Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

By George M. Thomas

Felicity Jones and Diego Luna in ROGUE ONE: A STAR
Whether a standalone flick free of the Skywalker Chronicles could satisfy the hunger of rabid STAR WARS fans has been a question of debate since the first trilogy wrapped way back when.

It’s been answered with ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

If you combine reasonably compelling characters, rip-roaring action, and spectacular special effects, the STAR WARS crowd will flock.  

Witness the second trilogy, after all.

There was never any doubt that there would be other films in the Star Wars Universe after Disney shelled out a reported $4 billion for George Lucas’ little baby that grew from that first set of films – just as there will be more Indiana Jones films. 

Call me a little cynical if I thought that the House that Mickey built wouldn’t know what to do with it.   As it turns out, however, they made the wise move and bought the property and left those who knew it best – sans Lucas – in charge.

The result: a film that, though not without flaws, is still a very, very delicious piece of popcorn entertainment that plays quite nicely in what is about to become the mindless portion of the holiday season.

Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s screenplay takes us to just before the onset of the Skywalker era.  The Death Star (I, for one, will be happy when I never have to type those words about a STAR WARS movie again) has just been completed and its primary engineer, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), is forced to develop it separated from his daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones), who he sent away to be raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). 

Years later, Jyn is sought by the leaders of the Rebel Alliance because of her father. They want Jyn to use her connection to Saw to learn whether rumors of a defection of an Empire pilot are true.  Paired with grizzled war veteran Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and pesky Empire droid K-2SO, reprogrammed to work for the rebels, she sets about her reluctant quest to contact Saw.

When he delivers the information the pilot had, a previously reluctant Jyn is all-in on this rebellion thing.   She has hope, a reference that devotees of the Force will understand.

There are many such touches to be seen in ROGUE ONE.  There’s little sense in divorcing itself from the source material.

Director Gareth Edwards doesn’t depart entirely from the influence of Lucas’ original films.  Thankfully, the stilted dialogue has been blasted to smithereens, but Lucas said more than a few times that the space battle scenes were lifted from old war films, especially those focused on World War II. Rogue One’s story and mission possesses the feel of the same era, tinged with tension, intrigue, and more than its share of humor.

As for the performances?  Jones provides another strong female character in the Star Wars universe, while her cast of comrades – which feels as if they’re being added a la Dorothy’s journey to Oz – all offer something.  Pay attention to Donnie Yen, especially.

If, however, if you’re looking for the emotional heft: turn to Oscar-winner Whitaker, who provides a sense of gravitas to the proceedings in limited screen time.

It’s refreshing to not see a Skywalker-centric story, and after the summer of cinematic discontent, ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY provides a reason to hit theaters this holiday season.

Director:  Gareth Edwards
Cast:  Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Mads Mikkelsen
Studio:  Walt Disney Studios
Rated:  PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Running time:  133 minutes
George’s rating: 3-of-4

Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com

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