Movie Review ‘Rogue One’

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In what is quite possibly the darkest, most-gritty film in the Star Wars franchise to date, director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla) has brought justice to a Star Wars prequel in their first standalone story.  ROGUE ONE remains strongly reminiscent of the imagery most audiences have come to love from the saga combining classic galactic styling with a modern twist meshing a continuity between timelines.  Packed with story development and countless worlds Star Wars is known for, Rogue One combines quality acting and emotional character development with one hell of an intense “first battle” and climatic third act. This is by all means a Star Wars lovers dream come true with storyline that occurs just a short time before the start of Episode IV, most notably known as A New Hope. And it’s just that, hope – that’s what this documentary on society is truly about after all.

Stop! I am not getting preachy here. Don’t worry. BUT, that is George Lucas’s own words on his films after all.  Rogue One is no exception. When Gareth and the writing crew of Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy along with story developers John Knoll and Gary Whitta and not to mention the rest of this epic crew, sought out to create it’s very own style and feel for this first standalone Star Wars film, they thankfully failed miserably by ultimately making the culmination of the best aspects all in one film.

Every moment, every shot, every fine detail within each costume piece to each set to each sound queue will stem memories of the first trilogy. Rogue One is a love story to the saga itself with it’s very “being” only coming to fruition thanks to the likes of Lucas Film veteran John Knoll and the mystery that has plagued us ever since that first scroll of off-yellow words ever crawled up the silver screen. How did the Rebels ever get the plans to the Death Star?

Episode IV, A NEW HOPE It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet. Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….

No spoilers here, but if you want to know what Rogue One is all about… well then, you just had to turn to Episode IV’s prologue.  A catalyst to the introduction of the Alliance rebellion, Jyn Erso, Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, Like Crazy), is a Rebellion soldier whose troubled childhood has lead to a life left in hiding.  After being recruited due to her connection to an influential Imperial scientist, Jyn is faced with the most important mission to the Star Wars universe; steal the plans for the Death Star.

An entirely unneeded prequel, but a prequel that everyone wanted nonetheless. While it may have not been necessary to find out how the plans to the Death Star were obtained, it helps provide clarity and insight to how the Rebel Alliance became such a threat to the Dark Side.  Most importantly, Rogue One helps put an end to several unsolved mysteries and wonders as well as tie together Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope together.

Ahhh!!! There is so much more I want to say here but for the sake to the films surprises and revealing moments, this synopsis must remain vague.  While Lord Vader has been featured heavily in marketing material, there are far more goodies throughout the film that will have even the most casual of fans ‘fangirling’ like never before.  I am getting giddy just thinking about it now!

Not only does Rogue One – A Star Wars Story contain many “aw ha” moments and several surprises that will leave you rejuvenated for all things Star Wars, but there are countless goosebump inducing moments that should bring absolute pure joy to your face.  From a familiar score by Michael Giacchino (Zootopia, Inside Out, Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond) that is ever-so-slightly altered to be its own entity, to morbid resurrected dead actors, to astonishing new scenery that feels so similar to the originals yet somehow is new, nothing feels out of place or out of sync within Star Wars universe.  Most notably the costume and set design is so on point to the classics that the line between new design and old design is blurred.

Greig Fraser’s (Zero Dark Thirty) slightly more gritty yet hand-held driven cinematography helps bring a grounded approach to film to a genre that usually seems so sci-fi that realism is lost in space. Rogue One follows The Force Awakens direction by remaining real-life set heavy with numerous 360 degree hand built sets and effects that are near photorealistic. This has helped bring a sense of belief this could take place within our world even though the number of worlds visited are vastly different than anything found on Earth.

With gorgeous cinematography and well-shot scenes, Rogue One can stand on its own just by the landscapes and scenic design, but the film offers a docu-war biopic feel leading toward an epic battle sequence that is well-choreographed, shot and edited.  Offering some martial arts and non-Light Saber heavy fight sequences, Rogue One holds its own with new invented ways to stage fight sequences.

While Felicity Jones delivers a superb performance that will surely lend a whole new standard for female role models, her character is not just some feminists addition to help show the saga can have a diversity.  No, instead Jyn is a gender-nutural kind of character that does not sell itself on sexuality, but rather holds to morals that stand for wither male or female.  Female leads are of course no stranger to this intergalactic cinematic world, but don’t tell that to the Star Wars haters.

That being said, it is appreciative to see far greater diverse cast of human characters which actually contain accents and give off the appearance of being from different worlds opposed to the first trilogy.  Though, keeping with the Nazi theme of the Empire and retaining the similarities of Stormtroopers to well, the Stormtroopers of the Nazi party, the Empire is just as dark as ever!

Jyn’s Rebel squadron is matched by the likes of Cassian Andor, Diego Luna, a respected Alliance intelligence officer. Coming along with Cassian is the new droid of the film, K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial security guard who is wildly comedic with a voice being lended by the hilarious Alan Tudyk. K-2 definitely contains the Star Wars branded comedy with bickering style of Chewy to Han or C3PO and R2D2. The relationship between K-2 and Jyn is witty and hysterical.  I am always welcoming of these antics in movies that can tend to take themselves too seriously.  K-2SO is the light heartedness needed to keep a giant film like Rogue One levelheaded.

Cassian along with the rest of the band of misfits have all done awful things in the fight to do what they feel is for the greater good. Rogue One does not shy away that the Alliance has their own set of challenges and problems. Also joining Jyn’s crew is Chirrut Îmwe, a blind monk that has found the Force, along with his faithful friend Base Malbus.  Recruiting an Empire cargo pilot, the crew also takes on Bodhi Rock, Riz Ahmed.

The entire cast is far cry from the days of Episode I through III.  Everyone is able to build some depth even though it’s a self containing story. I wont touch upon all the characters, but I can go on without mentioning the complicated character of Saw Gerrera played by Forest Whitaker.  This intense outlaw has his own attributes making him stand out from the others, but his powerful presence helps direct Jyn is the right direction.  I’ll commend Whitaker by going all out with the character, though I feel like we could explored his character more.

By no means is Rogue One a film that will be loved by non-Star Wars fans.  This is still after everything a Star Wars story, and caters to those that are already well-versed in this world.  Bringing in many connections to other Episodes and characters, it may be useful to brush up on some of Episode IV and perhaps some Revenge of the Sith if you aren’t too familiar. While I myself enjoy Star Wars, I am not knowledgable in all the characters, planets, and small plot lines from each film. Rogue One was still able to capture my attention and make sense of it all while still being incredibly rewarding in the end.

There is no denying that the first half or so can drag if you aren’t aware of what is to come. Just remember the character development is worthy and your patience will be rewarded. Disney is no doubt headed in the right direction with their more recently obtained intellectual property. I don’t believe any one should be concerned of the direction the Star Wars universe will continue. I’m more excited than ever for future of the franchise and above all else, they can help bring a sense of hope for our own world.  Again, the subtext is not preachy nor taking any political side if you are worried about its relation to todays political climate. I mean, this is just a documentary after all according to George.