Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

It’s been a year and true to Disney’s word, we’d gotten our first taste of a movie-a-year after The Force Awakens.  Their claim to release a Star Wars movie each and every year into the foreseeable future has really started this year with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and I really can’t wait to get into what I had witnessed this past weekend. 

Now, I had been excited before and while watching The Force Awakens last year, wanting so badly to see what has transpired in the time since we’d seen our favorite characters in the original Star Wars trilogy.  Although there were many characters introduced into this continuing cinematic universe, we were still able to catch up with our favorites interspersed throughout that story and that’s what made that movie special.  Also, the special effects were so much better and not overbearing as how they had been in the prequels of Episodes I, II, and III.  I really hadn’t thought that any of these one-offs I’d heard about would do any better or would interest me, but I knew I’d see them nevertheless.

When word had gotten around about the story of how the group of Rebels was able to steal the Death Star plans and deliver them to Princess Leia, basically the one or two sentences from the opening crawl of Star Wars: A New Hope, I thought it was genius!  Yes!  That’s what they should do!  Tell the stories of what is mentioned in these opening crawls!  Right away, I knew they had a hit on their hands.  If done right, and without George Lucas’s need to overbear the audience’s senses with hordes and hordes of special effects, this film could be a great intro to the original 1977 film!

Were they able to accomplish that?  Well…let’s get into it with a plot breakdown…

A defected Imperial scientist, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), is brought back to The Empire after being in hiding to help engineer a weaponized space station called the Death Star—an intergalactic armament powerful enough to destroy a planet.  Imperial death troopers led by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), force Galen to come back after his wife, Lyra (Valene Kane) is killed by them.  With Galen’s daughter, Jyn (Beau Gadsdon), hiding, then left to be raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), he ends up with The Empire and is forced to work on their dreaded weapon.  Years later, with the help of an adult Jyn (Felicity Jones), a rogue team from the Rebel Alliance—Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) with his reprogrammed Imperial droid, K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), the blind combatant Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and his comrade Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), along with others—fight to find and steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.

Right from the start, I’ve heard and read mixed reviews about this story, although most of them have been positive, and I’ll say that this review will be on the upper end of the positive spectrum.  What director Gareth Edwards did here was brilliant and meticulously done, giving us something on the level of the original trilogy.  Yet, Rogue One was not designed to gel seamlessly with the other movies much like The Force Awakens had done, but something Edwards can boast as creating something very standalone-ish. 

What was different than your typical Star Wars movie?  Well, just like The Force Awakens you’ll notice that there is no 20th Century Fox fanfare that plays and shows before we see the text, “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” but that’s just because of the ownership switching from that studio to Disney Studios.  Actually, that wasn’t very noticeable.  What was very obvious here was that after that text shows up, we don’t hear the John Williams score we’re so used to hearing in the beginning of every episodic film we’ve seen so far.  No, in Rogue One, we go from that simple blue text into the movie—no trumpet-blasting heroic music, not even an opening crawl to explain what has happened since Episode III.  Since John Williams was not involved with this film, it’s understandable and I can commend Edwards and the actual composer of this film, Michael Giacchino, for going against the predictable way of just reusing the themes from Williams (although there are a few cues here and there) and composing his own motifs throughout.  The music is very fitting and exciting at times; I can almost say that I’m glad they decided to go with a different composer on this film.

With The Force Awakens, the one complaint I’d heard many people make was that the story was just a retread of A New Hope and I can see the points that some people had made.  I can also side with J.J. Abrams on how they’d played it safe to get the franchise back on track, having faith that they’ll give us something great when they continue the saga with Episode VIII.  Here, however, the story is very original (although already given to us in a few lines of text in A New Hope’s opening crawl) and energetic, giving us a story we can follow along and see where it’s going.  If you’re a big Star Wars fan, you may be able to guess how it’ll all end, but it’s epically told and brings you to the edge of your seat, wondering how it’ll all come together.

As you may have heard, you’re going to see a lot of very familiar faces—some blended into the story perfectly, one or two forced in just for the nostalgia—and that’s what makes this a Star Wars movie and one that sets a feeling of familiarity once it starts.  Although the Episode I through III trilogy had familiar characters that were known in the Star Wars canon, it was set a bit too far back in time, leaving you guessing if the characters you were seeing were actually the ones you were familiar with.  In Rogue One, you know who you were seeing, whether you knew the names or not, because this story literally takes place right before A New Hope and characters you see here will be the exact same ones you’ll see in the 1977 film.  Some of them—or one in particular—was brought in painstakingly and it works so well (not going to spoil it).

Let’s be honest, the acting in this film will not gain any attention from the Academy, but it’s all believable enough that you’ll really feel like you’re going through the turmoil they’re all facing.  You’ll feel their adventure as they travel throughout these different worlds and be pleased or saddened by what ensues in their journey.  Identifying with their characters felt straightforward because each one has their own persona and identities, both in their ways and their looks.  The main group of our heroes is very diverse and it helps us recognize them when they’re on screen.

Here, in this film and out of all the Star Wars films, you’ll see the most realistic action out of all the films in the cinematic franchise.  Unlike the other films, where there are some storm troopers that get shot up quickly and the heroes move on, the battles here take time but are action-filled.  You really get a sense that the heroes are having a hard time with their quest and you may even feel some doubt that they’re going to succeed.  For the first time, you really get a true sense of the Death Star’s power, up close and personal, seeing it from the victims’ perspective.  Instead of seeing the space station sending a large laser blast to blow up a planet, you actually see what everyone on the planet is seeing or even an overhead close-up of the destruction.  All in all, this film may be a little more violent with a lot of lives lost and devastation seen all around.

I can’t help but go over this as a big Star Wars fan, but I can see how this would play out to the casual viewer if they watch Rogue One as a standalone movie.  It definitely can work that way as well as a way to introduce anyone who hasn’t seen the original trilogy (though, I can’t believe no one has ever seen them). 

Now, I’d mentioned a bit about what we see with the Death Star’s capability for destruction, but that’s not where the awesome visuals stop.  All throughout this film, you’re going to see giant spectacles, great use of motion capture technology (Tudyk’s K-2SO was magnificent) , X-wing and tie-fighter battles like never before…there is so much digital eye candy in this film, you’ll have to see it a second time just to take it all in.  We’re also introduced to a few new worlds, as well as some familiar ones, and it’s just a great sight to see.  Where George Lucas failed—forcing in the obvious CGI-laden worlds that ended up looking so distracting—Disney, with the help of Gareth Edwards, prevailed. 

One semi-spoiler—but if you’ve seen the trailers, you’re aware of this already—is that the inclusion of Darth Vader was amazing and really made up for his weak appearance in Revenge of the Sith.  Oh, he’s evil here…bad ass and scary, making you fear for the fate of anyone who goes up against him. 

I can go on and on about this film, but let me just give you my final “bit” on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

As a preface to my whole opinion—it is a must for you to watch this film before viewing A New Hope.  After watching this film, I believe the episodes should be renumbered—this movie being Episode IV, A New Hope as V, Empire Strikes Back as VI, Return of the Jedi as VII and The Force Awakens as Episode VIII…that’s how well Rogue One fits into the whole series.  All the characters are likable and create such great chemistry together; it’s hard to believe, especially seeing as how they don’t have much time in the story to connect.  Overall, I was amazed and enthralled, and I can’t wait to see this again.  I highly recommend that you all see this, Star Wars fan or not.

Thanks for reading!

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