“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” Movie Review


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     Thinking back to the 1999 premiere of “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace”, I remember the purported backlash by diehard fans of the Original Star Wars Trilogy and the outcry to George Lucas for making a film geared toward a new generation of young fans, rather than the existing ones.  For those who claim they suffered through the Prequel Trilogy, there is no doubt they will find the “Star Wars” movie they have been waiting for with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, the first stand alone non episodic entry in the classic and wildly popular series.  And while “Rogue One” has all of the look and feel of a “Star Wars” movie, director Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”), along with screenwriters Chris Weitz (“Cinderella”) and Tony Gilroy (“The Bourne Ultimatum”) have injected the story with a hard edge not seen in any of the previous films in the series.

     The story centers around a key catalyst to the events that take place in the early moments of “Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope”, in which we are told a group of Rebel spies had stolen the technical readouts of the Death Star.  These plans, as they are referred to, are said to contain a weakness that could help the Rebels destroy the massive planet killing space station and perhaps topple the Empire for good.  “Rogue One” chronicles the aforementioned events as we learn the origins of the technology leading to the construction of the Death Star’s super weapon, as well as the band of Rebels assembled to carry out the dangerous mission.

     With Kathleen Kennedy at the helm of Lucasfilm for Disney’s first two entries in the “Star Wars” universe, we now have two strong female lead characters with Daisy Ridley’s Rey in last year’s “The Force Awakens” and now Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones in “Rogue One”. We first meet a younger Jyn in an opening sequence in which we learn her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), is a former engineer for the Empire, but has now settled with his family as a moisture farmer on a remote planet he likely thought was far from the grasp of his former employers.  But Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), an Imperial Officer charged with the Death Star’s construction, tracks Galen down and intends to force him back into service in order to complete the feared weapon.  Krennic is able to capture Galen, but Jyn is able to flee to the safety of family friend Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), who we learn shortly after the opening credits has raised Jyn into adulthood.

     The Rebel Alliance, nestled within their base on Yavin’s 4th moon as we all well know, has become aware of the Galen Erso saga and the project he is rumored to be completing for the Empire.  They send a Rebel spy named Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to break Jyn, who is traveling under a different name, out of an Imperial prison camp in order to have her intro them to Saw Gerrera and gain information on the Death Star and the threat it may impose.  Ultimately, this leads to Jyn, Cassian, and a band of Rebel volunteers, embarking on a mission to obtain those very plans Darth Vader speaks of in the first scene of “A New Hope”, bringing an all new tension and gravity to the opening moments of that film, as we now have a visual representation of what exactly occurred.  In addition to Jyn and Cassian, the group includes a wide array of interesting and diverse characters which serve to greatly enhance the “Star Wars” universe, bringing sorely needed new personalities into the mix.  Notables include Donnie Yen as a blind warrior named Chirrut, Wen Jiang as a machine gun toting fighter named Baze Malbus, Riz Ahmed as a former Imperial Pilot named Bodhi Rook, and the scene stealing reprogramed Imperial Droid K-2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk.

     Perhaps the greatest fan related attribute “Rogue One” possesses is the sheer number of call backs to both the Original and Prequel Trilogies neatly hidden throughout.  I won’t discuss any of them here, but it is worth mentioning one character in particular who plays a central role in the proceedings and comes across as an eye popping addition to the cast.  The wizards at Industrial Light and Magic have brought Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the late Peter Cushing in “A New Hope”, to life as a digital character who seamlessly interacts with the cast and assumes his role as the commanding Officer of the Death Star, answering directly to the Emperor.  And this is no cameo appearance.  Tarkin plays a crucial role within the story, as he communicates the evil intentions of the Empire and pushes Krennic to complete the Death Star’s weapon and demonstrate its power in order to create fear throughout the galaxy.  You see him once, and you think “Wow!”, but then he appears scene after scene and begins to blend in as a normal character.  Truly an awards worthy achievement in visual effects and the integration of a CGI character with live actors.  But the surprises certainly don’t end there.  Keep your eyes peeled for a literal cornucopia of Easter eggs the filmmakers have hidden throughout.

     “Rogue One” has to viewed as a monumental victory for Disney and all involved.  What they have done here is proven the “Star Wars” brand can not only function, but flourish outside of the narrative we have known up until now.  Edwards has created what is perhaps the most gritty, yet exciting “Star Wars” film in the series.  Jones’ Jyn Erso is a legitimate hero in the film, backed by a half dozen or so solidly developed characters who plunge into several action set pieces sure to rank amongst the all time best in the franchise.  The third act in particular cuts together three tour de force sequences, all of which have major implications on how the story ends.  Edwards ratchets up the tension and creates a feeling of real peril as the stakes are as high as anything we’ve seen before in a “Star Wars” movie.  All culminating in a satisfying conclusion that takes us directly to the moments just before “A New Hope” begins.  In doing so, Edwards also has the distinction of having made one of the best films of 2016.  GRADE: A