Friday, December 16, 2016


From left to right: Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) and Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

So last night, I went to my local AMC Theatre to watch an advance screening of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and needless to say, director Gareth Edwards indeed put the "war" back into Star Wars with this installment! The film started off pretty slow, but once it picked up, there was no slowing down as Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), K-2SO (voiced and motion-captured by Alan Tudyk) and their merry band of Rebels set out to find and retrieve the plans to the Empire's dreaded Death Star. Rogue One had amazing cinematography, visual effects (even though there's still work to be done to make CGI humans look convincing; more on that later), action pieces, acting and stirring music by Michael Giacchino! Disney is off to a great start in regards to expanding the Star Wars cinematic universe with this spin-off movie.

K-2SO (motion-captured by Alan Tudyk) confronts Jyn Erso on Jedha in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

In regards to cinematography and visual effects, Rogue One looked beautiful. From the opening shot of Director Orson Krennic's (Ben Mendelsohn) shuttle flying over the ringed world of Lah'mu and landing on that planet to capture former Imperial scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to the amazing space battle above Scarif and the ground war on the tropical planet's surface, director of photography Greig Fraser (who also worked on the 2012 Oscar-nominated film Zero Dark Thirty) did a tremendous job capturing the realistic, lived-in look of the original Star Wars trilogy...while at the same time adding the grittiness that Edwards wanted to make Rogue One a true war film. VFX-wise, Rogue One had amazing special effects—once again thanks to Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and other FX houses employed on this spin-off movie.

Grand Moff Tarkin (Guy Henry) watches as the Death Star's superlaser weapon is installed in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

Edwards and his writing team were bold in giving considerable screen-time to Grand Moff Tarkin (played by the late Peter Cushing in 1977's A New Hope, and Guy Henry in this installment) and featuring Princess Leia (portrayed by Ingvild Deila in Rogue One). Story-wise, the inclusion of these characters was what made Rogue One a true prequel to the original Star Wars movie. Effects-wise, however, ILM did the best it could (which was still remarkable) in superimposing Cushing and Carrie Fisher's face onto those of Henry and Deila, respectively. Seeing Leia appear on screen was the biggest payoff of the movie (though she looked too happy considering the events that literally transpired a minute earlier), with Tarkin's action aboard the Death Star in the final minutes of Rogue One making the third act end in both a spectacular and tragic note. However, Disney still has ways to go before it's bold enough to put young, CGI versions of the Big Three (Leia, Han Solo and Luke Skywalker) in a future 'Saga' or spin-off flick.

Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) stands before a Death Star monitor in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

In terms of the action pieces, Edwards succeeded tremendously in creating amazing fight and battle scenes in Rogue One. From the skirmish on Jedha [including that cool fight scene between Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and the Stormtroopers] plus that Rebel aerial attack on Eadu, to the final battles above and on the surface of Scarif, Edwards indeed delivered on his promise to get down and dirty in regards to showing the Rebel Alliance fight valiantly to the death against the Empire. The climactic space battle, in particular, had very cool moments that I only experienced playing the classic X-Wing video game on my computer! Namely, a specially-made Corellian Corvette (a.k.a. the Blockade Runner being chased by Darth Vader's Star Destroyer at the beginning of A New Hope) being used to ram a disabled Star Destroyer and cause it to collide into another Imperial flagship above Scarif. So awesome! Though in X-Wing, the Corvette actually sliced into not one, but many Star Destroyers at that point in the game. Well, we don't always get what we want!

The Death Star orbits Jedha in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

Acting-wise, Rogue One had tremendous performances that Star Wars fans wished were in the other prequel films more than a decade ago. Unsurprisingly, Oscar nominee Felicity Jones did a wonderful job portraying Jyn Erso...with one emotional moment being as she watches a hologram of her father Galen (who she hasn't seen in person for 15 years) on Jedha. Galen himself was portrayed as an honorable but tragic figure by Mikkelsen, with Valene Kane doing a nice job playing Lyra Erso, Galen's wife and Jyn's mother, in the brief but heartwarming moments that Lyra shared with her family. Diego Luna was commendable as the conflicted but heroic Captain Andor, though it's unfortunate that his scenes weren't exciting to watch till Jyn and K-2SO arrived on the spot. K-2SO himself is definitely one of the most memorable droids in the live-action Star Wars movies—thanks to the amazing motion capture performance by Alan Tudyk.

Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) has seen war for far too long in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

Wen Jiang and Donnie Yen were both great as the Guardians of the Whills...with Jiang playing the loyal Baze Malbus, who did everything he could to protect Chirrut Îmwe (who's blind) in the heat of battle. Riz Ahmed was terrific as Imperial pilot-turned-Rebel Bodhi Rook...though at the beginning of the film, I couldn't understand most of what Rook was saying as he spoke took fast due to his panic being captured by Saw Gerrera's (Forest Whitaker) forces on Jedha. Ditto with Whitaker, who seemed to over-dramatize his lines with Ahmed, but gave a more modest performance once Saw reunites with his long-lost friend, Jyn.

Darth Vader (once again voiced by James Earl Jones) approaches Director Krennic in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

Finally, in regards to the main actors, Ben Mendelsohn gave an interesting performance as the conniving and narcissistic Director Krennic. If you read the Rogue One prequel novel Catalyst, you'll see that Mendelsohn's portrayal of Krennic was faithful to how this character was in the book. The fate that Krennic receives at the end of Rogue One was very deserving of this character. In terms of the other characters in this movie, it was great to see Jimmy Smits back as Bail Organa, and Genevieve O'Reilly's Mon Mothma finally on the big screen...after being relegated to the deleted scenes feature on the Revenge of the Sith DVD. Anthony Daniels was back as C-3PO (albeit briefly) while James Earl Jones returned as the voice of Darth Vader...who was truly memorable in the two major scenes that he had in Rogue One. One of those scenes, without giving anything away, was epic! Let's just say, Vader is still the angry person that he was in the third act of Revenge of the Sith—and his actions in the climax are things that you can replicate in the Star Wars: Battlefront video games! Rogue One definitely showed us why Vader is still the most iconic villain in the Star Wars universe.

Imperial Shoretroopers and Stormtroopers fire at Rebel forces (off-screen) in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

And lastly, Michael Giacchino's music in Rogue One was amazing. Considering the fact that he only had four weeks to write and compose his score, Giacchino (who got to play a First Order Stormtrooper in The Force Awakens) did a fantastic job capturing the spirit of John Williams' music. Heck, I'm listening to the score on CD as I type this review (the music for Vader's final scene in the film, to be exact)! I couldn't get Jyn Erso' theme out of my head as I drove home from the theater last night...because of this amazing musical piece, and the memorable and tragic character that this piece honors in the movie. I read somewhere online that Felicity Jones actually has a clause in her contract to play Jyn one last time; here's hoping that she uses it! Rogue One was an outstanding flick— It took a while to get up to speed, but once it kicks into high gear, well, you have a flick that did a triumphant job expanding the Star Wars lore. Thanks to Rogue One, that galaxy far, far away just got bigger. Most notable line in the movie: "I'm one with the Force. The Force is with me." Carry on.

8 out of 10 stars.

Rebel forces approach the Imperial fleet above Scarif in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.

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