Film Review: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, Ben Daniels, James Earl Jones
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy
Story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta
Based on characters created by George Lucas
Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanuel
Executive Producers, John Knoll and Jason McGatlin
Director of Photography, Greig Fraser
Production Designers, Doug Chiang, Neil Lamont
Edited by John Gilroy, Jabez Olssen, Colin Goudie
Music by Michael Giacchino
Original “Star Wars” Music by John Williams
Visual Effects Supervisors, John Knoll, Mohen Leo
Special Effects Supervisor, Neil Corbould
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is simply excellent on every level—a rousing, gritty, spirited, tough-minded, fast-paced, action-packed science-fiction action adventure thriller, featuring an outstanding young cast; confident and tight direction and editing that seamlessly melds modern-day sci-fi filmmaking aspects with old-fashioned war, sci-fi and action adventure filmic elements; and eye-opening, dazzling production design and special, visual and computer effects that always look good and don’t district from the storytelling at hand.
“Rogue One” will not disappoint diehard or casual “Star Wars” fans and sci-fi and fantasy fans, and the film is a movie that survives well enough on its own, with its own distinct story and character universe, so that non-regular “Star Wars” fans—yes, they are out there—can go out to the theaters without knowing any background and just enjoy the film. (However, one pertinent note: Although too many people—including the filmmakers themselves—are calling “Rogue” a “stand alone” “Star Wars” film—sorry, it is not. “Rogue” blatantly connects directly to the first “Star Wars” film, is tied directly to past stories, and fully, clearly and obviously exists directly in the regular, continuing “Star Wars” movie universe. It is not a “stand alone” film—and filmgoers will clearly see this once they get in the theaters, watch the movie—and see familiar characters, story lines and plots from the previous “Star Wars” movies!! And, no, that’s not a spoiler—these references have appeared in advance promotional materials and are referred to the film’s advertising.)
Amid the plethora of positive filmic elements to praise regarding “Rogue One,” special praise must go out to Felicity Jones, who shines in the lead role, and a distinctly captivating, heroic and tough supporting cast who also shine in a varied, entertaining array of colorful, lively supporting roles.
“Rogue One” is exciting, suspenseful, fun, insightful in terms of its messages of heroism, honor, bravery and courage, and the film, in the end, sends a positive, encouraging message about honor, courage, rebellion, revolution and hope—and these are sound, resonant and meaningful themes in the United States at the turbulent, conflict-filled end of a most challenging, difficult 2016.
Thus, simply put, “Rogue One” is a major film to see during the 2016 holiday season—among many others, of course, including the equally excellent “Hidden Figures” and “La La Land.” “Rogue One” is highly-recommended. “Rogue One” tells the story of a band of renegade, gruff, gritty and dedicated rebels who, through various machinations, find themselves banding together to fight the fascist, obviously Nazi-like and clearly psycho Imperial goons who are taking over the universe for no rational reason other than because they are insane, power-made, control-freak psychos who won’t and can’t be satisfied until every living thing is fully under their crazy control. The rebels know they are fighting against great odds, but they fight anyway, continually displaying heroism and courage in the most honorable ways—but without bluster, arrogance, glory or fame. These particular rebels are the real deal—down-to-earth, war-ravaged, damaged physically and psychologically, but still strong, dedicated and formidable.
And the rebels have one great, special, incredibly helpful advantage—their leader’s father—who is sympathetic toward the rebels—has been captured and forced to work for the Imperial forces on the regime’s most powerful weapon, the all-consuming, horribly destructive death star, an imposing, frightening, moon-sized weapon that can literally wipe out an entire plan with one shot. But there’s a catch—the rebel leader’s father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen, in his second excellent performance in a sci-fi and fantasy film in two months, after his superb work as the villain in “Doctor Strange”) may have information and insight about nothing less than how to attack and destroy the death star. That’s not a spoiler, either—that basic plot point is common knowledge, also.
Thus, “Rogue One” tells the story about this band of rebels—who closely resemble the band of rebels fighting evil and destruction in “Guardians of the Galaxy” in terms of colorful personality, charisma and likeability—and their fight to find Erso, determine whether he does indeed have insight into how to fight the death star, and then use that knowledge to bolster the rebellion and fight the Imperial forces. That’s the basic story of the film, but there are indeed various subplots and storylines and additional characters that help to add depth to the story, plot and characterizations. However, some of these subplots and storylines will not be revealed here, as they would indeed be spoilers. But the subplots and supportive storylines are strong enough to support the basic story and help to provide some depth and additional storytelling to keep the story grounded, real, very human and engrossing.
Felicity Jones played the rebel leader, Jyn Erso, and, as previously noted, she is stunning. Not just because she’s beautiful—she is—but because she carries her character and performance on a basic approach that the filmmakers wisely sought and achieved—the focus is not on her gender or the fact that she’s a woman, but on the fact that she is indeed a strong person. To the film’s and story’s credit, it really doesn’t matter whether Jones is male or female—the character is simply a strong person, no matter what her gender. And that’s a most positive, encouraging approach. There’s no time in “Rogue” for sappy, romantic sentimentalizing, and, in this case, in this film, that works. “Rogue” is a gritty, tough-minded, straight-ahead sci-fi war film, with an attendant war film storytelling approach—in this story, it’s all about the rebels and their cause. There’s no time for romance—the fate of the universe is at play, and so are the lives of millions of innocent people. Romance can wait—there was enough romance in the original three “Star Wars” films!
Jyn Erso has led a tough life—separated from her parents, abandoned by her father, raised by rogues and growing up scrappy, alone, individualistic, scarred, scared and scattershot. She has not had an easy life, and she’s not always quite sure who she can trust and who she should trust. Jones carries this weighty baggage well, and her Jyn Erso is a tough but likeable, respected rebel leader who fans can rally behind. She is no-nonsense—the mission is her mission in life. Jones presents this character well, and her performance as a young soldier is strong.
Jyn Erso is ably aided in her fight by that ragtag group of rebels, portrayed by that likeable group of young actors: Cassian Andor, another rebel with a scared past who finds a fighting and tough comrade in arms in Jyn, subtly played by Diego Luna, who is understated, but strong; K-2SO, the requisite human-like robot, but this time, a human-like robot who’s got quite the snitty, snippy and attitude-filled personality that would alarm the more gentle and genteel R2-D2 and 3-CPO, played with robotic charm and humor by Alan Tudyk; Chirrut Imwe, a Force devotee, Jedi-like, disciplined, devoted, spiritual and all-seeing blind monk who can still sense everything around him and fight as well as anyone—yes, yes, it’s a cliché on every filmic level and a obviously clichéd composite of a thousand similar Asian martial arts characters in a thousand previous Asian martial arts films, yes, but it works here, so don’t nitpick—played with insight, humor, devotion and caring by Chinese movie star Donnie Yen with just the right blend of action, toughness, spirituality and humor, filmgoers will end up liking and cheering on this character despite the filmic clichés; Imwe’s devoted friend, a gentle giant bear of a warrior named Baze Malbus, who, despite his imposing, impressive size and presence, ends up being tough-yet-lovable and another character fans can cheer on, played with another mix of toughness, machismo and gentleness by another Chinese movie star, Jiang Wen; and, finally, the quirky, somewhat irritating comic relief fighter, Bodhi Rook, a cargo pilot who gets thrown into the rebel cause despite his best intentions to avoid fighting at all cost, played with good-natured humor by Riz Ahmed.
All of these actors bring their own special touch of likeability to these young, scrappy rebel characters, making their characters memorable, different, distinctive and approachable—far different from too many similar sci-fi, war and action adventure films where filmgoers literally can’t separate one bland, plastic character from another, where characters are not clearly defined, and where characters are sometimes blurs in the background whose only purpose often appears to be to play sacrificial lambs who get shot up, blown up or killed just to add some action adventure blood lust to the proceedings. To its credit, “Rogue One” treats its main characters—this ragtag group of lovable rebels—with respect, admiration, devotion, distinction and honor. That approach propels the lead characters to a status where audiences can—again, like “Guardians” and hundreds of other equally good sci-fi and war films—relate to the soldiers, learn who they are, understand them and, most importantly, come to care about them and support them in their cause.
Directing this ensemble cast with his own unique vision—lots of hand-held camera work, tight editing, the presentation of these likeable characters, lots of realistic fighting, stunt and action sequences on the ground and in space, a realistic—but not overly realistic—view of war (there’s no sickening, gross, graphic blood and guts, and that’s exactly how it should be), special effects that add to the story and accompany the story but don’t take away from the story by being merely spectacle, and a requisite inclusion of down-to-earth humor, characterization and familiar familial storylines (not sappy, but more real-life)—is director Gareth Edwards. Edwards wholly takes his own realistic, grounded approach to “Rogue” and, along with cinematographer and colleague Greg Fraser, these filmmakers work together to give “Rogue” its own look, feel and atmosphere that, to its great credit, feels entirely different from the previous seven “Star Wars” films. Edwards and Fraser, with support from a bevy of producers including Kathleen Kennedy, the president of Lucasfilm, the Disney entity that oversees the “Star Wars” films, wanted a new look and aura, and they succeeded with that new approach with “Rogue.”
“Rogue One” does not look, feel or come across in a similar manner as those previous seven films in the series—and that is entirely a positive aspect. “Rogue,” of course, respects and honors the series, but, at least in its overall atmosphere and look, does indeed stand alone from the others in this respect. That was a goal of Edwards, Fraser and Kennedy and of the writers, including co-producer, visual effects supervisor and chief story idea man John Knoll—whose original idea the entire project is based upon—and they were successful in creating their own distinct, original film in style, feeling, atmosphere and how the movie looks on the screen. This was intended, and this approach is a testament to the filmmakers’ creative approach to wanting to make a film that fits into the “Star Wars” universe, but, at least in its filmic fashions, does stand alone.
“Gareth has that wonderful combination that is uniquely suited to Star Wars films, which is an emotional understanding of the characters inside the Star Wars universe and a sense of what is a strong family-type fi lm that appeals to all ages,” Kennedy told the studio. “Gareth has a unique ability to combine a sense of humor with thematic storytelling.”
“Gareth Edwards is bringing an authentic feel to the movie that is very different from any other Star Wars film,” Kennedy added. “He is telling an intimate father/daughter story set on a huge canvas.”
“We’re the first one out, so knowing these films could be different was exciting, but how different was the big question and what does that mean,” Edwards says in the studio’s production notes. “I love Star Wars. I grew up with the original trilogy and to me they’re the ultimate movies. I feel that a massive upside to not being a part of the saga is we have a license to be different. And hopefully we took that license and ran with it.” Edwards cotinues, “We’re going for realism and naturalness to the environments and performances and characters we meet. It’s also that we’re part of the original films in terms of where our characters are. It had to marry to the films I grew up with. And, there’s a classical style to those, which is very considered and stable. We were also excited about doing something more organic and more opportunistic that felt more real and immediate.”
As Edwards notes himself, “Rogue” is still directly connected to the previous “Star Wars” films. In fact, the basic idea for this side story came from the big man himself in the “Star Wars” universe—creator and founder George Lucas. Knoll took his basic premise and story idea directly from Lucas’ original, early stories—going back thirty-nine years to the original 1977 film, “Star Wars.” Really.
Then he did what any other aspiring story writer does in the film business—he pitched his idea to the studio boss, Kennedy.
“I’d known Kathy for about 20 years,” says Knoll in the studio production notes, “but it was still quite a unique experience to go up to the office of the president of Lucasfilm and pitch a story idea. I did about a seven-page treatment and went up to the office and pitched it to Kathy and Kiri Hart [SVP, Development]. I thought at least I’d done the pitch so I wouldn’t always wonder ‘what if.’”
Fortunately for Knoll and for Star Wars fans everywhere, both Kennedy and Hart shared his conviction, and a week later Knoll received an e-mail saying they were “seriously thinking of putting my idea into production.”
Kennedy says, “I’ve known John for many years and worked with him as a visual effects supervisor, and I knew how talented he was and how much he cared about Star Wars. It was the first time I’d been in a situation where someone had pitched a Star Wars idea. I didn’t know what to expect. The story was so compelling that I immediately knew this could be great. And, lo and behold, it’s become the first standalone movie we’re doing.”
Besides the fine work of Edwards, Fraser, Knoll and Kennedy, credit must be given, of course to writers Christ Weitz and Tony Gilroy; co-story contributor Gary Whitta; Lucas himself, of course; visual effects supervisors Knoll and Mohen Leo; the production designers and editors; and, of course, the hundreds of visual, special, creature, make-up and computer effects artists who created dazzling futuristic, space-based sets, along with quite naturalistic planet-bound settings that give certain scenes their human and natural world settings. The visual and special effects are modern, high-tech, and are on full display in several space battle scenes that will satisfy fans longing for action and battle sequences.
So there you have it—a casual observer can tell from the intelligent, insightful—and on-point—statements from these talented filmmakers—Edwards, Fraser, Kennedy, Knoll—that these are people who know what they are doing (of course), who care about what they are doing, who care about George Lucas’ original and continuing vision and ideas, and who want to make quality, fun, entertaining sci-fi films that will please longtime fans, create new fans, adhere to the past, fit strongly in the high-tech, modern present in terms of filmmaking, and look squarely toward the filmmaking future for this series.
Not to crib from the studio for comments that should be originally stated, but the studio does get it right with a succinct, apt and concise summarization of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story:” “The end result is a story of hope and determination played out on a huge canvas but retaining the intimacy of a small film. It showcases the efforts of everyday people from very different walks of life who choose to do extraordinary things for the common good.”
That’s it—the studio folks captured it, right there, on the page. “Rogue” showcases the efforts of heroic, dedicated, courageous, brave and wholly honorable people who are dedicated to their rebel cause and will do anything to fight for what they know is right. Aside from the pure entertainment value of “Rogue,” if filmgoers leave the theater after seeing “Rogue” and are inspired to stand up and fight for what they believe in—with honor, bravery, courage and honor—then there’s no better success story for a film than pure inspiration such as that. And that is indeed what filmgoers will feel when after thoroughly enjoying “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”