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Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Posted: December 19, 2016 at 1:31 am   /   by

First, to address the elephant in the room: This movie has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Donald Trump.  Anyone who seriously says otherwise either hasn’t seen it yet, or is given in to wishful thinking.  It wouldn’t be the first time, of course.  Just think of how often Lefties insist 1984 is a cautionary tale against government becoming too…Conservative.

Now to business.

It probably wouldn’t be saying much to repeat the already-common line: “This is my favorite of the Star Wars prequels!”  But Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is truly a prequel—to the original Star Wars (aka A New Hope), filled with little moments that will enrich your cinematic experience if you’re at all familiar with the franchise.  The opening shot itself is something of a pun on the opening of the original film.  (I don’t know how else to describe it—suffice it to say, when you see it you’ll understand.)  The rebel base on Yavin IV is just as we remember.  Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits)—one of the few high points of the prequel trilogy—departs the film noting that he’s going to Alderaan (!), but plans to summon a certain old friend.

The Death Star plans are filled with familiar images…and we get a convincing, and dramatically right, explanation for that giant weakness.  The process of firing up the super-weapon is recreated almost shot-for-shot.  The station itself recieves a beautifully dramatic introduction, which A New Hope had sadly denied it.

And most apparent of all, there are the cameo appearances.  Grand Moff Tarkin—aka Mr. You-May-Fire-When-Ready—has a surprisingly major role.  The credits list a “new” actor, but either he is the world’s greatest Peter Cushing impersonator, or we’re seeing a particularly impressive, albeit eerie, work of CGI.  (To clarify: It’s both.)  And of course, we have Lord Vader Himself, voiced once again by the incomparable James Earl Jones.  He appears twice in the film—both sequences superb and harrowing.  Although…is it just me, or does he actually crack a 007-style joke?

I won’t spoil any of the other cameos, because it’s a delight to discover them as they occur.  I’ll just say a few things, about them.  First, certain characters in the Rebel fleet look like their “shots” were lifted directly from the original Star Wars.  Second, we see two classic pairs—one of which is delightfully inevitable, whereas for the other, it’s rather…weird that we’d see them there.  Third, the very last cameo is, like Tarkin, both CGI and a good impersonator…and maybe the original star’s voice.  (Well, they did get a “special thanks” credit.  There you go.)

But the focus is on the new, original characters—particularly the ragtag team, brought together from different corners of the galaxy, destined to steal the plans for the first Death Star.  Fans of classic “Bunch-of-guys-on-a-mission” war films like The Dirty Dozen and The Guns of Naverone will find Rogue One an absolute delight.

That said, perhaps the most glaring flaw of the film—the only one to hurt my enjoyment of the film in any way, really—is the annoying tendency it shares with many a “blockbuster”, nowadays.  Namely…the “first-act” introductions of the characters, and the situations bringing them together, feel a bit rushed.  It’s as if the filmmaker’s impatient to rush through the character-building and “cut to the chase”.  I often wished director Gareth Edwards would slow things down to give us some “breathers”, that first third of the movie.  Fortunately, once the team gets together, the pacing changes for the better…and things just keep improving, from there.

The central heroine, Jyn Erso, has a personal connection to the film’s events.  Actress Felicity Jones channels Jyn’s deep loneliness and desperation to perfection, conveying both teary-eyed vulnerability and fire-forged inner strength.  Part of you wants to give her a hug, over all the angst she’s clearly going through.  Part of you knows to stand back and let her keep what pride and dignity she’s holding on to.

The cause of all this conflict?  The fact that her father, Galen, is working for the Empire—as the leader of an elite team of engineers central to the design and structure of a certain secret project.  Mads Mikkelsen plays Dr. Erso—and hard as it may be to picture him as anything but a shudder-inducing villain (see Casino Royale and the Hannibal series), he definitely pulls off, here, a deeply sympathetic and loving father…who honestly had no choice but to abandon his little girl in order to save her.  Indeed, it is his love for her that motivates quite a few of the key plot points of the film.

Jyn’s secondary father figure, Rebel militant Saw Gerrera (the magnificent Forest Whitaker), will be familiar to faithful fans of the Clone Wars and Rebels series.  Now an old man, crippled in more ways than one, he and his men fight the Empire using methods the rest of the Alliance has deemed a tad…extreme.  But they’ve come to realize they need him after all, as Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) approaches the veteran, claiming to be a defector with a desperate message for the Rebellion.

Rebel fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is something of a cross between Han Solo and Jack Bauer—dashing and roguish, but with a deeply pragmatic side that sometimes borders on cruelty.  One guess as to whether he’s hiding a True Heart Of Gold under that hard exterior.

Reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) is cursed with an inability to censor his thoughts…and blessed with an especially sardonic wit—his personality a clever blend of R2-D2’s snark and C-3PO’s dignified innocence, while still proving a compelling character all his own.  And amid the “typical wisecracking robot” trope, he is fully capable of great feats of bravery—ultimately deserving of the term “epic”, by the end.

Rounding out the main protagonists are a duo of former monk-priests of the Force.  One (Donnie Yen) is a blind Zen-esque master, chanting prayers of being One with the Force to motivate his considerable prowess—not with a lightsaber (sorry, folks), but with long staffs and energy crossbows.  The other (Wen Jiang) has abandoned the priesthood to become a war-hardened fighter, fond of massive handheld weaponry.

Besides Tarkin and Vader, the main antagonist is Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn, in a performance somewhat reminiscent of a cross between Christoph Waltz and Tom Hardy).  Menacing and charismatic around enemies, he proves a bit too ambitious for his own good.  His desperation to prove himself superior to Tarkin in running the Death Star project leads to moments of instability…which he’s eventually called out on by a most interesting source.

All these characters, old and new, come together and interact in ways wondrous to behold.  The action is spectacular, and certainly become of, yes, a war film.  And, even though we know in our minds what will eventually come out of all this, there are moments of grand suspense.  Nowhere is this more true than the final moments of the climax, as a last major threat comes closer…and closer…and the fate of the Rebellion comes down to the spans of a few harrowing seconds….

Personal moments abound—especially concerning Jyn Erso.  For in the end, amid all the war-heroics, this is the story of a coming-of-age, as an orphan girl, feeling abandoned by all, finds her place in the universe.  She discovers the heroine within herself amid reconciling with the two “fathers” in her life, and their respective legacies.

Michael Giacchino’s score feels like something out of the era of the original trilogy—with clever uses of the “Force Theme” (aka “Twin Suns”) and the “Imperial March”.  Alas, the incomparable theme we all know and love doesn’t appear until the end credits…but Giacchino crafted a nice variation on it, to serve as the “new” theme for this first spinoff.  It really does feel like something John Williams would create.  Giacchino is filling those shoes well.

All in all, this is a worthy filling in of a “gap” in the Star Wars saga.  Others have noted that Rogue One actually enhances one’s enjoyment of the original film.  For me, it feels like that missing first portion of a story we’d never realized was incomplete.  It feels right, linking it right to A New Hope.  And in short, dear readers, this “prequel” just feels right, period.

Even if we do miss an opening “crawl”.

(For bonus points, fellow Conservatives, Jyn’s speech to the Rebel leaders almost comes across like the screenwriters looked, yes, to Ronald Reagan for inspiration.  Specifically, that one clause of his “Time For Choosing” speech so many of us know by heart: “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny: We will preserve for our children this—the last best hope of man on Earth…or we will sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.”)

Movie Grade: A-

But the movie here on Amazon.  And stay film-friendly, my friends.

 

Eric Blake

Eric Blake

Team Writer at Western Free Press
Eric M. Blake is a recent graduate of the University of South Florida, with a Bachelor's in Political Science and a Master's in Film Studies.  As that implies, he is very passionate about political theory and filmmaking--and the connections between the two.  Inspired by Andrew Breitbart's axiom that "Politics is downstream from culture", he is deeply fascinated by the great influence that popular culture has on public opinion, and is a firm believer in the power of storytelling.  He proudly owns his second copy of Ben Shapiro's Primetime Propaganda...his first copy having been worn out though intense re-reading.

Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory.  He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests.  He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work.  Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.

Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com.  He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio.  In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
Eric Blake

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Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”