Movie Review: "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (2016)
Something only gets to be new, to be a true novelty, but once in it's life. The first of anything will set the standard for everything following that attempts to be like it or dares to fall into the same category. And let's face it, folks- NOTHING is more closely scrutinized than Star Wars. No franchise inspires more vitriol when it's wrong and warmly glowing love when it's done right. If you can think of another franchise that inspires more debate please let me know.
For those who haven't heard by now the plot is very simple. Jyn Erso is the daughter of a former Imperial who is needed to complete the brand new Death Star superweapon. Her mother is killed and her father is taken into slavery, basically, to complete the job. She grows up and joins the Rebellion. Her father has hidden a weakness (a very famous weakness ha ha) into the heart of the Death Star, and she must steal the plans and get them back to the Rebellion leaders. It's a setup prequel for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
"Rogue One" has the distinction of the being the first big-screen standalone ever produced in the canon of Star Wars. That is a daunting task. No opening scroll, no proliferation of Jedi, no original trilogy characters running around showing their age.....just a new cast and a new story that fills in the gaps from the original movie.
Funny thing is that all of that works greatly in it's favor. It must have been exciting for director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, which I also liked despite a weak antagonist monster). He was given the keys to the kingdom to put his own stamp on a universe that is an ingrained part of American history with something new and fresh. Did he succeed?
Largely, yes. It sounds generic, but this one felt like it was true Star Wars. The set design and the costume work, in particular, were gorgeously done because they were retro. Those ugly orange jump suits worn by fighter pilots of the Rebel Fleet still looked shitty and dated. The sets of the Yavin 4 Rebel HQ looks like they just walked right in and dusted off the original sets. The attention to detail is nice.
And can we address Grand Moff Tarkin for a moment? We should. Peter Cushing was a GOD of the silver screen, known for many Universal Monster classics of the 50's and a plethora of other amazing films. He's also been dead since 1994. They could have recasted that role and easily argued "he was younger then" and gotten off of the hook. However, they made the bold decision to cast a younger actor, Guy Henry (Heyer from "V for Vendetta"), and layer the CGI over his very similar face. I found it to be beautifully done and nearly seamless. It was very important to have Tarkin, the REAL Tarkin, in all of those scenes. The Grand Moff is 2nd in command only to Darth Vader......he is a very important and powerful Imperial leader. The fact that you can keep Peter Cushing front and center despite the fact that he has been dead for 22 years is a gift. I loved it.
Another thing that struck me is how technically beautiful this movie is. They have perfected the art of new worlds. The end battle on Scarif is a sight to behold. I know, I know........SFX are easy nowadays. I've said it myself, but this one is rendered on a top level. Well done.
The biggest win for me was the cast, though. Felicity Jones (Inferno) as Jyn Erso, heroine and protagonist, was believable and adequate. She didn't blow me away, but she did well in her role as the young girl who was "orphaned" by the Empire. Diego Luna (Elysium) provided the dashing male lead and love interest of Jyn (with some Latino flavor). Veteran animation voice actor Alan Tudyk (Wreck-It-Ralph, Moana) plays K-2SO, the Imperial Droid turned Rebel badass. He steals the show. You will find yourself laughing at this guy a lot; he's C-3PO with huge balls. Martial arts legend Donnie Yen (Ip Man) plays the blind Force priest Chirrut Imwe, and he tears shit up AND provides surprising comic relief. The showstealer amongst the villains, for me, was Ben Mendelsohn as Director Orson Krennic. He's the man who has been promising to deliver the Death Star to The Emperor and Darth Vader and is way behind schedule. He's slimy, snivelling, ruthless, & utterly despicable and it plays beautifully off of Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin. You get honest to God bickering and human ugliness between Imperial leaders, and it's pretty refreshing to see. Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, and Jimmy Smits (reprising the role of Leia's "dad" Bail Organa) are also stellar in smaller roles.
For me, though, it all comes back to heart. Star Wars began as a tale of rebellion against the big, bad Empire. It's a story that has subtle (or not-so subtle, depending on your level of political fervency) undertones of out of control governments and nuclear disaster. The Rebellion represents the best in all of us. I feel like they captured that heart better than any Star Wars film since the original trilogy.
It's a solid 8.5/10 for me. If you're a Star Wars fan you can safely drop the money and hit the theater. If you're not a Star Wars nut you'd still enjoy it as an action film. The battle scenes are truly superb, by the way.