Review of ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

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I think I’m going to be okay with a new Star Wars movie coming out every Christmas!  Totally all right by me.

I’m a HUGE Star Wars fan.  Yes, I even enjoyed the flawed prequels.  I grew up with the original trilogy.  It was part of my childhood, and is a big part of my life.  I kind of already wrote about my history with Star Wars in my review of The Force Awakens last year.  So if you’re curious about that, you can read it right here.

So I loved The Force Awakens.  It was everything I was hoping the continuation of the saga would be.  I really can’t wait for episode 8.

BUT…. for now, we have this stand-alone movie that takes place in the Star Wars universe.  When I heard that they were planning to do new Star Wars movies with all new characters, but in the same universe, I actually thought it was a cool idea.  The possibilities are endless, and the potential is great.  Then when I heard that the movie was actually going to be a direct, immediate prequel to the original Star Wars: A New Hope, I got even more excited.  But how exactly were they going to pull this off?

I should say before I start, that I will do my best to not reveal any spoilers or plot points.  There are a few surprises, but nothing major like some parts of The Force Awakens.  Still, I won’t spoil anything that wasn’t shown in the trailers.

This is the story of how the rebels stole the Death Star plans that Princess Leia inserts into RD-D2 in A New Hope.

I will just give a brief overview of the plot.  I don’t really like reviews that summarize the entire film.  That’s no fun, and tends to spoil things I think.

The rebels rescue an outlaw named Jyn Orso (Felicity Jones) from an Imperial prison.  You see, her father Galen (Mads Mikkelson) was taken by the Empire and was forced to create the Death Star, and the rebels are looking for him.  They think Jyn may know how to find him.  With the help of a tough rebel named Cassian (Diego Luna), Jyn leads them to an old friend (played by Forest Whitaker), who may know where he is located.

Along the way they meet a couple of other outcasts to join them on their mission, including an ex-imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed), a blind samurai who is kind of like Zatoichi (Donnie Yen), and a bad ass who likes to blow things away with a big gun (Wen Jiang).  Also joining the ragtag group on their mission is a reprogrammed Imperial droid named K-2 (voiced by Alan Tudyk).

While this is all happening we see the Empire getting stronger as they test out their new Death Star.  The person in charge of the construction is Admiral Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), an evil, but insecure officer who is constantly trying to be noticed by his superiors, including Darth Vader himself.

This all leads to the rebels infiltrating an imperial base to steal the rebel plans.

And that’s about all I’ll say about the plot.  You don’t need to know more before watching it.  You’ll enjoy it better this way.

I was a little concerned a few months back when I heard about extensive reshoots, and some vital rewrites.  But I feel that most movies go through that, we just don’t hear about it.  But since this is a big Star Wars movie, the reshoots were more publicized.  To put people at ease, it doesn’t feel like there were any reshoots.  Everything flows together nicely.  But there are several big special effects shots that were in the trailer that were not in the final movie, so that’s where some of the reshoots came in probably, since the first trailer was out before the reshoots took place.

So……… how did this die-hard Star Wars fan like it?

When I first heard that director Gareth Edwards was directing this, I was wondering what his approach would be.  He started with the low-budget horror flick Monsters, and then made the Godzilla remake a couple of years back.  I never saw Monsters, but heard great things about it.  I enjoyed his version of Godzilla, but it didn’t blow me away.  I did think he was good at creating stark images.

I think Gareth was an inspired choice for this movie.  He does a great job.  Not only has he constructed breathtaking, unforgettable images, but he injects something new into the franchise.

Watching the original trilogy, the prequels and The Force Awakens, they all have a very similar feel.  While this is still certainly Star Wars, this was the first time in franchise history did I feel like I was seeing something new.  This is not a knock on Force Awakens.  That did a great job of recreating the Star Wars Universe we knew.  But what Gareth has done is show us something in this familiar Universe we haven’t seen.  Just the way things are filmed gave it a different vibe.  It still seems like Star Wars, but it’s through different eyes now, and the result is pretty amazing.

The best thing about this movie is the look.  I love seeing all of the storm troopers again.  I love seeing the inside of the Death Star again, and the recreating of Yavin.  It’s awesome! But also, seeing Storm Troopers and familiar creatures in new environments.  Also, seeing these familiar things filmed in a different way than we’ve seen before.  It’s grittier. And I loved it.  In fact, I think many fans are going to go bonkers for this movie.

The action has never been so urgent.  It’s intense, loud and fast, though it’s filmed in a way that everything was still clear.  Sure, there are some hand-held shots, but it’s not overdone in any way that would make the viewer confused or disoriented.  There are three big action pieces and they are all very well done.

The special effects are top-notch.  It definitely looked like they used some models for some of the space battles.  And if they didn’t, then they certainly made sure that the CGI effects looked like the models used in the original trilogy.  There are some other CGI effects that completely surprised and blew me away.  Now, I don’t want to give things away here, so I can’t say exactly what they are, but they went to great detail into recreating some iconic things from A New Hope.  Wow!

So, I’ve talked about the visual effects.  I’ve talked about the action.  And I’ve talked about the feel of the film.  So what about the story?

The story isn’t original, but it doesn’t have to be.  It’s essentially The Dirty Dozen, or any other “men on a mission” movie that was popular in WWII movies from the 60’s.  A group of ragtag misfits are sent on a seemingly impossible mission.  Setting that kind of plot in the Star Wars Universe is pretty cool I think.  The story works.

The characters….. well, this is where the film might have its weaker links.  That’s not to say any of the characters are bad, but a couple are a bit underdeveloped.  Felicity Jones is fine as Jyn.  She’s definitely a talented actress, but I wish her character was a little more fleshed out.  I might be in the minority, because when I said that to my brother (who joined me at the press screening), he looked at me like I was speaking another language.  But her character definitely isn’t as well written as Rey was in The Force Awakens.  But she services the plot well enough.  Diego Luna is also fine as Cassian.  But I found the supporting characters more memorable.

I loved Donnie Yen as the blind swordsman, but I’ve been a fan of his ever since I saw Iron Monkey 20 years ago.  He’s an incredible actor that is underused in Hollywood films, so it was a treat to see him be a bad ass in a Star Wars movie.  His could have been my favorite character.  His sidekick Biz, who possibly has the coolest gun ever, was also great and I loved their relationship.

But I feel like most people are going to walk away from the film loving the droid K-2.  He has most of the film’s funniest lines, but he’s also a kick-ass droid who has some great action moments. Alan Tudyk provided the voice, but it wasn’t that obvious.  I never once said, “hey, that sounds like Alan Tydyk”, which is the sign of good voice work.

I really liked Ben Mendelsohn as the kind of heavy in this .  I liked that he wasn’t this big tough guy.  He comes across like a snivelling, spoiled coward who just wants to get his glory, even if he doesn’t really deserve it.  He’s got some great scenes.  Very talented actor.

Forest Whitaker I’m on the fence about.  He’s not bad, but occasionally I wondered why he was straining his voice so much every time he talked.  I think it had something to do with his character having to take whiffs of oxygen from time to time, but I still felt he might have overacted a bit.  But now I’m beginning to nitpick.

But Darth Vader……. wow.  He’s only got a couple of scenes in the movie, but you WON’T forget them.

You can’t talk about Star Wars without talking about the music.  And it should be said that John Williams did NOT compose the music for Rogue One.  It was Michael Giacchino, who I feel is one of the best new composers working today.  I wasn’t worried at all when I heard he was brought on to score at the last-minute (replacing Alexandre Desplat).  I’ve read a few things that said it doesn’t sound that much like John Williams, and that’s where I would disagree.  Giacchino has done such a phenomenal job recreating the sound that Williams has created.  And he does so with hardly ever using the old themes.  Every once in a while, he’ll sneak in a brief familiar theme, but for the most part, Giacchino’s music is all new.  But it sounds like something Williams himself would have composed, which is what I think exactly what he was going for.  He is so good at emulating the work of others, that it could easily be passed off as such.  If you told me Williams did the score, I wouldn’t even think twice about it.  It’s a wonderful score and I can’t wait to get the soundtrack.  It definitely sounds like Star Wars to me!

I had a great time with this movie.  I wish I could tell you what my favorite stuff was, but that would be heading into spoiler territory.  My favorite scene is the last scene of the movie.  It just made the giddy Star Wars fan in me go nuts.  And it will make you go nuts too, and I can’t wait to talk to more fans about it.

So how does this stand with the rest of the Saga?  Well, of course it’s better than the prequels.  But I don’t like it as a much as the original trilogy, or even The Force Awakens.  That’s not because this isn’t good.  In fact, Rogue One is great!   But I have an emotional connection with those other movies that resonates with me.  This one didn’t impact me on an emotional level, but the 15-year-old Star Wars fan in me thought this was friggin’ cool!

That’s what I can say about this movie.  It’s not the best Star Wars movie, but it might be the coolest.  I was not disappointed at all.  I also think many people will like this better than The Force Awakens because it DOES have a different feel.  Fans that wanted more action will be very satisfied.  I also think every middle school boy on the planet will say that this is the BEST Star Wars movie.  It’s definitely the Star Wars movie that I wanted to see when I was 15.

So in short.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story….. it kicks ass!  No need to worry here. Where J.J. Abrams made Star Wars fun again with The Force Awakens, Director Gareth Edwards makes Star Wars cool again.

★★★½ (out of ★★★★)



Categories: Austin Kennedy, Uncategorized

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