ROUSING…BUT NOT WITHOUT FLAWS
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Review by Ray Schillaci
The good news: for all of you who were disappointed in just about all the Star Wars movies after The Empire Strikes Back, director Gareth Edwards delivers the darker adult version of this particular universe we’ve hungered for. The bad news: non-memorable and under developed characters hamper the film, leaving a snarky droid, K-2SO, to steal the movie. The battles are brilliant, and probably the best of all the Star Wars movies, and that is probably going to be the defending point of dedicated fans, that this is a war/heist movie and not about characters. That is sad considering that the characters are as important as a well told story to bring the whole experience to life.
Director Edwards showed little in the way of character development with his last monster foray, Godzilla. But in his defense, the big fire-breathing guy and destruction were the stars, and he showed much promise with his first film Monsters. Yet, with four writers and the groundwork laid out by George Lucas, Rogue One cannot muster anyone we really care about except for Alan Tudyk’s (I, Robot, Frozen, and Serenity) wonderfully droll droid. So much meticulous care has gone into the eye-opening battles and some beautifully captured scenes, I hoped that just a little more effort was written into Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, and Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor along with others we end up yearning to know more about.
Anyone that knows anything about the Star Wars universe will be well aware that the picture is a prequel to Episode IV: A New Hope. It is also it’s own movie, unlike last year’s The Force Awakens, which many complained to be a souped up rehash or reboot. Although there is familiarity, we have to applaud Edwards for making his movie his own, from eliminating the famous crawl in the beginning to Michael Giacchino’s dynamic score that merely hints at a tribute to the infamous John Williams. And, nearly two thirds of the film is very dark in tone and look. This film is also far more violent than any of the previous films.
For some of us, that’s a plus. Watching the devastating results of war that effects not only Jyn, but so many others adds a great deal of hard hitting drama. Death is an inescapable staple in this gritty universe.
Edwards and company start us off on a small planet where Jyn’s parents, Galen and Lyra, have made themselves recluse farmers to avoid The Empire and its plans for domination. Of course, it’s not long before they are found, and Galen is taken away to help finish the “planet killer”, The Death Star. Jyn is just a child when all this takes place, and she runs away as instructed and hides out until a famed rebel, Saw Gerrera finds her. Forest Whitaker as Saw is just one of the many fine actors in a thankless role that offers little screen time.
From there we fast forward to the spunky Felicity Jones as Jyn, imprisoned as a rebel, and jettison about with three quick back stories: Cassian Andor, an intelligence officer working for the rebels who may or may not be a scoundrel at heart, in the middle of a mission involving the rumor of a planet killer. Bodhi Rook, a pilot for the Rebel Alliance whose motives are questionable as well, who has been sent out on a mission supposedly by Jyn’s father, Galen, to locate Saw, who wandered from the Rebel Alliance and has taken off on his own against The Empire. Sounds like a lot to take in? It was for this critic, but others apparently just went with it.
Eventually all these stories intertwine (quite quickly), and while trotting through the rough edges of the galaxy, Jyn and company find other companions with two of the most promising personalties that we wish had more screen time, Donnie Yen as the blind, Chirrut îmwe and Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus. Both these actors are so damn interesting along with the little quirks given them that it’s frustrating that they are not given more to flesh out their characters. But kudos have to be given to the both of them for their commanding presence on screen.
As fights break out and battle lines are drawn, plans to steal the planet killer’s schematics are set into place with Jyn leading her ragtag group of men and our now new favorite droid, K-2SO. Let’s not mistake the introduction of this new droid as another replaceable cute toy like R2D2 or BB-8. K-2SO likes to relay insurmountable odds with a dry sense of humor. He is a tall, dark metallic being that lumbers about with little grace. Just the opposite of the gliding other droids display or the distinctive walk of C-3PO.
What takes place further is an amalgam of Mission: Impossible, the Battle of Normandy, and countless other war movies with death-defying aerials, except with spaceships and an array of sci-fi weaponry. The battles are more exciting than anything we have seen previously in these movies and there’s a sense of nostalgia at the site of the Imperial Walkers, Star Destroyers or any number of space vehicles that we’ve grown familiar with. The staging of all these battles is like a great adrenaline rush from your favorite video game. And, with that said, that may be the downfall.
As the lights came back on in the theater, I along with my group could not help but feel only partially satisfied. The first two thirds of this film is so dour and dark, and then the last third is brilliantly conceived. Unfortunately, all the fireworks overshadow the people we are suppose to care about. The effects are great, but they also get in the way at times.
Rendering the great Peter Cushing as General Tarkin is just damn creepy. It is not life-like, merely a bizarre trick that takes us out of the movie-going experience. It rings false, like the feelings we’re suppose to have for any of the characters or the Rebel Alliance. Rogue One is successfully big on spectacle, but slight on character development which makes the trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 far more appealing.
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Release Date: December 16, 2016
Run Time: 134 Minutes
Distributor: Lucasfilm/Walt Disney Pictures