Director: Gareth Edwards
Notable Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Jimmy Smits, James Earle Jones
Even before The Force Awakens was released, I was already feeling more hyped for Rogue One. The talent on and off screen for the film partnered with the concept of having a team of renegades steal the plans for the Death Star to kick off the events of A New Hope just appealed to me in so many more ways. Now that the first Star Wars Story is out to reign destruction on the box office worldwide, the question has to be asked…does it fulfill on those promises? Quite frankly, it does. After a slew of worrisome turns concerning massive reshoots, changed tones, and new talent being brought in to make it more Star Wars-y, Rogue One would seemingly pull off exactly what it intended to do: expand the universe without stepping too far out of bounds to alienate the fans. In fact, it rides the line so well that it may end up being one of the best Star Wars films to date falling shy of The Empire Strikes Back, but rising above the others by limiting the fantasy elements and adding in enough grit and darkness to make it feel like its own film. It’s still definitely an entry into this iconic franchise with some of its fan pandering and it could have gone darker for my tastes, but still the film massively entertains and retains that kind of emotional punch needed for this story to add to the layering of the original trilogy.
Jyn (Jones) has just been freed from a prison transport by the Rebellion. The cost of her freedom is information and to be the face to get more of it. As it turns out, her father (Mikkelsen) is the mastermind behind the Empire’s latest super weapon, the Death Star. The Rebellion needs to find out what it is and how to destroy it, but to do that they may have to put their faith into a group of rag tag warriors who are brought together by fate to change the course of the entire Rebellion.
|Love this shot. Too bad it wasn't in the movie. #Reshoots|
Whatever you may think about this franchise, if there is one thing it does well is that it does entertain. Even with its grittier approach and darker tones that provide the undercurrent for its war film approach to the story, Rogue One does not forget to entertain in that blockbuster Star Wars manner. The film moves at a breakneck pacing, introducing us to our lead heroine Jyn as a child where the Empire steals everything from her and she is left to be raised by a quirky resistance fighter played by quirky off-his-rocker Forest Whitaker. However, this part of the film is more or less to set up the plot and tone for the rest of the film instead of necessarily setting up the characters. The rest of the film throws the audience straight into the heart of the storm via the Rebellion and their scattered ways of attempting to fight against the Empire. From there, it moves at a rapid pace, picking up the rag tag team of fighters that will become Rogue One in the final act and leaping from planet to planet as they piece together the puzzle of the Death Star and what to do about it. This gives the film that frantic war film tone, for sure, as the audience is dragged around the entire galaxy with a group of fighters who look upon planet after planet that has been horrifically affected by this war, but it also remains fun as it goes about this with its chemistry. Sure, there is a lot of death and destruction to be found in this one and the manner that it plays with its characters indicates a lot of loss and suffering, but their chemistry works and they all play off one another well. Occasionally Rogue One feels like there was more cut out of it from the character growth perspective, some of the secondary characters that come along later like Donnie Yen’s Chirrut and Jiang Wen’s Baze are underdeveloped and that is due to the frantic pacing of its plot, but when they are on screen they are eating it up and firing off of one another in a lot of very entertaining ways. This saves the film from plenty of stumbling moments where its feet would have gotten ahead of the rest of the film. Rogue One works best when the audience is running with the film and not trying to force it to slow down for own tastes.
This frantic pace, of course, is benefited by director Gareth Edwards’ ability to finesse scope into the film. He has always had this knack, starting with Monsters and evolving with Godzilla, but here he really gets to strut his stuff as a director, visually punctuating the film with a variety of styles, colors, and timing focuses. Whether it’s the massive space battle that happens in the final act, which features one of the coolest space ship collisions ever put to film, or the more personal pieces of trench like warfare with the rebellion against waves of Storm Troopers, Rogue One nails it. Again, there is a fun element added to proceedings, thanks to some wonderful comedic moments from the required droid K2-SO or the unfiltered use of Donnie Yen’s physical presence as a blind martial artist and Force devotee, that add a lot of diversity to the action on hand. It’s entertaining first and foremost, adding in that layering of grit underneath it for the sake of making it slightly unique against the fantasy driven main episodes. The final act is just a perfectly executed blend of story that features enough of the iconic Star Wars pieces, but pulls away just enough to set it aside as its own story.
|How could I resist adding a picture of Donnie Yen into this review?|
In the end, the film might suffer a bit from its frantic pace, undercooked characters, and occasionally watered down sequences to not make the film too dark (am I the only one that wanted Jyn to be even more of an anti-hero?), but Rogue One adds in just enough new material to stake ground as its own film without alienating its fan base and coming too far off of the tracks of being a Star Wars film. It rides that line effectively. Hell, by the time the credits rolled I was disappointed it was over as I was having enough fun in that universe that I wanted to see more. That’s a successful popcorn blockbuster feeling, right there. It might agitate fans with its inability to fall one way or the other on that line, but for what it wanted to accomplish, Rogue One most certainly does that…and ends up being one of the best Star Wars films to date in doing so.
DARTH VADER’S BADASS MOMENT OF THE FILM: I haven’t had the pleasure of writing one of these in a long time and this one maybe my last one, but it’s a good one. In the final act, as Vader arrives finally to try and stop the Death Star plans from leaving the area, he gets one of the best and most brutal action sequences of the film. For a while, I thought perhaps we were not going to get some light saber action, but fear not – it arrives in one of the most vicious instances of Vader ferocity from the series. A massive and very pleasant surprise. Worthy of the glorified cameo.
Written By Matt Reifschneider