review ROGUE ONE a Star Wars story

5 01 2017

 

ROGUE ONE a Star Wars story (2016) directed by Gareth Edwards written by Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz story by John Knoll Gary Whitta produced by Kathleen Kennedy producer Allison Schnearer music by Michael Giacchino director of photography Greg Fraser production designers Doug Chiang and Neil Lamont edited by John Gilroy Colin Goudie Jabez Olssen

 

starring    Felicity Jones   Diego Luna   Alan Tudyk   Donnie Yen   Jian Wen   Riz Ahmed Ben Mendelsohn   Mads Mikkelson   Genevieve O’Reilley   Jimmy Smits   Forrest Whitaker

 

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ROGUE ONE a Star Wars story is brilliant, exciting and, out-and-out, both a fully engaging thrill ride and a somewhat serious depiction of the highs and lows that result from following one’s higher nature with no reasonable expectation of a return on investment. It’s really good for a lot of reasons. And here’s the first : its premise.

This is the first in an intended series of anthological “stand-alone” movies set in a galaxy far, far away created by filmmaker George Lucas, a long time ago. One of the genius-things that Mr. Lucas did better than just about any fantasist (Tolkien also did it with mythic fairy tale literature, Gene Roddenberry with science fiction for 1960s network television) was create a time and place that suggested its own history. From passing lines of dialogue (LUKE (to Ben Kenobi): You fought in the Clone Wars? or HAN SOLO (re:the Millennium Falcon): It’s the ship that made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.) to the “used future” design of props and costumes and vehicles, the original movie teased and enlivened the imagination to start filling in the blanks that even the sequels and prequels only partly fulfilled. ROGUE ONE starts filling in the blanks on at least two basic questions STAR WARS left partly open: where the Imperial Death Star’s design schematics came from and how they ended up in Princess Leia’s possession with plans to deliver them to a mysterious hermetic Jedi Knight with whom her father, Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits, returning to the role he played in Episodes II and III) was friendly, and how could the pinnacle of destructive technology be brought down by the exploitation of a strange, tiny design flaw.

Producer Kathleen Kennedy played the familiarity card wisely and to great effect in ROGUE ONE; it smartly connects to Lucas’ original from 1977. In fact, the new film’s plot is synopsized in two lines from “Episode IV”‘s opening crawl…. “Rebel spaceships striking from a hidden base have won their first battle 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….”

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And if one’s immediate reaction is “Who cares? – – we know how it turns out,” that’s the film’s next stroke of genius; ending and all, it keeps you white knuckled and on the edge of your seat. But not just from the knock-out staging, cutting and scoring, particularly over the last forty minutes,, but because we develop a real caring for a group of Rebel heroes, and a curious but sharp interest in a previously unknown ladder-climbing Imperial officer, all of whom (SPOILER ALERT!!!) we likely will never see again.

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It’s fast, fun – – really fun – – at times, grim, effectively, genuinely sad, and ultimately, in its final memorable moments, a statement of the transcendent possibility of hope…. “A New Hope.”

“Rebellion’s are built on hope,” declares Jyn Erso, a young outlaw and hardscrabble survivor with an important tie to the Empire’s newly rumored weapons tests. She’s drawn in to work with the Alliance, first out of necessity and later, as awareness of political realities and a fear of a hopeless future become clear to her, a devoted no-nonsense fighter for the Cause. Felicity Jones as Jyn, underplays the role very effectively, revealing her quirks and personal fiery self at nicely selected and just the right moments.

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That’s also true of the entire crew of disparate warriors and one enjoyably droll reprogrammed Imperial droid that Jyn finds herself a part and gathers ’round herself as the group’s unofficial commander; they’re each distinct and memorable (even the Rebel squad of commandos who join them at first without orders) but when it comes to brass tacks they’re all about the fight and what they discover along their way, from one unique planet to another, is their mission. It’s not a mission they’re hired for (as in the generally similar Seven Samurai or The Dirty Dozen); it’s one they discover for themselves and strategize as they proceed until, in Jyn’s heartfelt rallying of her troop, they run out of luck.

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The movie thrills with some exceptional vivid effects (including the breath-taking CGI recreations of two characters from Lucas’ original, as they appeared in that film; it’s staggeringly good), and the movie provides an irrational thrill in seeing X-Wing and Y-Wing Rebel fighter space planes, from the original movie, strafing and barrel rolling in combat with the swooping, screaming Imperial TIE fighters. (Two Rebel “Wing Commanders” from the original are brought back to life in some effectively manipulated forty year old unused close-ups and it works very well.)

Though the Master, John Williams will continue scoring the “Episodes” that comprise the ongoing “Skywalker Saga,” the brilliant Michael Giacchino (JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movies, TV’s LOST, and an Oscar winner for PIXAR’s Up) composes the score for ROGUE ONE, with intense percussion, swirling strings and combative horns balanced by the appropriate incorporation of the motifs composed by Mr. Williams in regard to various characters, concepts, and places in the preceding six movies (including one moment that made me smile in appreciation of both John Williams’ and Michael Giacchino’s sheer artistry.)

The film is exceptional in design – – it’s STAR WARS to the Nth degree – – and in the style it’s shot (with a vaguely documentary realism that George Lucas preferred and subtly employed in the ’77 classic) that enhances relentless action and battle sequences, and ultimately achieves the gritty, grimy, yes, bloody, always on the edge sensibility that director Garth Edwards was after: that of the great war movies of recent memory; there are moments throughout that suggest APOCALYPSE NOW and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

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Yes, I am a well-known (in my circles) big-time STAR WARS fan and the movie gave me moments and images and plot twists I’ve imagined and pictured for a long time, only ROGUE ONE did it better than my imagination for the most part. But even as a filmmaker and writer and critic it left me “wowed” more than any mainstream wide screen big budget blockbuster since J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS. It succeeds as pastiche in the way Lucas’ film originally did (only in this case, ROGUE ONE, in addition to war combat movies, also draws from historical drama, heist pictures, and expands on ideas always on the edge of the original trilogy, about political infighting and how “black and white, good and evil” thinking allows for action when there are more complicated truths at work); but also like Mr. Lucas’ film did in 1977 (and ROGUE ONE’s ending will make you want to watch the original again and likely right away), Gareth Edwards’ movie also transcends pastiche and becomes it’s own entirely original thing.

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