Saturday, January 14, 2017

New Release! Star Wars: Rogue One (2016) [Spoiler-Free!]

Director: Gareth Edwards

Spoiler-Free Review! Have no fear!!

Though it's not without its flaws, I found Rogue One to be excellent in many ways. Enough ways, in fact, to count it among the best two or three Star Wars movies in the entire series.

In an interesting move, the powers that be decided to greenlight this story which, until this point, has been a micro-font footnote in the greater Star Wars narrative. In the original 1977 film Star Wars: A New Hope, we learn that the plans for the Death Star's fatal weakness were obtained "at great cost." Rogue One tells the story of that cost, and it does a rather fine job of it.

The tale focuses on Jyn Erso, a young fighter who is highly capable but seems to be without clear purpose. Jyn's father is the chief engineer in charge of constructing the Death Star, something which makes her very valuable to the rebel movement that is desperately struggling against the Empire. Jyn gets caught up in the rebellion, as they make a desperate attempt to discover Jyn's connection to everything before the Death Star becomes fully operational and can lay waste to entire planets as it continues its march of domination across the galaxy.

The movie is strong enough that I can comfortably place it among the two or three best movies in the entire Star Wars series. In keeping with J.J. Abrams approach with last year's The Force Awakens, director Gareth Edwards made sure to stick with the classic aesthetic of the original trilogy, with a some deft updates thanks to modern CGI technology. Also present is the fun sense of swashbuckling adventure, with plenty of narrow escapes, tense standoffs, and various forms of combat. This is actually an area where Rogue One stands out from other movies in the series, in that many of the action scenes are bit more creative for a Star Wars movie.

Probably the movie's greatest strength is the overall tone and resolution. Anyone who knows the Star Wars story knows how this tale is going to end, basically. It adds a certain weight to the proceedings which is usually not present in the other movies. Even The Empire Strikes Back or Revenge of the Sith, which famously end on down notes, don't reach the level of loss that we get in Rogue One, and the movie is better for it.

Two mild weaknesses and one massive strength: Diego Luna
as Cassian, Felicity Jones as Jyn, and the droid K-2SO,
voiced by the underrated Alan Tudyk.
The movie is not without some flaws, to be sure, but none of them is crippling. One or two characters don't seem completely hashed out or explored. More than this, though, is that I found a few key performances a bit lacking. The always wildcard Forest Whitaker turns in a strange take on his character Saw Gerrera, and chief supporting actor Diego Luna is not always easy to buy as a hard-as-nails renegade Cassian. The most obvious, though, is lead actress Felicity Jones. She's not terrible by any means, but I never bought her as the supposedly uber-tough loner/survivor that she is supposed to be. It's most obvious when she tries to give a rousing speech to other rebels - a speech which I had a hard time buying when looking into her soft, pleading eyes. Daisy Ridley's gritty performance as Rey in The Force Awakens was far more convincing.

Despite these quibbles, there's more than enough to overcome them. Not the least of which is the introduction of K-2SO, the best droid character in the entire Star Wars movie franchise, by a long shot. He (It?) is one of several secondary characters who spice up the movie immensely. When you add a flat-out awesome sequence with Darth Vader at the very end of the film, you get plenty of blockbuster fun.

If this is an indication of what Disney is going to be doing with these one-off Star Wars movies (the Han Solo standalone film comes out in 2018), then we Star Wars fans are in for a treat in the coming years.