Friday, December 16, 2016

The Force is strong as ‘Star Wars’ returns with ‘Rogue One’

By Steve Crum
Compelling and literally action-jammed from the get-go, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story can be appreciated as a stand alone sci-fi adventure. That translates to anyone who has not seen the other seven Star Wars movies should enjoy Rogue One. However, diehard fans will enjoy Rogue at least 10 times more. Director Gareth Edwards’ faithful telling makes this film so satisfyingly successful. 
Although part of its title is A Star Wars Story, Rogue One is more aptly Stars Wars Part III.5. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s screenplay (based on a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta) involves a mission to steal plans for the evil Empire’s Death Star, which is directly linked to the premise of Star Wars: Part IV - A New Hope. And which is the very first  Star Wars movie released back in 1977. 
Yes, we’ve gone from Parts IV, V and VI to I, II and III. And then to Part VII. And now this one, sandwiched between III and IV. Never have such Roman Numerals meant so much to so many…fans. 
Whew. That all said, there are plenty of stylistic touches and new characters to make Rogue One seem fresh, which also invigorates the ongoing franchise. Considering other Star Wars movies are set to be released on a yearly basis until who knows when, this is more than just a newly hopeful development. 
The major fresh ingredient here is having a female lead, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who is much in the spirit of Luke Skywalker. In a preface we learn she was separated from her parents, who were doomed on their home planet by Galactic Empire storm troopers. Sounds a bit like Luke’s tragic experience regarding his aunt and uncle, eh? 
Fifteen years later, Jyn joins the Rebel Alliance and teams with a variety of beings, some human, some not. Again, there is a similarity to the Skywalker/Han Solo crew. This time, however, we get Cassian Andor (Diego Luno), as a Rebel officer;  Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind, Samurai-type warrior; and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). Reluctantly joining the team is ex-Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Forest Whitaker has a featured part as Saw Gerrera, a Clone Wars veteran. There is also the movie’s heroic comic relief droid K-2SO, in the metallic vein of C-3PO, voiced by Alan Tukyk. The 7’ 1” K-2SO was originally part of the Imperial force, but has been reprogrammed as a Rebel soldier. 
Together, they seek out the technical specs on how to destroy the planet-obliterating weapon, The Death Star. Remember that in A New Hope the plot involves using those plans to actually destroy the Death Star. See how all this neatly ties together? The blend truly is seamless. 
By the time this is published, when the film opens, most of the spoilers will be known, including returning Star Wars characters. Therefore, I won’t detail their cameos, but look for R2-D2 and C-3PO, Darth Vader (again voiced by James Earl Jones), Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), and Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa. Then there is also a bit with a certain Princess Leia, featuring a CGI’d Carrie Fisher. 
Two returnees who have major speaking roles are Darth Vader (again voiced by James Earl Jones), and (the late) Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, Death Star head honcho. Cushing died 22 years ago, but through the brilliance of CGI effects + an unnamed voice artist, he lives again. It is incredible. 
Rogue One moves along for a zapping, breakneck 133 minutes. 


GRADE on an A-F Scale: A-