Walt Disney Pictures 134 minutes PG-13
This may be the first stand alone film of the Star Wars franchise, but there are still ties to the original trilogy along with familiar themes and characters. They even used some costumes from previous films. Plus, Star Wars continues using a strong woman to lead the fight against the evil Empire. Some people are trying to politicize the messages in this film, even accusing the filmmakers of changing the script to reflect current politics. The theme of Rogue One is the fight to get the plans for the destructive Death Star before the evil Empire uses it to obliterate whole planets. That’s a theme for many action adventures, so don’t look for conspiracies, just enjoy the ride following a diverse group of rebels led by Felicity Jones as Jyn.
Special effects rule. It’s what Star Wars fans expect. It’s battle after battle with guns, destruction and a lot of explosions. Some of which gets a little confusing and repetitive in the middle. Fans never get enough action, but other filmgoers may not be as forgiving. Director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) pushes every fight to the limit introducing some interesting characters in the process.
Diego Luna is Captain Cassian Andor, an Intelligence officer for the rebellion who finally teams up with Jyn in the climactic battle. Jones says both she and Luna were nervous the first day and must’ve rehearsed their first scene 30 times on the way to the location. He says he was very lucky to have her by her side because of the pressure of working on Star Wars. They both felt this big production and amazing set was very special and so new to them both.
Felicity Jones is a bitty thing, but she plays it big in this film. She had fun learning how to fight. We find her as a young child with her family in the beginning of the film in a faraway, remote place. Not THAT far away place, but in an isolated area, separated from any civilization. Her father, Galen Orso (Mads Mikkelsen) was a brilliant scientist who designed the Death Star. When Death Star Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) tracks down Orso and his family, Galen instructs Jun to flee. After Mom is murdered and Dad is kidnapped, Jyn is rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Saw is a rebel legend and a true bad-ass with some unique qualities. In one cut we fast forward many years to Jyn as a young woman and a prisoner of the Empire.
Cassian is a member of the Rebel Alliance, finds her and breaks her out of jail. He's not a compelling hero but supports Jyn all the way. We also meet Cassian’s sidekick K2SO, a retooled Empire Droid with a sarcastic sense of humor. K2SO is hilarious and the most fun new character voiced by comedian Alan Tudyk (second time he’s played a robot in a film.) Jones says he would throw out wild lines and make them laugh during some serious scenes when they were fighting the stormtroopers. Luna says K2 has no filter. Sometimes he said something good, sometimes it’s whacky, but it’s always funny.
They’re also joined by Donnie Yen who plays Chirrut, a Zen Jedi like character with martial arts cred. He’s also blind and invokes The Force mantra over and over, “The Force is with me and I am one with The Force.” Yen had never played a blind character before which he says was a challenge he enjoyed. His fight scenes are really choreographed well his moves are as smooth as ballet. He also liked that the lead was a female in this film giving it a “yin and yang” balance. His cohort is Baze Malbus, played by Chinese actor/director Wen Jiang. They’re a tough, throughly likable team.
Riz Ahmed plays Bodhi Rook, originally a pilot for the Empire who left the dark side to join the Rebels. He also brings a good vibe to his role and he turns up in some crucial moments. Their mission is to steal the Death Star Plan so they can destroy it and prevent the Empire from total domination.
Enter a younger and slimmer Darth Vader, still voiced by James Earl Jones with that iconic wheeze. He’s a lurking, menacing presence even though he doesn’t have many scenes. Vader and Orson are competing for power in the Empire heirarchy. We do get to see Vader in action briefly which reminds why he’s one of the great villains of all-time.
Special effects Supervisor John Kroll is being credited with coming up with the story and was also given an Executive Producer’s credit. He worked on it with Writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. Kroll says the story dictated the visuals which were sometimes too big to be made as sets. They had to make a digital library of tanks, race car engines and more to become parts of spaceships and the other hardware used in the film. We thought some of the space stations and space craft looked like old style models put together with glue. They weren’t all as visually stimulating as we thought they could be. We won’t give it away here, but you’ll immediately know what we’re describing when you see the scene. Let us know if you agree.
Director Gareth Edwards says he took off on what George Lucas did originally. Lucas took World War II guns and pushed the design to make it space age. Edwards says he would “push it” and give it a twist to make it look more futuristic. That’s what Edwards says he was trying to do, too. And we can see some of the weapons the Rebels had looked pretty retro. Even some of their combat helmets and uniforms looked like they were from the WWII era.
The fighting on the planet surface was full of action, but even though the Stormtroopers looked menacing, they were push overs in any kind of fight. They looked same as always, but didn’t seem to be able to defend themselves very well. There were white plastic-looking bodies flying everywhere.
The sound and sound effects are exceptional and add a huge dimension to the action. Same for the score by Michael Giacchino (Up, Ratatouille,Lost). It’s powerful. This is the first time John Williams has not been in charge of the music for a Star Wars movie, but his famous theme does get it’s due.
Gareth Edwards has made a War Wars story worthy of its heritage. Felicity Jones shows courage not only in her on-screen character, but for taking on the role in the first place. There’s a lot of pressure to join the ranks of Star Wars heroes. The inevitable comparisons and debates can be rough. Jones as Jyn, however, deserves credit. She’s tough, determined and makes us believe she can handle the physical demands of the role.
The design team was asked to create multiple planets and cities, shooting in Jordan, Iceland, and the Maldives. None of those sets felt overly fake. They created entire worlds that we felt could actually exist in some galaxy. Nice trick. This movie will first and foremost satisfy the fans. There’s a great amount of “new” in this production, but just enough of the familiar to keep Star Wars fanatics glued to the screen. It was fun to hear them burst into applause and cheers when one of the “heritage” characters turns up. If you’re one of the few who has never seen a Star Wars movie sit near some one who knows the fable to understand the nuances from their reactions. Even though this movie has some bumps, it’s a sure bet plenty of fans will be making the short trip to a theater so they can travel to a galaxy far, far away.