Thursday, December 15, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The first of the standalone Star Wars movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set just prior to the events of the original Star Wars as a struggling Rebellion learns about the newest Imperial weapon capable of destroying an entire planet. Just as memorable for what it keeps from the Star Wars template as what it chooses to change about the formula, Rogue One offers no opening crawl, no screen wipes, and the unnecessary need to name every planet shown on screen in subtitles (something George Lucas' original films allowed the dialogue itself to deal with).

For as much as it leaves behind, however, Rogue One recycles plenty of Star Wars ideas including an orphaned hero (Felicity Jones) reluctantly called into the service of the Rebellion, a soldier of questionable character (Diego Luna) and his lumbering sidekick, a funny robot (Alan Tudyk), an impossible mission, strange aliens, and a Rebellion (albeit a less united one than fans will remember from the previous films) focused on taking down the Galactic Empire. Along with new planets such as Jedha, Wobani, and Scarif, there's plenty of familiar sights including Yavin 4 and, of course, the Death Star.

Beginning on the planet of Lah'mu, we are introduced to former Imperial scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), his wife Lyra (Valene Kane), and daughter Jyn (Beau Gadsdon). When Galen is found by Imperial agents and forced to continue his work on the super weapon, Jyn will forge her own path which years later will bring the young woman (now played by Felicity Jones) into contact with the Rebellion who has heard rumors about the terrible new weapon and enlists Jyn's help to find her father.

The biggest change between Rogue One and Star Wars (especially given their close chronology) is that director Gareth Edwards and screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy offer a more complex view of the Rebellion, it's various elements and splinter groups, their guerrilla warfare on the Empire, and a leadership which is less cohesive than the group galvanized by the destruction of Alderaan in Star Wars. Among this group comes the film's most problematic character in Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) who might be more at home in a Mad Max film than this one.

Although none of the new planets nor spaceships are huge standouts, the movie does recycle plenty of the franchise's best including X-Wings, Star Destroyers, and the lumbering AT-ATs. The addition of familiar faces such as a pretty convincing CGI Peter Cushing and a certain Dark Lord of the Sith will be sure to please Star Wars fans. As for the new characters, Jyn is the obvious stand-out. Jones manages the character's mixed emotions towards both the Empire and the Rebellion, while providing a strong (if wounded) leading character to shoulder the bulk of the story. Jyn may not be Rey, but she's exactly the character needed to make this film work.

Rogue One does suffer from one of the same flaws of Revenge of the Sith. Unwilling to let the story stand on its own, and conclude naturally, the story is unnecessarily (and awkwardly) extended to lead into Star Wars. As with the planet names plastered across the screen as I mentioned earlier, this is a troubling trend for the franchise to over-explain things when basic storytelling would have served much better.

As with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story relies quite heavily on our nostalgia for the original Star Wars trilogy. The first Star Wars film to not feature a Jedi, Rogue One does succeed in showing you can make an entertaining Star Wars movie without a member of the Jedi Order. (Of course having Darth Vader doesn't hurt.) It may not measure up to the original films, nor have other stand-out characters other than its leading lady, but Rogue One proves to be a valued addition to the franchise.

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