Giphy

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” Is One Of The Franchise’s Best


By James Preston Poole

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A spin-off sequel to prequels of an original trilogy that itself spawned sequels – what kind of franchise would be confident enough to risk this sort of audience confusion?

“Star Wars”, of course!



Hot off the heels of 2015’s smash hit, “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens”, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is a bit of a risky proposition. Directed by Gareth Edwards (“Monsters”, “Godzilla”), the first in a potential series of spin-offs looks at the familiar universe George Lucas created through the lens of a gritty war epic.

Any way you look at it, “Rogue One” was going to be an interesting film to take in. What’s perhaps surprising is that it manages to becomes one of the franchise’s very best entries, and certainly its most complex.

The film, set right before “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope”, follows a ragtag crew led by the scrappy Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and dedicated captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to steal the plans of an Imperial super weapon code-named the “Death Star” for the Rebel Alliance. Trailed by the treacherous weapons director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), their mission will test not only their loyalties, but also what they’re capable of.

To say the rebellion has big issues to deal with would be an understatement. (Giphy)

To say the rebellion has big issues to deal with would be an understatement. (Giphy)



As soon as the familiar “A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away…” text fades, it’s instantly clear this is going to be a very different “Star Wars” film.

The prologue, involving Jyn’s father – portrayed by Madds Mikkelsen in an understated-but-effective performance – getting captured by the Empire as a young Jyn runs for her life, sets a dark tone that rarely lets up.

The shadow of war looms over each of the diverse worlds we visit throughout the course of the film. Gareth Edwards really doesn’t hold back in the grimness of the situation, and it makes the universe feel realer than ever.

Action-wise, this tangibility carries over, with every skirmish feeling incredibly intense and personal. In particular, the jam-packed third act feels like watching a World War II documentary with lasers and AT-ATs inserted in.

Even in space, war is hell. (Giphy)

Even in space, war is hell. (Giphy)



Impressively, Edwards manages to convey a moral grey usually unheard of for most blockbusters. The Rebel Alliance makes very slimy calls through the film, and oftentimes you’re left questioning if the ends justify the means.

Writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy did a bang-up job of telling a sprawling, exciting tale that’s handled very well by a game cast.

Felicity Jones makes for a compelling lead as Jyn Erso, sure to become as iconic as Rey in a few week’s time. Diego Luna fares even better in his no-nonsense, at times even cold-blooded, performance. It’s quite remarkable that he still manages to make us root for Cassian Andor when the script takes his character in his some darker directions.

These two make for an electric duo. (Giphy)

These two make for an electric duo. (Giphy)



Donnie Yen steals all of the scenes he’s in as the blind, force-sensitive Chirrut, as does Alan Tudyk’s motion-capture performance as smart-ass droid K-2SO. They both provide a welcome amount of levity (especially in Tudyk’s case) as well as a fresh new perspective on the universe. Forest Whitaker is also a welcome presence as the Clone Wars veteran Saw Gerrera, playing his part with an intriguing weariness.

Unfortunately, not everyone fares well here. Ben Mendelsohn is a disappointment as Krennic, failing to rise above the typical Imperial antagonist we’ve already seen in previous films. Riz Ahmed and Jiang Wen also fail to make much of an impression here either, feeling more like they’re filling archetypes on the team as Bodhi Rook and Baze, respectively.

Thankfully, any performance misgivings are drowned out by a variety of other things this movie absolutely nails.

As mentioned before, the set pieces are a sight to behold. Excellent cinematography by Greig Fraser (“Zero Dark Thirty”) creates a sense of scale that amplifies the tension. If I had any criticism regarding the action, it would be that it gets a bit overloaded in the third-act, with fatigue beginning to set in a certain point.

Giphy

Giphy



Pacing-wise, however, this film is dynamite. It’s constantly taking us from location-to-location, character-to-character, and wasting no bit of screen-time. Even with such a breakneck pace, “Rogue One” feels deeply engrained within the “Star Wars” universe.

Concepts such as Kyber crystals – previously restricted to the novels and animated series – are here in full force, as are several supporting players from the previous films in the series. Familiar faces such as Bail Organa and Mon Mothma show up to give a sense of setting, but there are so many more fun cameos and appearances for fans to look forward to.

In particular, one character whose actor died over 20 years is brought back as an all-CGI creation and it looks absolutely incredible. Not only that, but he’s a major supporting player in this film, with over 15 minutes of screen time! Audiences are likely to be mixed on this character’s inclusion, though I think it represents a potential new milestone in special effects.

Of course, everybody’s wondering about the big man himself: Darth Vader.

While he’s not in it much, his scenes are chilling. When he’s in the movie, he’s in the movie, and his appearance is so memorable you’ll be begging for a Vader solo spin-off.

Make it happen, Disney. (Giphy)

Make it happen, Disney. (Giphy)



Beyond just cameos, this film’s connection to the other films makes it even more poignant.

The final 10 minutes are flooring, tying into “Episode IV: A New Hope” perfectly. Edwards really takes a risk with where his characters end up, and this is the rare prequel that manages to make the originals even better.

You’ll be screaming in fanboy glee for the final few moments of this film, guaranteed.

“Rogue One: A Star War Story” is a truly brave blockbuster, and cements not only the prestige of “Star Wars” as a franchise, but also Gareth Edwards as a filmmaker. If this is the quality of the “Star Wars” spin-offs going forward, consider me in for whatever Disney brings us next. The force is strong with this one.