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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story




Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

12/22/16
By Amy Diaz adiaz@hippopress.com



 A girl with a difficult family history (no, not that girl or that family) helps the rebellion against the Empire in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a post-prequels, pre-originals, plot-point backstory.

But in a good way! (Some spoilers ahead.)
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a scrappy sorta criminal serving time in an Empire work camp. Members of the Rebel Alliance break her out to get her help finding Saw Gerrara (Forest Whitaker), a fellow traveler in the sense of being anti-Empire but no longer allied with the Alliance. He is holding an imperial pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), prisoner — well, sort of prisoner as Bodhi defected and  came looking for Saw on orders from Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). 
Galen, Jyn’s father, whom she hasn’t seen in years, was once an engineer for the Empire, left and lived on a farm with Jyn and her mother (Valene Kane) but was later forced back into service. Now, he’s using Bodhi to get a message to the Alliance to let them know about a massive weapon that the Empire is close to having operational. This Death Star, as the Empire calls it, has the ability to destroy whole planets and thus wipe out any dissent to its rule.  
Though initially in this quest only for the promise of freedom and the hope of seeing her father again, Jyn becomes invested in the idea that her father can help the rebellion find a way to beat his Death Star. She joins Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his snarky robot friend K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) on the quest for Galen. Along the way, they meet up with Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind holy man who is a total Jedi-like bad-ass but with a stick instead of a light saber, and his buddy Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), also great in a fight.
They fight against a variety of imperial baddies but primarily they must outmaneuver Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who runs the weapons program and is determined not to let information about the Death Star get out.  
There are things you can quibble with in this movie if you want to quibble with things:
• The almost-but-not Star Wars theme music had a tendency to take me out of the movie. 
• There is a lot of This planet and That moon and The Other outpost and I was never quite sure what was new and what I was supposed to be remembering and what I was totally missing. Also, do just half the planets look like Tatooine in this galaxy far far away?
• One planet that does not look like Tatooine looks, and maybe this is just a coincidence, kinda like Florida, complete with palm trees and a sort of monorail-looking thing that you might find at a certain Florida theme park. 
• The appearance of some original Star Wars people as their original Star Wars ages is, uhm, odd. The strange Peter-Cushing-like Grand Moff Tarkin (who is also played by Guy Henry in this movie, under the digital hocus pocus, I guess) really does seem like Peter Cushing but is clearly not Peter Cushing, because, among other reasons, he’s been dead for more than two decades. The visuals aren’t bad, exactly, but my brain had a hard time understanding what I was seeing when I looked at his face.  This is not the infamous final Livia scenes on The Sopranos but it’s still weird.
• And yeah, I know that the thing I always called Star Wars is now Star Wars: Episode IVA New Hope. I could probably guess this even if I didn’t know that because there is a lot — a lot — of jabbering on about “hope” in this movie. Rebellions are built on hope, giving the rebellion hope is a cause worth fighting for, all you need is hope, hope is all you need. 
• This movie is something like two hours and 14 minutes long. While this movie has a nice energy about it, at about an hour 50, it might have really zipped along. 
This is not a perfect movie. And yet, so what, because:
• Dogfights! Awesome original Star Wars and Return of the Jedi-style dogfights, both in space and in a planet’s atmosphere!
• Hand-to-hand combat! Well-choreographed fights — there’s some great hand-to-hand combat in this movie, most of it featuring Chirrut Imwe, that seem to be taking place in a real, grubby, physical space (versus, not to constantly dump on the prequels but, a cold green screen sound stage). 
• Not unlike The Force Awakens, the movie captures the spirit of the original but, because it’s taking place immediately before the original movie, it captures the look of the original as well. And sure, some of what you’re seeing is a little strange but a lot of it really works and allows you to believe you are there, back in 1977, about to feel a disturbance in the Force.
• This movie ties in just enough of the prequel trilogies to make it feel like they were worth something. You know that feeling you get when you think “hey, I’ve heard of that literary device; thanks, college!”? That’s how I felt when a character from the prequels showed up. 
• There is a nice balance of humor. Some of it comes from the comic relief robot but some of it comes from the humans. It lends the dialogue a more natural feel. Even...
• That “hope” stuff — sure, it’s heavy-handed, but the movie actually sells it in the end.
Rogue One is to Star Wars storytelling sort of what Ant-Man is to the Marvelverse. This is not a Star Wars story at its very best; it’s more Star Wars at its pretty goodest. Episodic movie-making isn’t easy to get even somewhat good — see for example a lot of what came out in 2016. But Rogue One is an example of a well-run, thoughtfully considered cinematic universe, adding new characters with new adventures while keeping us tied to the story we know and giving us an adventure (and a movie) that is fun in its own right. B+
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action. Directed by Gareth Edwards with a screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is two hours and 14 minutes long and distributed by Walt Disney Studios. 
 





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