Sunday, January 1, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

All I gotta say to kick this review off is that we finally got a true prequel to the original Star Wars trilogy.

This movie is vital to the franchise because this movie is supposed to be the start of a series of standalone Star Wars movies like what the Marvel Cinematic Universe (ironically also owned by Disney) has been doing for the last several years. And thanks to Lucasfilm’s acquisition by Disney which resulted in last year’s successful reintroduction to the Star Wars franchise with JJ Abrams’ film The Force Awakens. That movie took the world by storm and in pretty much the same manner that JJ Abrams made it cool to like Star Trek again with his reboot films, he made it cool to like Star Wars again after the infamous prequels. At the same time, Disney retconned all the non-canon Star Wars stories that were told in novel and comic book form which left the field open for them to tell new stories like what Marvel was doing with their solo superhero movies. And the story they decided to tell first was the story about how the Rebels steal the plans for the Death Star. It’s pretty much a story we all know the ending to because it was spoiled for us almost forty years ago in the opening crawl for the first Star Wars movie. 

And speaking of opening crawls, if you’re looking for an opening crawl in this movie you won’t find it even though it begins with the text “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” But instead of the John Williams Star Wars theme and the opening crawl, we just get right into the movie. It opens about five years after Revenge of the Sith where a group of Imperial soldiers led by the movie’s main villain, who was that Imperial captain who wore a white cape that you saw walking on water in the trailer where I commented that Jesus was an Imperial warlord arrive at the home of Galen Erso who was played by the same guy who played the Bond villain in Casino Royale as well as the TV Hannibal Lecter. Apparently, Galen was a scientist who was working for the Empire on the Death Star but had since fled into hiding. Now the Empire (mainly the warlord whose name is Krennic) want to take him back to finish the job whether he’s willing or not. Galen manages to get his daughter Jyn (who is the main character of the movie) to flee to safety but predictably one of her parents gets murdered by the Imperial troops and it’s not her father. By the way, this is a spoiler not really tied in to the plot but it is just obvious.

Jyn grows up to be portrayed by Oscar-nominated actress Felicity Jones who is no stranger to geek culture-related movies because she also played Felicia Hardy in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Had Amazing Spider-Man 2 been successful, she would have played the Black Cat in Amazing Spider-Man 3 but unfortunately that won’t happen now so let’s put Felicity Jones in a Star Wars movie instead. But anyway, when we see Jyn Erso as Felicity Jones, she’s been captured by the Empire and is on her way to an Imperial slave labor camp but then she’s rescued by the Rebels, one of whom is Diego Luna’s character. Apparently, the Rebels need her help because they heard about an Imperial pilot who defected and wants to warn the Rebels about how the Empire is creating the Death Star and if you haven’t watched A New Hope (in which case shame on you) you would know that the Death Star is a giant battle station the size of a moon that has the power to destroy an entire planet. 

Without getting too heavily into spoilers, Jyn helps Cassian Andar find the pilot who had been captured by Forest Whitaker who plays a character that was introduced in the Clone Wars cartoon series to tie the cartoons in with the movies and she manages to see the message from her father where he is warning them about the Death Star. But then the Death Star becomes operational even though it’s not powerful enough to blow up an entire planet like it was in the first Star Wars movie. Instead it just devastates the planet surface or just do what people are calling “nuke shots” which is way more interesting than just straight up blowing up the planet like they did in the original film. And another thing that I like about this is that we get to see the Death Star’s handiwork from the point of view of the people on the planet.

One thing about Rogue One is that, unlike The Force Awakens, they keep the fan service to a minimum. I’m not saying that it isn’t there because it is. There are quite a bit of Easter eggs in this movie. For example, there are characters from New Hope that appear in Rogue One as CGI characters with the most obvious one being Grand Moff Tarkin who was played by the late Peter Cushing in the original movie. But the CGI is so good that it has you thinking “Oh, wow. They brought Peter Cushing back from the dead.”  There’s also Easter Eggs in the music score which was provided by Michael Giacchino, who is best known for doing the score for the Star Trek reboot films where he includes snippets from John Williams’ score from the other movies, most notably the Star Wars theme, the Use the Force theme pops up at one point in the movie and of course the Darth Vader theme plays whenever Darth Vader appears in the movie and he does. Granted that this takes place before New Hope and the Darth Vader theme would not be introduced until Empire Strikes Back. As far as Giacchino goes, he could easily do a score for a major Star Wars film if something happens to John Williams before the Force Awakens trilogy runs its course and John Williams is getting up there. Like if he gets sick and can’t do the score for Episode 9, give it to Giacchino because he did a really good job with this score. 

And like I said before, yes, Darth Vader is in the movie but he only on for about ten minutes. Yes, he’s still voiced by James Earl Jones and no he is not CGI’ed. There are people in the Vader suit and no, it’s not Hayden Christensen (thank god.) Instead one is a stunt double and the other one was the prison guard from Guardians of the Galaxy. But for what screen time he has, Vader does some badass scary things that we haven’t really seen him do since Empire Strikes Back which shows how bad the prequels were to the character.

Like The Force Awakens, Rogue One does much to open up the Star Wars universe more by introducing new planets never before seen in any of the other movies as well as new ships on both the Rebels and the Empire side. Many of the location shots in this movie are gorgeous especially in the final act of the movie which straight up turns into Saving Private Ryan set in the Star Wars universe. And the space battle sequences in this movie are easily the best since Jedi. You see the AT-AT walkers from Empire Strikes Back attacking Rebel forces on the ground. It doesn’t really sugarcoat the fact that this is an actual war like they did in the original films with the exception perhaps of Empire. This is a darker, grittier film. Probably the darkest in the whole franchise along with Empire Strikes Back and Revenge of the Sith. In fact, many critics are calling Rogue One the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back and for very good reason.

Performances were very good all around, especially by the supporting cast. For example, you have a robot in this movie who is a reprogrammed Imperial droid named K-2SO, who is played by Alan Tudyk and he’s actually the comic relief in this movie while at the same time proving that he’s a more than capable fighter where in one scene he uses a Stormtrooper as a weapon to beat up two other Stormtroopers which is pretty awesome. Then you have martial arts legend Donnie Yen as a blind martial artist who worships the Force but he’s not a Jedi because the Jedi with the exception of Obi-Wan and Yoda are wiped out by this point. Forest Whitaker who has about as much screen time as Darth Vader does is pretty good in the scenes he’s in.

Even the two leads are pretty good but not as memorable as the leads from the main films. Diego Luna I’ve only seen in one other movie prior to this and that was that Dirty Dancing prequel Havana Nights from 2004 that was released against The Passion of the Christ. He wasn’t bad in that movie. And a little bit of Star Wars irony for you: Remember when Natalie Portman was up for this same Dirty Dancing prequel while she was still doing the Star Wars prequels? The role that Diego Luna plays in Havana Nights was originally rumored to be played by Ricky Martin. Here in Rogue One he was pretty good even though he didn’t have enough character development for me to really become invested in his character.

What little character development there was in the movie basically went to Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso since the movie’s mainly about her anyways but she’s not as memorable a character as Rey was in The Force Awakens last year. In fact, her character is kind of like Natalie Portman in the prequels with better writing. Plus, she’s damn good to look at even for someone who’s supposed to be a criminal turned Rebel soldier.

As far as directing goes, Gareth Edwards delivers yet another Star Wars movie not directed or written by George Lucas. Rogue One is actually his third movie even though the only one I know of that he directed was the 2014 Godzilla which I had not seen. The writing is much more solid than the prequels. It’s also much better acted than the prequels. And while we’re talking about the prequels, we’ll bring up the fact that of all the things that they could bring back from the prequels I’m so glad they brought back Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa, Princess Leia’s adopted father. I actually used to watch Jimmy Smits on NYPD Blue back in the day and I thought he did pretty good in the prequels also. Also, the actress playing Mon Mothma, the Rebel leader that was introduced in Return of the Jedi was originally supposed to play the role in Revenge of the Sith, but her scene was cut. 

Overall, I wouldn’t really go as far as to say that Rogue One is as good as Empire Strikes Back or the original Star Wars. In terms of aesthetics and originality, Rogue One is better than The Force Awakens. However, in terms of character, nothing beats the original trilogy and The Force Awakens. But either way, Rogue One blows the prequels right out of the way. You might as well forget that Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith exist. As far as I’m concerned, Rogue One is the true prequel to the original trilogy and as it was proven last year, Star Wars is back! And think, this time next year I will be talking about Episode 8. Hopefully, we’ll get a teaser soon. Then we also got the Han Solo movie to look forward to as well as Episode 9. I just heard that the Han Solo movie begins production in February and it’s supposed to be released Memorial Day weekend in 2018. In that case, if Rogue One does well in the same release slot that propelled The Force Awakens last year, they may want to consider moving the Han Solo movie to December 2018.

And speaking of trailers, I got the full trailer for Guardians Vol.2 in front of Rogue One. The theater I saw Rogue One at which is Valley Cinema in Little Falls only does one trailer per movie. And another thing about Valley Cinema is that they recently underwent some renovation work and they got new seats in the theater and it looks pretty nice. Anyway, as far as Guardians goes, I have never laughed so hard at a trailer in my life as I did for Guardians 2. Even if I hadn’t already put Guardians 2 on my must-see list for 2017, because of that trailer I would.

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