“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”: A Terrific Blend of Old and New

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“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is directed by Gareth Edwards and stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, and Forest Whitaker.  The film takes place between the events of “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” and “Episode IV: A New Hope”, and is about the rebellion’s efforts as they make an effort to obtain the plans for the Death Star from the Empire.

This is a Star Wars movie, so, of course, the expectations were through the roof.  Besides that obvious statement, there was a lot that I had to look forward to, as director Gareth Edwards (known for 2014’s “Godzilla”) appeared to be taking this movie in a darker, grittier direction, and that is something I have always wanted to see from a Star Wars film.  That paired alongside a solid cast and some fantastic trailers made me incredibly excited to see this movie.

The Good

Well, for starters, the darker, grittier direction I was hoping for was exactly what I got here, and it makes for a Star Wars film that can stand on its own. Edwards nails this war-like setting to a tee, and it makes for some spectacular battles, as well as for some stunning set pieces.  This film is gorgeously crafted and has breathtaking wide shots as a result, and the combination of Edwards, along with cinematographer Greig Fraser and the entire visual effects compartment makes “Rogue One” a feast for the eyes.

Going more into that, the combination of CGI along with live action characters is almost completely seamless, and it never takes away from the grittiness of the entire film.  There have often been times in the previous movies in the franchise where a crazy looking computer-generated character is thrown in and feels way (Jar) out (Jar) of (Binx) place.  This film doesn’t have that issue, as when the visual effects are used they are used effectively and intelligently, and they add to scenes instead of making them stick out.  The score, while no John Williams score, done by Michael Giacchino is great in its own right, as it adds more uniqueness to the movie’s already original style.

The acting performances are solid all-around, with some standouts that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Felicity Jones is good as the lead in the film, doing about as much as I could have wanted her to do considering the character she was given to play.  I really liked Diego Luna as Cassian, as I found his character to be the one I most often sided with, and the one who had the most depth to him.  Alan Tudyk as the voice of K-2SO is simply amazing, as nearly each line that came from Tudyk was as hilarious as the next, as K-2SO’s constant wittiness was a delight to have along with the often somber mood of the overall movie.

I was a big fan of both Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang’s roles as the duo of Chirrut and Baze, as they were often like the Han Solo and Chewbacca of this movie.  Yen is great as the blind staff-wielder, as is Jiang as the one who must always back him up, and the back and forth banter that these two often have showed some unique perspectives on the world, as well as some much-needed humor.

Of course, I can’t talk about show stealers without mentioning one of the greatest villains in film history.  Yes, Darth Vader is in this movie, and yes, he is spectacular in the scenes that he is represented in.  I will not go into any more depth than that to avoid spoilers, but I believe that Vader got the correct amount of screen time and that the scenes he was in were some of the best in the entire film.

Where the film shines is with two dueling concepts, and that is with the balance of a movie that feels completely original, but also a movie that makes references to numerous events of previous films of the franchise, and I believe Edwards teeters this line very successfully.  The war-like feel and the fresh style of visuals made for a new feeling Star Wars film, but the continuous callbacks to well-known characters and plotlines also made this movie feel necessary to add to the universe.  I loved both of these aspects equally, and I think if Edwards had tipped the scales of either side too much, then this film could have been a potential dud.

The last third of this movie has some of the best-looking shots and some of the most well-done action and tension I have ever seen from a Star Wars film, and it makes for some of the most entertaining moments in a movie all year.  The end (no spoilers) is done perfectly, as the final moments of “Rogue One” are exactly what I could have wanted.

The Bad

The opening act of this movie does feel a bit slow at times, while also feeling somewhat forced.  There is a clear moment early on that is just a long sequence of characters throwing exposition at you because they decided not to have a title crawl, and also there are just some conflicts that didn’t feel all that necessary that just end briefly with no clear purpose.

Forest Whitaker’s character of Saw Gerrera really seems unnecessary, or at least incorrectly implemented in the grand scheme of things.  I understand his purpose, but his character is overall pretty strange, and the events that occur surrounding his character are even more bizarre and tedious to the overall story.  I feel that simply streamlining him out of the movie altogether would have made the opening act overall more effective, and the time used to somewhat develop his character could have been used to develop other characters that desperately needed it.

Speaking of those characters, while the performances of both Felicity Jones and Ben Mendelsohn are fine, the way each of their characters are written felt like something was missing.  With Jones, I never really got on board with her character, as I often found myself disagreeing with her arguments with fellow rebels, and I ended up just going with her because I was supposed to instead of passionately believing in her choices.  As for Mendelsohn, he is supposed to be the main villain of the movie, but I never felt the fire in his character as much as I had hoped.  The trailers painted Mendelsohn as a very despicable person, but not much of that translated into that actual movie in my opinion.

While this is not a flaw that I personally had, I think that non-Star Wars fans or simply casual fans of this franchise may find significantly less enjoyment in “Rogue One” in comparison to me.  While the action and the storyline are things that anyone can get on board with, it is the constant references to previous efforts that will fly right past these casual viewers, and that may make the movie have a much smaller impact overall.

Conclusion

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” offers a solid mix of originality along with callbacks to the originals, all while having breathtaking visuals, splendid action, and a perfectly done finale.  Though it may have some shortcomings towards the beginning, as well as some characters I had issues with, there is so much to commend Gareth Edwards for doing right here that I can overlook these small complaints.  The experience may be different for someone with less background info, but from a superfan’s perspective, “Rogue One” absolutely delivers, and is a thoroughly entertaining and satisfying ride.

Badge-8.5

Get tickets and showtimes for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” here

What did you think of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”?  Comment below with your thoughts.


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