Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker, Genevieve O’Reilly, Jimmy Smits, James Earl Jones.
Director: Gareth Edwards
Rating: PG-13 (for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.)
Running Time: 133 Minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2016
Lucasfilm, Allison Shearmur Productions, and Walt Disney Studios.
Written by: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy (screenplay); John Knoll and Gary Whitta (story); based on characters created by George Lucas.
It’s 2015. I’m in a theater with a handful of critics eagerly anticipating the start of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m like a child. Giddy with excitement. Friends and peers are talking over one another, shotgunning popcorn like they cannot get enough, wondering if this character or that character would appear. Questioning just how elements of Return of the Jedi or moments from Empire Strikes Back be brought into play. Could J.J. Abrams recreate the lightning in a bottle that made the original Star Wars so legendary, so larger than life, so iconic?
Then the music hit, the crawl was back, and we were back to our childhoods experiencing a Star Wars film on the big screen, signifying, for some of us, the first time we have experienced such a rush. The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars film to arrive under the ownership and intellectual control of Disney and only became the biggest grossing domestic film of all time, banking away $936.7 million in ticket sales and more than $2 billion worldwide.
And now, one year later, with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story we have the first attempt at broadening the Star Wars franchise into more than just the “Episodes.” We have stand-alone features, spinoffs, and side stories being developed. If you haven’t been noticing, Disney is growing its own Star Wars Cinematic Universe and while some feel this is borderline blasphemy, others are open and affirming, arms outstretched, soaking in the possibilities of what’s to come.
First up in the director’s chair is Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters), who kicks off the first entry in this new Star Wars Anthology with the story of a little girl named Jyn Erso. Young Jyn becomes separated from her father (Mads Mikkelsen), following the death of her mother, at the hands of Orson Enneric (Ben Mendelsohn), a henchman for the Imperial Military. She is rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker, here briefly) who raises her and when young Jyn morphs into adult Jyn before our eyes, she is a battle-ready fighter, eager to avenge her childhood trauma and find her father, for reasons that should not be spoiled here.
Oscar nominee Felicity Jones steps into the role of grown-up Jyn and it is hard not to want to make comparisons to Daisy Ridley’s Rey from The Force Awakens. Jones does what she can to make her protagonist harder-edged and no-nonsense, soon pairing up with a morally conflicted Rebel spy known as Cassian Andor (Diego Luna). Soon, there is a defector – a pilot who joins the team (Riz Ahmed), a menacing assassin (Jiang Wen), who is protective of a blind swordsman (Donnie Yen, fantastic).
Edwards has crafted a film that looks unlike any other Star Wars film before it, both in cast diversity and visual effects. The question I have been asked quite a bit is what is this and where does it fit? Rogue One falls in line after Revenge of the Sith (the final prequel from 2005) and before A New Hope (the 1977 original). And so, the design team went to work, scouting locations in the Maldives, Jordan, and Iceland, and Edwards’ effects team delivers a film that blends in a look and feel from the 1977 original and also a decidedly distinctive path all on its own.
Without going into much more detail, this is really a heist film with Jyn, Cassian, and crew banding together to try and snuff out an imminent and emerging threat of the Empire as they attempt to take over the universe. Edwards shows us various locations, all populated by military baddies and Imperial soldiers asserting their will on native populations. A familiar face and voice of evil returns and though the film could turn political, and some say it does, the screenplay by Chris Weitz, with a post-production polish from Tony Gilroy, flirts but never goes all in on a political agenda.
Rogue One has been dubbed “Star Wars for grown-ups” and I suppose we define that by the fact that this film has more action than any Star Wars film to date. At times, Edwards feels far too comfortable to dwell in the gunplay and action sequences, relaxing a bit on bolstering characters and their depth and motivation. We do have a new droid to fawn over as Alan Tudyk delivers a terrific vocal turn as K-2S0, an Iron Giant/Iron Man-like hybrid whose imposing height and dark construct makes his jagged put downs and cutting remarks all the more unique and entertaining.
As the de facto lead, Jones is great, but again, Rogue One is less concerned with linking itself to the chain of its predecessors and more focused on self. As a result, there are awkward moments where CGI brings back characters played by actors who have either passed away or have aged out of appearing in their previous incarnation. On the one hand, this is great – what is old is new again, and films made 39 years apart from one another can be married together all over again. But unfortunately, the remarkable visual acumen shown to make these characters come back to life never moves past stunt. Had Weitz, Gilroy, and Edwards found ways to integrate them more into the film, this would have worked beautifully. Instead, the infrequent arrival of the effect makes the moments stick out like a sore thumb and never meld into the proceedings in a cohesive manner.
With that said, I had fun with this. I admit that The Force Awakens was a far more entertaining film for yours truly, but Rogue One: A Star Wars Story powers through the occasional lack of focus, the somewhat convoluted plot, and delivers a number of exciting and memorable moments that fans, both casual and rabid, will remember for quite a long time.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- You’re kidding me right?
- As a pilot film of sorts for the new Star Wars Anthology, Rogue One is entertaining and delivers several great moments and a terrific cast that fans of these films should see no problem in loving and embracing.
- Not enough can be said for Gareth Edwards decisions to continue to take the Disney-era Star Wars film in a more diverse, multi-racial direction. The optics on this cannot be understated.
- While you do not need to be all that versed in Star Wars lore to understand what is going on here, it helps. The film does veer in and out of nods and winks for devout fans and the plot does stumble around a bit, relying on action more than story to push things along.
- Does this truly do anything to advance or enhance the Star Wars franchise? .
- If you are not a big fan of Star Wars movies and watch them just out of obligation or because you think you have to, I am not sure there is anything here that will win you over as a new convert to the franchise.