Sunday, December 18, 2016

Rogue One - Finally a Star Wars Prequel Deserving of the Name

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen and Forest Whitaker, Directed by Gareth Edwards. Screenplay by Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, Based on characters developed by George Lucas. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur and Simon Emanuel. Runtime: 133 minutes. US. Color, Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Prior to the release of The Force Awakens (2015), it had been 10 years since the release of Revenge of the Sith (2005), the final film in the second set of Star Wars trilogies. With the Star Wars franchise now in Disney's firm control, we can expect a much sped up release schedule. Not only will there be a sequel released every other year, but there will also be another Star Wars related film released in between. A lot of people were a little uneasy with this, feeling that Star Wars, with its slow release schedule, had been made more special by its scarcity. Now, with one planned every year, Star Wars will end up like Pixar and Marvel, other Disney-owned studios which crank out one or two or three a year. After a while, they stop being special. This year's story, Rogue One, the prequel to Star Wars that I through III were supposed to be, may put a lot of those fears to rest.

While box-office is no indication of how good a film really is, in this case, the numbers seemed well-deserved. Not a perfect film, Rogue One is good enough not only to garner big openings but also to have staying power well into the new year.

A story about sacrifice for a greater good, like The Force Awakens, Rogue One has a strong female, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), leading a very diverse band of rebels out to overthrow the evil Empire. Harking back to the original Star Wars, this film also serves as a prequel to that story, leading the viewer right up to just before that film starts.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) leads a diverse band of rebels in Rogue One.

Mads Mikkelsen, most recently appearing in Doctor Strange, another Disney tentpole, plays Jyn's father, Galen, who has tried to put distance between himself and the work he'd done for that evil Empire. But as in many films, you can run, but you can't hide, as sooner or later the bad guys always find the good one. In this case, Orson Krennic, the Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military, finds him and forcibly brings him back into the fold.

Mads Mikkelson plays Jyn's father, Galen, one of the unsung heroes in Star Wars lore.

Meanwhile, Jyn is raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker), a former soldier in the Clone Wars, an oft-told story in the Star Wars lore. More radical than other rebels, Jyn is initially used by the Rebellion to draw Saw out as they hope to use him as a way of finding and killing Galen. But things don't go as planned and Jyn stops being a pawn and becomes a leader of men and robots. In the case of the latter, K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk of Firefly and Con Man fame, supplies some much needed comedic relief.

K-2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk

The men in Jyn's charge include Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Rebel Alliance Intelligence officer; Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior who believes in the Force; Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a former Imperial pilot who defects to the Rebels; and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a Rebel warrior and mercenary. Seeing how this is a Star Wars story, not only are some of these characters worthy of their own Wikipedia entry, but may eventually get a more thorough story either on film or in print. Star Wars is nothing if not a cultural juggernaut with spin-off games, TV shows, and books.

All of the actors do a good job with making the roles into distinct characters which audiences can like. This helps to give the movie an emotional punch the other films in the series sometimes seem to lack.

There are several returning actors from previous films. Jimmy Smits reprises his role as Bail Organa from Revenge of the Sith, which is a prequel of sorts to this film. James Earl Jones is also back as the voice of Darth Vader, who makes an appearance, but is still a relatively minor character in this film. Anthony Daniels reprises his role as C-3PO, the only actor to have appeared in all the films. But the most interesting reprise is Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, a major feat considering Cushing died in 1994. With the blessing of his estate, he reappears thanks to the acting of Guy Henry and the voice of Stephen Stanton, who had voiced the part in the animated series: Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels. Over Henry, Peter Cushing's features are digitized. Princess Leia also makes a cameo at the end, again thanks to CGI and the acting of Ingvild Deila.

Darth Vader makes a menacing appearance in Rogue One.

I won't give away any more of the plot, but if you've seen the original Star Wars (1977), you should have a general idea of what the rebels are looking for so desperately and why. If you haven't then maybe you should, especially after seeing this film. Like the Marvel films before it, this prequel snaps into place with the mythology, filling a gap no one except some development guys at Disney realized existed. Rogue One and Star Wars would make for a very interesting double feature; no doubt coming to a screen near you, large or small.

The special effects are state of the art, but one would expect no less from the franchise that set the standards and from the company, ILM, that drove their development. But as with any good movie, they don't dominate, but rather support the story.

There are some unbelievable elements, as there are with James Bond films. You get the impression that some choices were made in production design not because they made sense, but because they would make for an exciting action sequence. Its a good thing that there is not too much of that, but the badly designed weapons for the earlier trilogies, the Walkers, are still there. And those storm trooper outfits don't seem to provide much in the way of protection, but that, too, is part of the Star Wars mythology and no film in the series is going to change that anytime soon.

While I am not a Star Wars fanatic, I do enjoy a good film and Rogue One does provide a lot of entertainment. It seems to know its purpose which is to be an interquel (a new word for me) between Revenge of the Sith and the original Star Wars, movies that were separated by 28 years. Quite a feat, even more so when you consider that it doesn't tread on the latter's mythical status, but, if anything, enhances it.

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