April 5, 2017


Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker. Directed by Gareth Edwards. (2016, 133 min).

I've been a big Star Wars fan ever since the original was released 40 years ago. It's a saga I didn't want to end, although George Lucas' maligned (and largely unnecessary) prequel trilogy dampened some of my enthusiasm. Like a lot of people, I was cautiously optimistic when Disney announced acquisition of Lucasfilm and immediately announced continuing the franchise.

I say cautiously because, even though I was excited the saga would be getting another trilogy (beginning in 2015 with The Force Awakens), Disney also announced numerous Star Wars Anthology films (side stories, prequels, character origins, etc.) to be released in interim years between the regular episodes. The prospect of milking the property for all it's worth by running it in into the ground loomed large.

While most of us breathed a collective sigh of relief when Episode VII, The Force Awakens, was a triumphant return to everything that made the original trilogy great, the first announced spin-off, Rogue One, initially seemed to confirm my worst fears. Making an entire film based on a few lines of dialogue from the original Star Wars reeked of cashing in on a brand name. Since that dialogue also summarizes the outcome, what other possible purpose could a film like that serve?

"Dammit, didn't I tell you to 'go' before we left?"
Plenty, as it turns out. Surprisingly, not only is Rogue One better than the entire prequel trilogy, I'll go out on a limb and say it's also better than Return of the Jedi and just as good as The Force Awakens. While obviously still part of the Star Wars universe, Rogue One establishes a unique look and tone all its own. It's a down-to-Earth, gritty, in-your-face film that owes as much to classics like The Dirty Dozen and Where Eagles Dare as it does the saga which inspired it. Out of the entire franchise, this is the first one that truly feels like a war film. Because the basic premise - theft of the original Death Star plans by the rebellion against the Empire - is essentially a suicide mission, Rogue One is also the darkest and most violent. No love story, no quasi-mystic philosophizing, no fuzzy critters to market as plushies at the Disney store, no cute androids (though there is one that's funny as hell).

The film takes a fair amount of time establishing the plot and characters, but by the second hour, which focuses almost exclusively on the actual mission, Rogue One is a rapid-fire thrill ride. Featuring some of the best-executed battle scenes in the entire franchise, the final act is intense, vivid and extraordinarily suspenseful. Considering the outcome is already a forgone conclusion, that's quite a feat.

Donnie Yen loves the smell of napalm in the morning.
A major reason why we're so invested in this familiar story is the characters, an eclectic and inclusive band of rag-tag rebels led by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), one of the more dynamic female characters in the Star Wars universe. She's aided by rebel captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), brutally-honest android K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and Clone Wars veteran Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), who saved Jyn as a child when her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), was taken by the Empire and forced to weaponize the Death Star. But my favorite character is blind warrior Chirrut Imwe, because there should be a place in every action movie for the legendary Donnie Yen.

While definitely part of the Star Wars universe, Rogue One works just as well as a stand-alone film. If you're one of the six people left on Earth who've never seen a single episode in the entire saga, you could walk away feeling like you've seen a complete, enthralling story. As for the rest of us, it fits neatly within the saga and holds up just as well over repeated viewings. If Rogue One is representative of what Disney has in-mind for the Star Wars Anthology films, the franchise just might remain fresh and exciting enough outlive us all.

"A Rogue Idea" - The early stages of production and planning;
"Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One" - Featurette of the set design and construction;
"The Princess & the Governor" - How Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin were digitally recreated;
"Rogue Connections" - A brief segment on the various connections to the ongoing Star Wars saga;
"Epilogue: The Story Continues" - Footage from the premiere, along with fan reactions and scenes from the film.
"Jyn: The Rebel"; "Cassian: The Spy"; "K-2SO: The Droid"; Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills"; "Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary"; "The Empire"

No comments: