending Act 3 explodes into essentially one long, constant, and increasingly epic battle to get those plans via whatever that may entail. Without(as one can assume with the street level heroes…) a lightsaber duel in sight, the ending arc and excitement becomes some of the franchises’ finest . The ending in particular will leave one speechless , and perfectly sets up the future.
                That’s the film’s overall take away. It’s as nearly perfect a tie between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope there can be. There’s some of the varied worlds and political nuance of the PT, with the swashbuckling action and visuals of the OT. Questions are answered and new ones are asked. While at times things can be a bit rushed in both plot and characters, and while there’s some slight mistakes, it’s a movie a Star Wars fan will surely love. It has the very rare aspect of making not just itself a greatly enjoyable ride, but improving the meaning and stakes of the film’s preceding and following it in the Star Wars timeline. It’s the gritty frontline combat movie we always wanted, with a meaningful classic Star Wars lense(although with a only a couple too many other references less excusable at this point) and familiar feel.  Even a non-fan will find a somewhat self contained exciting galactic heist film. The Force, once again, is strong with this one. Disney’s spinoff plan is off to a great start with the one of the best movie prequels ever.  9.77 out of 10

No comments:

Post a Comment