Movie Review: Rogue One - A Star Wars Story

A new spin-off entry in the Star Wars universe is one of the best of the series

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Directed by Gareth Edwards
With Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker

A lot of action is packed into Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the latest entry in the space opera series. The film lacks an episode number, and it is the first of a new type of film in what is being called the Star Wars Anthology. The story takes place just before to the events of the original 1977 film now called Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope but after the 2005 film Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.

Dramatically, Rogue One is probably the best in the series after 1980's Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. The series is at is best when the plot takes a dark turn, and Rogue One finds the rebels at a particular low point. The Empire has cracked down on Rebel bases everywhere and the Death Star is ready to go into action. Darth Vader is back in fine form. The Rebels realize they have all but lost the battle. Vader and the Death Star can be seen in the films advertisements. Other plot developments and appearances are best left as a surprise.

The production crew did a masterful job re-creating the Imperial battle cruisers and the Rebel Alliance space craft, as well as the costumes. Familiar musical themes by John Williams also appear in the film, although the score itself is by Michael Giacchino. The film has a pleasant retro feel, right down to the simplistic computer screens, glitchy holograms and giant lit-up buttons on spaceship control panels.

The Walt Disney Company acquired Lucasfilm in 2012, and this is the second Star Wars film since then. George Lucas' sole credit is for creating the characters. As with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the first film under the Disney banner, Rogue One has a strong female lead. This time Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, who is initially a bit reluctant to get caught up in Rebel business. Jones was recently in the so-so adaptation of the Dan Brown novel Inferno. She has a more substantial role here, and does more than just tag along.

At her side for much of the film is Diego Luna as Cassian Andor. He creates a war-weary character, someone who has seen far too much but cannot back out before the job is finished. The revolution has become his whole life. Luna has played a number of tough screen characters, most recently a gang member in the revenge film Blood Father. He takes a dark tone to a character that might not be fully trustworthy. He is sort of a scruffy Han Solo, but without the charm and sarcasm.

The original Star War films were in part inspired by Japanese samurai films, with R2D2 and C-3PO modeled on characters from a film called Hidden Fortress. Rogue One takes some inspiration from the Zatoichi series, which has a blind samurai. A blind character in Rogue One relies on the Force to guide him as he fights with a stick. The main influence, though, is World War II films, as there is a good deal of dog fights in the air, and hand-to-hand fighting on beaches and in cities, with the Rebels clearly standing in for the Allies and the Imperial forces in their classy uniforms looking a bit like the Axis.

Director Gareth Edwards is best known for the 2014 reboot of Godzilla, and shows again that he can bring new life to pre-existing material. Rogue One fits right into the original series of Star Wars films, now known as episodes four to six, perhaps even better than the three prequels that Lucas made. Edwards and screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy bring in elements such as new robots, new aliens and new planets without seeming like they are simply copying and pasting random elements from other episodes.

There was some fear when Disney took over ownership of Lucasfilm that the Star Wars films would become an endless series of promotions for new toys. If anything, Rogue One is aimed at a more mature audience than the second group of films made by George Lucas. There were no cute characters thrown into Rogue One simply because they would make marketable action figures. 


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story www.starwars.com

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