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Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
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Felicity Jones in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Screenwriter: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, and Forest Whitaker
Distributor: Walt Disney Studios
Rated PG-13 | 133 minutes
Release Date: December 16, 2016

While spinoffs have a reputation of being written off as a cash grab scheme, the Star Wars universe has a wealth of material to work with. When it was first announced that there would be spinoffs, many wondered what or rather who they could be about. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, will be the first of those planned spinoffs. The film centers on a group of rebels who embark on the fabled mission to steal the plans to the Death Star. As storied as those troubling reshoots and issues with the script were, Rogue One is highly entertaining.

We know that Darth Vader was searching for the plans to the Death Star in the opening moments of A New Hope. However, most don’t even know how they were stolen or who pulled off one of the greatest heists in the galaxy. So director Gareth Edwards was tasked with telling that story. With fantastic action sequences and some nods to the original, Rogue One is a great way to start off the spinoff films.

In the movie, the Rebellion recruits a young soldier named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who then rallies a team together to go on a daring mission to steal the plans to the Death Star. Together with the help of Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Rebel Alliance Intelligence officer who is willing to sacrifice disposable pawns; K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a reprogrammed Imperial droid who offers pessimistic calculations and lacks a filter; Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior monk who cannot use the Force but uses his belief in it to fight; Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a freelance assassin who often questions Chirrut’s belief in the force; and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a former Imperial pilot who has defected to the Rebel Alliance, they will infiltrate the Empire and embark on the greatest untold mission in Rebel history.

These are great characters, even though they do feel a little cookie cut. This is a war film, and labeling who is a good guy or who is a bad guy isn’t so cut and dry. It’s a bit of a relief to see such a diverse cast as that isn’t just a reflection of today’s society but also a reflection that the galaxy isn’t monotone. Jones is fantastic as Jyn, and carries the long tradition of strong female characters in Star Wars films. But she is also vulnerable, which adds a little bit more depth to her character. Luna isn’t just some eye candy or love interest, but an intelligence officer who will do anything to get the job done. Ahmed is fun with the material he is given. But it’s Yen and Tudyk who provide the laughs, with the former throwing as many jokes as punches, and Tudyk giving off that hilarious deadpan humor for the expressionless K-2SO.

Erso is the key to the success of this mission. Her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), is one of the top engineers who helped with the construction of the Death Star, a giant galactic mobile space station that is equipped with a superpowered weapon that is capable of destroying a planet. To ensure that things go according to plan and not give the senate any reason to worry, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), the Director of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military, is tasked with making sure that the Death Star is operational. Krennic isn’t just any groveling military man, he is a cold and calculated man who positions himself among the highest ranking officers within the Empire. But he does tend to overstep his boundaries, especially when it comes to superior officers like Darth Vader.

It is revealed very early on how Jyn and Galen become separated, and how the loss of Lyra Erso (Valene Kane) – Jyn’s mother and Galen’s wife – shaped their motivations. Other supporting characters include Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a veteran of the Clone Wars who provides sanctuary and protection from the Empire; Darth Vader (voice of James Earl Jones), the powerful lord of the Sith who carries out the Emperor’s wishes; and a number of other nods to the original. Some of these cameos can work, others do nothing to move the story, other than to tip their hat to the audience. Luckily there isn’t too much of that.

Though the film’s “man on a mission” story gets its strength from the strong and fantastic characters, the film can feel a bit scattered because there are so many moving parts. The characters go through a very weak second act, where the mission feels a lot longer than it should. But Rogue One picks itself off the ground and marches forward into a very exciting and powerful speech from Jyn that rallies not only her team but the Rebels to infiltrate the heavily guarded planet that holds the plans to the Death Star.

The intense action that takes place in the third act makes Rogue One the grittiest Star Wars film of the franchise. Cinematographer Greig Fraser captures that ground war intensity, seemingly transporting audiences right into the middle of the action. He also captures the power of the Empire with wide-angle shots of Star Destroyers and massive half-moon views of the Death Star. All giving off the impression that the rebels are insignificant and powerless. We are soon immersed with lasers whizzing by, sand raining down, and explosions tossing soldiers into the air. All of it will surely keep audiences on the edge of their seat. This isn’t the typical shootouts between the Rebels and Stormtroopers we’ve seen in the past. This is war. And soon enough the gravity of the situation becomes clear for everyone, and there will be casualties.

The real-world set locations combined with the practical effects and costume design reinforces the idea that Lucasfilm wants to make the film look as real as possible. Sure there are some green screens and digital effects but in the end, it is all better for the franchise that was criticized for relying too much on digital effects and green screens in the prequels.

For its minor script issues and storied production problems, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story comes out as one of the most entertaining Star Wars films we’ve seen in recent years. If anything, it gives us the confidence that the spinoffs could work, as long as they are in the right hands. So maybe getting Tony Gilroy to help with the rewrites was the best decision for this movie, and maybe those reshoots were necessary in the long run. Nevertheless, this is a great way to start the launch of the spinoffs.

Trailer

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