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Rogue One Movie Review

Rogue One (2016) movie poster Rogue One

Theatrical Release: December 16, 2016 / Running Time: 133 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Gareth Edwards / Writers: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy (screenplay); John Knoll, Gary Whitta (story); George Lucas (characters)

Cast: Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso), Diego Luna (Cassian Andor), Alan Tudyk (voice of K-2SO), Donnie Yen (Chirrut mwe), Wen Jiang (Baze Malbus), Ben Mendelsohn (Orson Krennic), Forest Whitaker (Saw Gerrera), Riz Ahmed (Bodhi Rook), Mads Mikkelsen (Galen Erso), Jimmy Smits (Bail Organa), Alistair Petrie (General Draven), Genevieve O'Reilly (Mon Mothma), Ben Daniels (General Merrick), Paul Kasey (Admiral Raddus), Stephen Stanton (voice of Admiral Raddus), Ian McElhinney (General Dodonna), Fares Fares (Senator Vaspar), Jonathan Aris (Senator Jebel), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Senator Pamlo), James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader), Valene Kane (Lysa Erso), Beau Gadsdon (Young Jyn Erso), Dolly Gadsdon (Younger Jyn Erso)

 

It was obvious that Disney's 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm was not just about a single film series or even two (counting Indiana Jones). Disney did not pay $4 billion to make a few Star Wars sequels. No, the plan has always been to revive and expand. Lucasfilm would be a brand, like Pixar and even more so Marvel, demanding a full schedule and a cinematic universe.
Last December's domestic record-smashing The Force Awakens was merely the start. And though its follow-up, the eighth episode in the hallowed sci-fi institution, is only a year away, you don't have to wait that long for your next taste of Star Wars. That comes tonight in Rogue One, the first live-action spin-off film in the George Lucas-created universe.

Subtitled A Star Wars Story in posters but not the film itself, Rogue One opens with the iconic "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...", but skips the signature text scroll. Yes, this is a Star Wars movie, but not one slavish to the established design or one intended to directly follow one movie and lead into another. Set after the formation of the Galactic Empire, the film opens with a member of the Rebel Alliance named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) being confronted and arrested. His wife is killed, but their daughter Jyn avoids capture, grows up (becoming Felicity Jones) under Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), and emerges, more or less, as the film's protagonist.

In "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story", members of the Rebel Alliance like Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) try to steal the Empire's plans for the Death Star.

The plot involves the theft of the design schematics for the Empire's big new superweapon, the Death Star. Jyn, using an assumed name, and Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), given secret plans, aim to go mess with the Empire, the face of whom for us is weapons research director Orson Krennic (Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn). Joining the cause, against whom the odds are stacked: a bevy of ethnically diverse individuals. The most interesting of these is Chirrut mwe (Ip Man's Donnie Yen), a blind warrior whose lack of sight does nothing to hinder his battle skills. There is also the freelance assassin Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed of HBO's "The Night Of"), an Imperial pilot turned Rebel.

Rogue One may not join the primary canon, but it is still aimed at the people who love Star Wars. It throws many bones in the direction of superfans, including a little bit of Darth Vader, a sighting of Jimmy Smits' Bail Organa, a cameo by C-3PO and R2-D2, and some use of John Williams' unforgettable themes, which are incorporated into Michael Giacchino's original score. More substantial than any of those touches is the prominent use of Grand Moff Tarkin played by Peter Cushing. Cushing passed away in 1994, but computer animators do an eerie job of bringing him back to life, with just a touch of the uncanny valley issues that plagued Robert Zemeckis' motion capture flicks from last decade. (Cushing's estate is thanked at least twice in the end credits.) Tarkin isn't the only character reprised via animation; a lead is too in a way that suggests actors in Star Wars are both dispensable and immortal, thanks to digital technology.

Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and the droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) number among the good guys of "Rogue One."

The sets, costumes, and props here all are true to Star Wars as you know it, but the movie lacks the excitement and complexity of previous episodes. The screenplay by Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass) and Tony Gilroy (the Bourne series, Michael Clayton) is heavy on action and light on emotion. There are all these characters committed to a cause but none we truly care about on any level. It feels like fan fiction or a licensed community production of Star Wars, not the real thing. The Force Awakens recaptured the feel of Lucas' 1977 game-changer, not just by using original cast and crew members but by knowing what made the original trilogy tick. This spin-off, directed by Gareth Edwards (2014's Godzilla), knows Star Wars lore too, from "I have a bad feeling about this" to the comic value of a quippy droid (in this case K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk).

But Edwards illustrates the perhaps subtle difference between something that feels like Star Wars (i.e. Lucas' prequels and, if you're being generous, the infamous Holiday Special) and something that is Star Wars (the original trilogy and Force Awakens). This film most closely resembles the Death Star attack climax from A New Hope, perhaps the most prolonged and belabored segment in the entire original trilogy.

Without the connection to one of the most iconic universes in 20th century fiction, Rogue One probably would not seem all that special. Its cast, no matter how seasoned in beloved cinema they may be, can't make the material take flight or get us onboard with the breathless narrative. The proceedings have enough technical polish and whiz-bang to qualify as a fun spectacle you can at least compare to, say, Fantastic Beasts. While the branding alone should ensure huge box office numbers (though not Force Awakens huge), nothing about this effort seems destined to stand the test of time.

Other standalone spin-offs set in the Star Wars universe are already in the works, including films devoted to the young Han Solo and the bounty hunter Boba Fett. Undoubtedly, these movies will all make a lot of money for Disney and make that $4 billion purchase look like even more of a steal. The downside is that they will dilute the brand. Getting a new Star Wars movie every year makes it less of an event and more of a seasonal staple, like the Marvel movies have become, and practically all of those are a lot more entertaining and fun than Rogue One ever is.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Doctor Strange Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Arrival Moana Manchester by the Sea
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Star Wars: The Clone Wars
Directed by Gareth Edwards: Godzilla (2014)
Written by Gary Whitta: After Earth | Written by Chris Weitz: Cinderella | Written by Tony Gilroy: Armageddon
Felicity Jones: The Theory of Everything Inferno Like Crazy | Diego Luna: Elysium Casa De Mi Padre Y Tu Mama Tambin
Ben Mendelsohn: Animal Kingdom | Donnie Yen: Dragon Hero Shanghai Noon | Foerest Whitaker: Southpaw Lee Daniels' The Butler

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Reviewed December 15, 2016.



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