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Review: Star Wars: Rogue One

Felicity Jones and Diego Luna star in Lucasfilm's STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE

Even before actually watching it, I think it’s safe to believe that everyone knows how Star Wars: Rogue One will be ending. Under these circumstance, the journey becomes even more vital as it needs to produce the kind of overall value that makes a conclusion that’s not all that captivating or surprising excusable. If that was the goal here, many will undoubtedly leave the theaters satisfied after watching this sequel/prequel/standalone film set in a galaxy far away from this one.

Before even thinking about the adventures that lie ahead in its second act, Rogue One starts off in a manner that’s different from any Star Wars film that came before it. This detail may appear innocuous to the uninitiated, but for fans who’ve seen many if not all of these space based soap operas, the change will be obvious and maybe even unacceptable for the hardest of hardcore fans.

During this portion of the movie, we’re introduced to the plot and the characters. The central character here is Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones. After being separated from all she’s known in her life, Jyn joins an assorted band of rebels (Diego Luna, Donny Yen, Riz Ahmed and Jiang Wen) looking to act as heroes for the galaxy’s oppressed. With skill and perseverance accompanying the strongest of convictions, the eclectic bunch set out on a mission to steal plans to the Death Star and prevent the dark side from growing even stronger.

Selling a movie like Rogue One as a standalone is kind of difficult. You know there will be some kind of connection to the cinematic universe it belongs to, so you also know it can’t be a complete standalone in a traditional sense. While that turns out to be true, it does manage to make its own voice heard as a film in a long running franchise with bigger sequels/prequels looming on the horizon.

What allows this to separate itself is that it manages to create its own identity while still acknowledging all that it’s a part of. That’s tricky territory when talking about fans and what we usually see from the likes of Disney these days with safe, repetitive movie making they’ve been involved in. That’s one of the issues that some people had with The Force Awakens. As much as people enjoyed it for its nostalgia, it really is A New Hope (with a bit of Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi) with a more politically correct touch to it.

While Rogue One has a few elements that are similar, it takes its own route to get where it wants to get to. Because of that approach, this comes off as being an actual movie. On the other hand, its immediate predecessor is more of an event geared strictly toward servicing fans of the original trilogy. That alone could satisfy those hardcore fanatics, but there are some of us who wouldn’t be fine with studios just giving audiences something to cheer for from yesteryear.

Rogue One also caught me a bit off guard due to it taking more of a mature angle to all that is seen. While it most certainly earns its PG-13 rating, its tone is one fit for people willing to handle something with adults in mind. With this being Disney and following up that incredibly successful 2015 reintroduction to the Star Wars universe, I was anticipating a feature that was more kid friendly and extremely predictable in that it would completely follow the style that was just laid out before it.

Instead of continuing in that direction, we get a picture that legitimately is trying to be free. That was unexpected because we’re kind of revisiting a world that we’ve known for decades now. If Disney were going to play it as safe as they have been, you would expect them to do it here instead. The positive that came out of this is that it proves that Hollywood is able to make good movies that are familiar and predictable while still managing to be somewhat unique.

Aside from creating an interesting journey that feels fresh, developing characters that help further the story and carry its drama also proves to be vital. Here, that’s something that’s done well even if the characters themselves are not groundbreaking or anything. The people that we follow here are fully formed adults who are resolute and strong throughout. Even the lead villain (played by Ben Mendelsohn) maintains a certain level of resolve that’s impossible to ignore.

This is something that’s important to filmmaking. Utilizing characters that seemingly pose actual threats to one another assists in building the necessary drama that basically every movie needs at its core. That one thing that both sides want or need to obtain at all cost becomes even more vital when the rivals are equal to one another or the antagonists have the upper hand. It’s overcoming those odds that makes things more intriguing for audiences.

It’s weird because in a land where people play mind tricks and use a force strong enough to rule galaxies, the quality of this particular story comes from its characters with little to no powers. Felicity Jones’ Jyn can be used to illustrate that. Instead of making her or any of her allies super soldiers, they have to rely on cunning and guts to achieve their goals.

Not only that, but the team of rebels that she joins play their parts well as they show themselves to be people who do more than a fair amount in order to achieve a common goal. They weren’t just sitting on the side while others did all the work. This allows Rogue One to feel somewhat believable in terms of logic and common sense even though it’s obviously fiction and unrealistic.

This aspect of the film is where Disney made improvements. This not only gives the other characters something to do aside from standing there and getting stabbed in the stomach by loved ones, it also makes the story feel whole. When the story does shift from Jyn, there’s a chance for audiences to bond with and even support the other heroes that are along this intergalactic journey.

You can make an argument that they went too far away from those nostalgic elements that had Star Wars fans collectively ranting and raving over The Force Awakens. You can also make an argument that this is a good thing. Sure, there are big moments that connect this movie to the world that was already introduced to us, but they never get in the way and they never overshadow the story that we’re asked to follow. When done right, this is how things like cameos should be dealt with.

The one cameo that we all know about already is Darth Vader. While I was pumped to see him onscreen again, I actually ended up being a disappointed about how he’s actually used. I knew he was only going to be in it for a small amount of time, but that isn’t the issue. The problem here is that they had a chance to do something more impactful with him. I went in wondering how they would include his character into all of this, but I left thinking they should have just left him out if he wasn’t going to be asked to do more than what he actually does here.

Although that’s a negative feature, Rogue One is a vast improvement over Disney’s first big screen venture in this beloved science fiction universe. As a matter of fact, this gave me a new sense of hope for the future of the franchise and is one of the best in the entire series. Moving forward, attempts to make actual films that will add to what’s already been laid out should be paramount to everything else. These movies are going to make money anyway, so taking a few more risks, adding a legit amount of depth and simply trying new things could catapult this stuff to both new and familiar levels of success.

Rating: PG-13

Director: Gareth Edwards

Felicity Jones
Diego Luna
Ben Mendelsohn
Donnie Yen
Mads Mikkelsen
Alan Tudyk
Jiang Wen
Forest Whitaker

Film Length: 133 minutes

Release Date: December 16, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures

  • 7/10
    Score - 7/10
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