Synopsis – The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.
My Take – I know quite some people of this generation who don’t care or agree about the huge cultural & commercial significance of the Star Wars franchise on our society. In part I do blame the underwhelming response to the prequels, which in a way lost quite an audience of my generation (the 90s). Nevertheless, as a fan of the original trilogy, I was glad to see how the J.J.Abrams directed Force Awakens won over all the negativity by carving out its own space as well paying ode to the original trilogy by being a continuation to the story told in a galaxy far far away. It took almost 40 years to take the original diamond and take to what might be its most splendid shape. “The Empire Strikes Back” ruled as the best of the bunch for over 30 years, and last year hope was regained when we saw “Episode VIII”, only to realize at the end that it was really more of a set up, and one that mirrored the original. For a year, we have been hanging and hoping many of the new plot lines will live up to the very high expectations. This spin off is the first Star Wars film to be set outside the Episodic Sagas. With that, there was a lot of pressure on it to perform and launch this new series of Star Wars films. Being a direct prequel to “Episode IV”; this time the prequel bursts alive with the same force that made believers of all of us the first time. It has a lot to introduce, and it’s the sort of mythology that needs to be good enough to stand on its own. It has all the elements a fan could want in a Star Wars film, if you remember the opening scene in the 1977 classic Star Wars film where a scroll going across the screen tells us about some rebel fighters that stole the plans to the Death Star and gave them to Princess Leia. This film tells that story, in case you might be wondering, there is not a scroll going across the beginning of this film. This film has the responsibility of complementing its main story with strong bonds to the past and the future of the saga, integrating new characters in old situations and recreating classic settings with the most modern special effects, without losing the “spirit” which defines and identifies everything related to Star Wars. Is it possible to fulfill with so many requirements while bringing a satisfactory film on its own merit? With all the rumors flying about that Disney had interfered with the creative process on this one, just as when Alderaan blew up – I feared the worse. Fortunately my fears were unfounded as this film is as engrossing as it is seamless. Director Gareth Edwards and co-screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy have successfully taken a “historical” passage of the mythology, and brought it quite an energy and vigor, leaving behind the idealized “space opera” in order to face the physical and emotional challenges of a guerrilla conflict, in which the action might be less epic, but not less exciting because of that. The best thing about it is that it has been produced and designed to look just like the original 1977 film. The weapons, ships, costumes, and the villains are all back, like they never left us. However, technology has made it possible now, with the help of some brilliant editing, a killer soundtrack, and plenty of imagination to give us new perspectives, watching the rebels’ ships move and do all kinds of maneuvers that were impossible when Lucas first directed his film. Lucas’ original was greatly benefited from the superb editing job his wife did. This time it took three people to improve on that, and the results are splendid, as three or four story lines are shown to us seamlessly, keeping us on the edge of our seats.
Taking place right before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, the story follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who after the abduction of her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) and murder of her mother by Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) of the Galactic Empire is raised by opposition extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Years pass and her troubled upbringing finds her imprisoned in an Imperial labor camp, while her father Galen has grown to become a notorious science officer for the Empire. When Jyn is rescued by members of the Rebel Alliance, they inform her that Galen has been building the Death Star, a new weapon with unfathomable power, and that they need her help to locate and stop him before its completion. Partnering with a Rebel Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a reprogrammed enforcer droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), an Imperial defector Bodhi (Riz Ahmed), and a cadre of intrepid warriors, the blind Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), Jyn sets off on a perilous mission that will reshape the outcome of the ultimate battle against tyranny. The film introduces us to the chapter that allows to learn how the Death Star was designed and originated, who made it all possible, and who allowed the rebels to have access to the plans that will eventually lead them to succeed in their enterprise to stop the Empire, at least, temporarily. The biggest boon for this intermediary is the lack of baggage generated from focusing on characters and conduct swirling about in the thick of the Darth Vader storyline. Its use of a more self-contained plot is also commendable, as it allows for scenarios to play out independently from the worlds so familiar to the preexisting works. However, instead of embracing this to the point of an acceptable distancing, the film chooses to mix in myriad nods to “A New Hope,” which might please die-hard fans but will surely upset more casual filmgoers. Harmless references or homages would have been fine; the lengths the film goes to cross paths with some of the core personas is just desperate enough that it ruins the mood (and arguably the look) during key moments. Some audiences will be awe-inspired; others will be horror-struck at the needlessness of such endeavors, especially since the payoff isn’t worth the potential for failure. Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) is a director who understands all the combined elements that make a Star Wars Film great. First a good script with the right mix of drama, action, pathos and humor and above all a story that actually makes sense, secondly good well written, rounded, characters that are interesting, diverse and unique, third great visuals – there’s so many memorable shots in this film and so many of them are the shots you always wanted to see, fourth well directed action that looks and feels real, that is tense and that you can follow, fifth – tension, this film has it in spades, Sixth – nods and references to the original trilogy – they come in abundance, some are comedic, some pure nostalgia while others are entirely appropriate and work so well within the story. Seventh – real sets, please give me a London Underground station redressed over bland CGI sterile sets any day of the week. Here the technology enhances the story and the tension and at no time tries to substitute for either. Stepping back from the space battle, the third act has a terrific ground level fight. This was where the war tone was heavily present. This was a scene we see in a WWII war film but with a Star Wars skin. There’s no better way to describe it, and that is a good thing.
What really enhanced the war toned ground fight was how well it was edited between the action happening on the ground and the spectacle of a space battle happening above them. I have to mention Vader. While he isn’t in it all that much, when he is, his presence is felt. Without giving so much away, his final scene is perhaps one of my favorite scenes I have ever seen. The short scene alone rivals the Airport scene in Captain America: Civil War for me. It is so exciting that it has the capability to make any major Star Wars fans cry with happiness. How much you enjoy this film is, for the most part, going to depend how deep you invested you are into the world of Star Wars. Now to the negatives, the characters weren’t as interesting and whenever someone died I didn’t care for them. The ones I liked were Mads Mikkelsen and Donnie Yen. Mads Mikkelsen had an interesting conflict but he died very early in this film and Donnie Yen was more or less just entertaining to watch but i couldn’t really tell what his character was. Jyn Ersos character was boring. The dialog was sometimes very cheesy for example the reused lines like “I have a bad feeling about this”. The Darth Vader scene was cool but it didn’t fit at all. They just needed to show a Darth Vader scene so they just forced it in at the end. There were some random scenes in the film like the tentacle scene at the beginning which took me out of the film and didn’t serve a purpose at all. Although the narrative is solid and the story flow doesn’t feel ‘Forced’, it is uneven at places. Especially every time they threw a joke in what should have been a somber or a tensed sequence. There are too many times this happens that I never feel truly immersed in the world. The jokes, admittedly funny, were too frequent and peppered throughout the film that they diminish the weight of the situation and all the sacrifices that climax with the death of all the main characters. Despite that, the main casts composed of various solid actors bring credibility and energy to their roles: The always-outstanding Felicity Jones is a marvelous choice to head up the titular crew of misfits; her mixture of arrogance, heart and biting intelligence makes Jyn a compelling central character. The international cast surrounding Jones offers indelible support too, the standouts being Ben Mendelsohn as the growling Imperialist Director Krennic and the one-two punch of Wen Jiang and Donnie Yen as a pair of squabbling old-timers who can still kick arse. Diego Luna & Riz Ahmed are excellent, so are the always reliable Forest Whitaker & Mads Mikkelsen. A special mention also goes to Alan Tudyk‘s motion-captured droid K-2SO, whose insult slinging is perfectly timed to inject moments of levity in some of the otherwise darker scenes. From an action perspective there’s as much laser shooting, aerial dog fighting and planet destruction as you would expect — all executed with the requisite level of technical mastery — although the smaller hand-to-hand melees with martial arts legend Donnie Yen are special to watch. On the whole, ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ works well as a standalone, bold, familiar yet fresh entry into the ever growing Star Wars legacy. A must watch for Star Wars fans.
Directed – Gareth Edwards
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 134 minutes