Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One A Star Wars Story

It is never easy satisfying the fan base of Star Wars while expanding the fan base.

Warning: Anything beyond could warrant spoilers.

Last year's Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a very good movie introducing new characters and re-visiting old ones. The quibbles from a few fans was that it was a re-hash of the original movie which it so was. Most people didn't care as it was a great romp with an old friend. Still, the hope was the new tales might be told from a different perspective of a much loved as well derided space opera.

Rogue One was to a be movie that was a one-off story that fit the pieces and director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla) was to ensure it was a more adult story. While some humour was incorporated there was no attempt to embed marketable cute characters into the storyline that appealed to children. The list of writers associated with the story is an indication of struggle.

The visual effects producer for the prequel Star Wars John Knoll series pitched a story more than a decade ago that aimed to tell the story just prior to Episode IV.  By 2014, it was announced that Gary Whitta (Book of Eli) was writing a script. He parted ways after first draft it although he and Knoll share a story credit. Taking over was Chris Weitz, a screenwriter who wrote the Golden Compass and the Twilight series. This became the shooting script and once the movie was made Disney called in Tony Gilroy (Bourne) to help with re-writes and edits.

Sadly, re-writes, over budget and re-shoots are in keeping with Star Wars movies. This is all well and good if it serves the movie but often too many cooks spoil the broth. In this case, the movie is highly entertaining but flawed in ways obvious and in other ways not. The Disney purchase of George Lucas's Star Wars franchise ensured more stories in that universe and different visions of how to tell tell those stories. However, the balancing act often means doubt. Hence, the re-shoots.

In terms of the Star Wars saga, Rogue One takes place literally five minutes before the original movie of 1977. The opening crawl of Episode IV A New Hope is the real spoiler as it states that the rebel ships have scored a victory in an attack on the Empire. In the battle rebel spies stole the plans for the Death Star which was described as capable of destroying a planet. In a nutshell, the story of this new movie is about the spies and the battle that delivered the plans to Princess Leia aboard her ship on the run from Darth Vader.

Rogue One follows a similar path of Force Awakens with female leader a but its heroine in a bit older, jaded and sadder. She doesn't count the days she has been separated from loved ones. In fact, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) finds it better to think that her father is dead. She already knows that stormtroopers killed her mother as she was eyewitness to it before fleeing and hiding at her father's behest.

Little does Jyn know that her farther Galen Erso (Madds Mikkelsen) has been taken by the empire and forced to produce the Deathstar against his will. Her own life has been marked by a decidedly different turn as she is raised till her teenage years by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), one of the most violent resistance fighters in the galaxy. Eventually, even he abandoned her for her safety but by then she was was too used to living on the fringes and our introduction to her in the story is as a prisoner of the empire. She is no rebel but a mere criminal.

Our first encounter with Jyn is inside an empire prison cell. She is freed from captivity by the rebels intent on using her to locate her father. Her rescuers are rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). They take her back to the hidden base made famous in the original movie and leader Mon Mothma (reprised by Genevieve O'Reilly) appeals to her help find and extract her father who apparently lives and who is at work with the empire.

A new villain named Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) from the empire's weapon division is the man who killed Jyn's mother and took her father. While Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin play roles in Rogue One, it is Krennic who is the primary baddie. More on the other two villains in a bit.

Cassian takes Jyn to the planet Jedha to seek out her former protector Saw Gerrera. It is there that Imperial defector Rook Bodhi, a pilot, is being held after delivering information to extremist rebel. Along the way Jyn and her companions pick up a number of people to help them accomplish their mission. Those allies include a blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and his mercenary friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).

If this sounds all a bit confusing, it is. The story jumps to several planets and follows numerous characters both old and new with breakneck action interspersed throughout the film. Contrast with Force Awakens where a good portion of the story takes place on Jakku. The abundance of planets is excessive and for no reason. Much the same can be said about the characters. The screen time for Vader and Tarkin takes away from Krennic who looks weak in comparison. Moreover, Peter Cushing who played Tarkin has long since passed away. He has been brought back to life using a stand-in actor and animated with CGI.

The CGI is very good but extended shots with it focusing on Tarkin feel a bit creepy and unnatural. Just because they could do it doesn't mean they should have. A few other human characters are animated as well but none so noticeable as Tarkin.

The special effects, costuming, make-up, editing, cinematography, sets and score are all not notch. Michael Giacchino's music is excellent and a real credit to John Williams who created as much of the emotional heft in the previous movies as the storyline and acting did. In Rogue One, we have so much action that we don't have nearly enough time to get to know Jyn, Cassian or anyone. Most of the grim story is devoid of any levity at all save the droid K-2SO.

This is a war movie and since the story is Star Wars that is okay. However, war movies with real emotion such as the Dirty Dozen, Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now had characters we came to know and follow. Rogue One is an entertaining movie for adults in the Stars Wars universe. However, the talented cast might have been better served with a tighter focus on a smaller group in a bigger war.

No comments: