Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"Rogue One" is a compelling and exhilarating Star Wars story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review
If and how much you love "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" depends heavily on what type of fan you are. If you have dabbled in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, if you have enjoyed the games or comics or cartoons, and have enjoyed the greater media outlet provided by "Star Wars," you may enjoy "Rogue One" a lot. If you understand the universe in which the Star Wars movies takes place is a vast array of worlds and people, and you know that there are countless stories that could be told, then you may also enjoy "Rogue One" quite a bit. If you only see "Star Wars" as a 6+ movie series and nothing else, you still may enjoy "Rogue One," though you'll be left to ponder what the point of making it in the first place was.

For me, this is something that needed to happen. We needed a slight depart from the Skywalker story-line. We needed to start seeing where the borders and boundaries of this storytelling franchise truly lies. Sure, "Rogue One" basically boils down to the untold mission of how Princess Leia ended up with the plans to destroy the Death Star. "Rogue One" essentially sets the stage for "A New Hope." If the "Star Wars" saga was a chapter book, "Rogue One" would be the epilogue for chapter four. Again, if this doesn't count for you, then you may not like this outting. "Rogue One" certainly doesn't feel like the other films in the franchise. There is no opening crawl, and the classic John Williams score is mostly replaced by bold music by Michael Giacchino. If you ask me, the John Williams music should stay with the saga films, and we should let  these anthology movies exist on their own. "Rogue One" will be the first of (at least) three anthology movies we will witness in between the new episodes of this saga. We know the next one in 2018 will be the origin of Han Solo. What will really be interesting is in the future, if we see Star Wars movies that don't lead into the other saga movies or are not origin stories for classic characters. Could Disney and Lucasfilm pull off a completely different direction entirely?

Telling from "Rogue One," I say yes. I say the possibilities are endless. If Disney can keep hiring wonderful directors like Gareth Evans and keep assembling these great, iconic casts like they did here, the sky is the limit on this series. 

"Rogue One" begins, as all of these Star Wars films begin, with a ship hovering over the stars. The ship lands on a distant planet on the farm of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a former Imperial scientist who has decided to leave the Empire due to their ugly stamp they are pushing on the galaxy. The Empire is displeased with this sentiment, and they send Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to retrieve Galen or else. His wife is killed and Galen is taken by the Empire. Only his daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) escapes, and spends most of life on the run, believing her father abandoned her, and also a prisoner of the Empire. One day, she is freed by the Rebellion, because they have a special mission for her. This is when the Rebellion first hears about the planet-destroying space station known as the Death Star and the rebels find evidence that Jyn's father may have had a hand in designing the Death Star, the rebels want Jyn to track down and find her father so that they may learn more about the Death Star and how to destroy it.

If "Rogue One" is about anything, its about redemption. Jyn needs to come to terms with what happened to her growing up. So many of the rebels believe that Jyn's father is a monster, and she needs to find some sort of closure, find out who he really was, for her sake and his. Jyn was raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a freedom fighter who is more of an extremist, even in the eyes of the rebellion. You may recognize the name if you watch any of the "Star Wars" cartoons and yes, its the same character from "The Clone Wars" cartoon. Saw made several mistakes when raising Jyn and important for him to come to terms with that. The Rebellion we see in this film is vastly different from any form of the Rebellion we see in previous movies and I am astounded Disney allowed for a movie like this to be made. This is a cold-blooded rebellion, unafraid to make the big choices to get people killed. The rebels, particularly Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), know that they did some unethical shit in order to keep the Rebellion alive, and they are not proud of it. But they believe that if they assist Jyn in her mission, then the dark aspects of this war won't be taken for granted, and they press on. Its a remarkable message.

In fact, this is the roughest and edgiest "Star Wars" film I can name. Just because Disney bought Lucasfilm, don't expect a typical Disney-style ending like what has been happening with the Marvel films lately. To say everybody leaves this movie with scars would be a severe understatement. I won't be getting into spoilers here, but this is the first Star Wars movie that really gets into the devastation of war, the cost of war, and what it truly means to be a war hero. This is a gritty movie at moments, a rough-around-the-edges movie at other moments. But it never stops being a "Star Wars" movie, it always stays within the spirit of what came before, while also being something new on its own.

To name my favorite character would be a high endurance test that I am simply not ready for. You may love Jyn Erso who is perfectly brought to life by Felicity Jones. This isn't some girl-power Social Justice Warrior inclusion here, she really drives and defines the movie for the audience and I can't see this movie playing out any other way. You may also like Cassian, who is brought to life astoundingly by Luna. Cassian really isn't some Han Solo analogue. Luna makes Cassian his own, and he does it well. Alan Tudyk appears as K-2SO, an Imperial droid that was reprogrammed to serve the Rebellion. These movies have done an impeccable job in making their droid characters count, and "Rogue One" doesn't disappoint. Get ready to fall in love with a brand-new droid, whose riveting final scene in the film is just breathtaking. Then there is Donnie Yen's Chirruit Imwe, a Force-sensitive blind man whose weapon-of-choice is some kind of futuristic staff. Although he does have this bow-blaster type weapon that is all sorts of crazy cool. His scene where he beats down a pack of storm troopers, single-handedly, with no blaster is so much fun. Donnie Yen is clearly having the time of his life playing the character and he will go down in history of "Star Wars" lore, as will his best friend Baze (Jiang Wen) whose shotgun-style blaster is pretty damn cool too! There is also Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an Imperial pilot who defected from the Empire. Riz Ahmed was a recent discovery on HBO's "The Night Of" and he proves here that he can do anything with his acting career moving forward.

There are also plenty of old characters who make appearances. The small yet substantial scenes with Darth Vader are pure "Star Wars" magic. Jimmy Smitts returns as Bail Organa for a couple scenes. Mon Mothra, C-3PO and R2D2 make appearances. The film doesn't really stop for these footnotes, the movie keeps steadily flowing and the story is really about these new characters. My main gripe revolves around the handling of CGI to depict classic Star Wars characters. See, Moff Tarkin shows up in the film, and at first I couldn't believe it. Because I know that Peter Cushing has been dead for over twenty years. Yet, his likeness is digitally attached to an actor in order for the character to appear here. While its fitting for Tarkin to show up here, isn't a little offensive to just include the likeness of a dead actor here? Did the studio get permission from Cushing's family in order to do this? It just seemed in bad taste to me. There is another example of this right before the credits, and could make your eyes roll a bit. But hey, the movie does what its supposed to do, so in a way, that scene is essential. But its hard to deny that you can definitely notice the CGI here with those two characters.

When you read the history of wars, whether its American history or World history, you always learn a great deal about the big guns. The big names each and every war has who take all the glory, who get the most footnotes and who you hear about the most. Our history books rarely delve into the thousands upon thousands of faceless soldiers who gave their lives for their homes, no matter where those homes are. This faceless horde is the backbone to every war and obviously no wars would be won without them. That is why "Rogue One" stands out as a movie. Its not about the big names that will be canonized in history, its about the other guys. Its a movie that puts war in the title "Star Wars" and I have a feeling that, the more I watch this, the more I am going to love it. I have heard so many people already declare that this is the best "Star Wars" since the original trilogy. I honestly don't know if I can agree with that after merely one sitting. The original trilogy has lived with me all my life, I just saw "Rogue One." The point is that it has potential to be on that level for me, it may take time to figure out. But the idea that "Rogue One" COULD be on the same level as the original trilogy should say something about its power. 

The Force is strong with this one, indeed.

FINAL GRADE: A

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