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'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' Review: The Darkest Movie of the Franchise

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Diego Luna and Felicity Jones in ROGUE ONE

EMPIRE STRIKES BACK was the darkest and grittiest of the STAR WARS film that is until ROGUE ONE:  A STAR WARS STORY.  Unlike other STAR WARS films, there are no cutesy-elements like R2-D2, the Ewoks or BB-8, and the light-hearted moments are kept to a minimum. While the film fits into the George Lucas universe with familiar elements, this is a far more serious film. Director Gareth Edwards has made this film his own.

ROGUE ONE takes place before STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE (1977) and five years after “Star Wars Rebels.”  Felicity Jones’s Jyn Erso is the reluctant hero forced into the rebellion after finding out her father Galen is responsible for building the weapon of mass destruction - the Death Star. Diego Luna is a soldier in the Rebellion torn between following orders and his own conscious.

THE GOOD

The strongest element of ROGUE ONE is the cast.  Felicity Jones and Diego Luna are excellent in their roles. There’s an immediate but unconventional attraction between the two, but the rebels keep it professional throughout the movie since neither knows whether to trust each other. Wen Jiang, Donnie Yen and Riz Ahmed are equally compelling as part of the Rogue One crew.  K-2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk provides sarcasm and comedy relief, but he is far from being a cute droid like C-3PO, but equally enjoyable.  You really care for these characters, and you want them to succeed not just for the rebellion but for their own personal goals.

The story is compelling regardless if you already know the ending. The first two acts take you into a world you haven’t seen before in the STAR WARS universe which is refreshing. However, the finale pits you in a setting parallel to RETURN OF THE JEDI. While it has a nostalgic feel to it, it feels like a retread. It takes you out of the moment.  While there were familiar moments, the space battle is pretty cool with tie fighters taking on the alliance. There are a few surprises in that sequence I don’t want to ruin, but it definitely takes you back to the originals.

Director Gareth Edwards masterfully sets up this new world and the characters that are not based on previous STAR WARS movies, which is an advantage in my point of view. Having to be bogged down by history and mythology limits your options to take characters in a different direction.

The cinematography by Greig Fraser is beautiful yet gritty, and probably the best looking film in the franchise. The special effects are top notch.

Of course there are nods to the original STAR WARS films that will make you smile. There are so subtle you may miss them, but that’s the beauty of it. You don’t get hit in the head with it.

The So-So

Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic was not the menacing figure I thought he would be. To follow in the footsteps of Darth Vader and the Emperor isn’t an easy task, but Mendelsohn is a terrific actor and so the expectations are high going in. Krennic is written as very human with many flaws and insecurities, but he’s not over-the-top evil. He’s a lieutenant trying to climb the ladder. His relatability, however, makes him less of a threat. In the STAR WARS universe, sometimes it’s good just to be bad with no redeeming qualities.

Ben Mendelsohn as Krennic in ROGUE ONE

That brings us to Darth Vader. Of course, he’s not in it nearly enough, but we expected that. However, the scenes he is in are orgasmic to say the least. However, this Darth Vader is much thinner and the walk is definitely not David Prowse in the suit. Having just recently watched the scene in which Vader walks into the rebel base on Hoth in EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, it just didn’t match up.  Besides that, those moments in ROGUE ONE with the ultimate baddie is worth watching again.  

Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera is an interesting character that’s not explored enough especially for casual or non-fans of the STAR WARS universe.  Like Darth, he has some mechanical body parts and often needs a puff of his oxygen mask. Die hard fans may know his backstory, but a casual fans like myself didn’t know how he came to be part machine or what led him to distrust the rebellion.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY definitely requires multiple viewings because it’s worth it. Disney’s opening numbers are conservative for a reason. This latest film in the STAR WARS anthology is less family-friendly than STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS.

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY is in movie theaters December 16.

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