Friday, December 16, 2016

A Reel Review: ROGUE ONE - A STAR WARS STORY



In 1977, when STAR WARS (later sub-titled EPISODE IV, A NEW HOPE) blasted its way onto screens, it dropped us into the middle of a battle; a chase, in which the evil galactic Empire gunned down the freedom fighters known as the Rebel Alliance…who had just stolen the plans to the dreaded superweapon known as the Death Star. It was a hot-start to the story and the saga, and the events that led up to that chase are finally told in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), is orphaned by the Empire when Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), forces her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) into service to complete work on the planet-killing weapon, the Death Star. Years later, Erso reluctantly falls into the Rebel Alliance, including Cassian (Diego Luna), and a reformed droid known as K2SO (Alan Tudyk), where they seek out Clone Wars veteran Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), who has kidnapped a former Imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed), with inside information on the Empire.

Cinema has never shied away from telling a story where the ending is already known; every WWII and biopic on a historical figure has faced the challenge of making the journey more interesting than the destination. In ROGUE ONE, director Gareth Edwards, working from a screenplay by Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz, go through great lengths to establish the desperation in achieving the goal of snatching those coveted plans, which rumor has it, reveals a flaw in the Death Star’s design. The galaxy is portrayed as a rough place; people are oppressed, worlds are ravaged, and Stormtroopers go door-to-door like Nazi SS squads demanding to see identification. Rebelling against this is our small band of freedom fighters, with Jyn eventually in the lead. Her and her eventual comrades are rounded out well enough, and the desperation they all feel in accomplishing their mission, and surviving it, can always be felt.

The film takes a good portion of the first act in introducing characters, places, and getting things moved into position, but once that’s done, ROGUE ONE evolves into a full-blown war movie. Battles are fought on the land, sky, and space (sometimes all at once), and are a thrill from the first fire to the last boom as Edwards drops us eye-level into the action. This adds to the high-stakes drama and makes ROGUE ONE a white-knuckler on more than one occasion. There are some brave decisions made throughout the film with characters and places (there are some dark moments), and it makes ROGUE ONE a true standout of the overall saga.

More than anything else, this is a STAR WARS movie, and Edwards treats it as such. Although ROGUE ONE is telling a new story, there are still important pieces that have to fall into place, and each one of these pieces fits perfectly. Items from A NEW HOPE are given more weight and meaning, and the behind-the-scenes troubles that both the Rebels and the Empire are having gives their later existence a new light. In fact, most of the entire saga can be now viewed differently, making ROGUE ONE a true rebirth of STAR WARS. Familiar places are lovingly reconstructed, and through the manipulation of stock footage or CGI wizardry, characters from the 1977 film return to the screen in stunning and jaw-dropping fashion. But nothing can prepare anyone for the return of Darth Vader (once again voiced by the great James Earl Jones), who returns in a menacing spectacular fashion. The dark lord has a scene of true HORROR; once again establishing himself as the greatest screen villain of all time.

The film looks gorgeous with every planet, sky, vehicle, and laser-blast popping off the screen. The vehicles and sets have that lovely worn-out look, making a nice consistency with A NEW HOPE. Pacing is brisk once we get past the first act, and the humor bits gives us some of the best laughs ever heard in STAR WARS. Composer Michael Giacchino recycles a few of John Williams’ classic bits, and does an admirable job in re-capturing the old STAR WARS spirit with his score.

Acting is very good. Felicity Jones proves that she is one of the best actresses in the galaxy. She plays her part not as a woman with manly qualities, but deep and layered and is very effective. Diego Luna is equally good and a good foil to her, and Forest Whitaker plays the part of troubled mentor very well. There is an argument to be had if the show is ultimately stolen by the sarcastic droid K2SO (Alan Tudyk is brilliant), or the monk-like, Force-believing warrior Chirrut (martial-arts expert Donnie Yen), and his big-ass gun carrying companion Baze (Jiang Wen). Ben Mendelsohn is fantastic as an Imperial commander with the uncommon bad-guy goal of glory, as opposed to just another baddie who wants to kill everyone.

As promised, ROGUE ONE wraps within minutes of the beginning of A NEW HOPE, and just for an exclamation point, adds on an emotional cameo/moment which is sure to have long-time fans either weeping or clapping or in flat-out galactic bliss. It is a powerful moment which sums up ROGUE ONE, which fully re-captures the fun, magic, whimsy, adventure and daring that STAR WARS originally embraced. ROGUE ONE makes 1977 seem like it wasn’t so far away or so long ago.

BOTTOM LINE: See it


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