Rogue One: a Star Wars Story

rogue one movie coverRogue One (2016), Rated “PG-13”
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Reviewed by David L Felts
Rating: four stars

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In the now expanding Star Wars universe, Rogue One falls in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. I was 12 when I saw Star Wars in 1977 and I’ve re-watched it a few times since with a newfound adult perspective. Although I believe it’s a good movie for kids, I don’t really see it as made for kids.

I feel a bit differently about the prequel films. They are childish in the their plot and characters, simplistic in their story telling. The ARE movies made for kids. But perhaps that was the point. Despite my efforts, my own children aren’t the least bit interested in Star Wars, not the original trilogy or the prequel films. Nevertheless, I’ve heard from many that their kids loved the prequel films and that it was those movies them that eventually led them to the original trilogy and spawned a new generation of Star Wars fans.

And The Force Awakens was basically a remake of A New Hope: kid from desert planet, strong in the force, gets involved in big happenings. It was pretty much a movie that replicated the story arcs of A New Hope, which ended up being both a strength and a weakness.

And now we have Rogue One, a prequel to Star Wars: A New Hope, telling the story taken directly from opening of the 1977 movie:

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

We already know how that all turns out, but here’s the story of how they got there. Rogue One is the movie version of this. It’s also the first movie that seeks to expand the Star Wars universe beyond stories revolving around the original characters. It’s the beginning of Disney’s effort, I think, to create the SWCU, the Star Wars Cinematic Universe, a concept that will no doubt be similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe: a series of films each telling a small but interconnected piece of a larger story.

A slow and somewhat clunky serves to introduce a few of the main characters and establish the situation. We meet the heroine of the story Jyn Erso (Felicty Jones), who is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), an Empire scientist who was involved in the initial engineering of the Death Star. Undergoing a crises of consciousness, he fled the empire with his wife Lyra and Jyn.

They managed to stay hidden a few years, but the Empire eventually tracks him down. He planned for this, however, and Jyn is able to hide until she can be found by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a cyborg friend of her father’s.

Skip ahead some 16 years….

The rebellion has tracked her down thinking they can use her to find the location of her father, who has gone back to work for the Empire and has evidently brought the Death Star plan to fruition. Jyn doesn’t want anything to do with it. But, like most heroes, when overcome by events she rises to the challenge and sets off to save the Rebellion and, hopefully, her father.

At its core, Rogue One is a war movie along the lines of The Dirty Dozen–a rag-tag band of mismatched heroes setting out on an impossible mission. One of the challenges here is the number of different characters. They come (and go) at a fast and furious pace, with the result being that there isn’t a whole lot of time available to flesh them out. Just when begins to emerge into the third dimension, we’re on to the next.

With the exception of Jyn and Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), most of the rest of the cast can be summed up in single sentences: blind force martial arts guy, big gun guy, smart ass robot guy, twitchy pilot guy, half-human cyborg guy with a limp… you get the idea. That’s not necessarily bad, but it does make it hard to connect to them in a meaningful way.

Being, at its core, a war movie, this one is darker than most and shows the disarray of a nascent rebellion trying to fight a unified and organized Empire. The fighting gets graphic. Cute little Ewoks trapping people with nets this is not. It’s tries and, I think, shows the sacrifice required for war. It’;s a movie more concerned with doing as opposed to sitting around and planning, and the effects that such doing has on the lives of the people executing the plan.

In the end, it’s a reminder of the consequences of war, or the sacrifices. Not everyone gets a hero’s parade.

An obvious must-see for Star Wars fans, I think any fan of space battles and science fiction action would leave the theater pleased. Being able to spot the tie ins and references to later movies will be a bonus though.

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