Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Movie Review: Rogue One (2016)

The other night I saw the new Star Wars movie Rogue One, the first of the "Anthology" films set in the Star Wars universe now that it's owned by Disney.

How was it? Here goes...

The Plot

The opening crawl of Star Wars: A New Hope describes how the Rebel Alliance has won its first victory over the evil Empire and how the plans for the new Imperial weapon--the Death Star--have been stolen.

How did that happen, you ask? Well, the movie begins with the sinister Imperial weapons developer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) coming to take into custody runaway scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), in the process killing wife Lyra Erso. Their young daughter Jyn (played by Felicity Jones as an adult) flees the scene and when we next see her, she's an adult in an Imperial prison. A group of Rebels spring her--without much enthusiasm on her part--and Rebel leader Mon Mothma assigns her and Rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to retrieve information on the Death Star sent by her father, who sufficient to say is not pleased with what the Imperials are making him do.

Although we all know that the Rebels will get their hands on the Death Star plans, just how that happens is where the fun is...

The Good

*I really like the concept of anthology films in general. The Star Wars universe is so gigantic that you can tell lots of different stories that don't ever touch on the main characters like the Skywalkers, Han and Chewbacca, etc. In the case of Rogue One, only Darth Vader, Mon Mothma, Bail Organa, and a couple others are established characters. The rest are new.

*This is basically a war movie in a science fiction universe. The last third or so of it is a gigantic battle sequence that's very well done and makes it far clearer just what this movie is about than, well, "Star Wars."

*Vader only appears in two scenes, but in the second of the two, well, hot damn. It's more like Star Wars Rebels than the original trilogy in terms of Vader's combat ability. Heck, some reviewers describe that scene as being more like a horror movie.

*The movie gets more into the moral ambiguity that fighting a galaxy-wide war will necessitate. We have Rebel groups excommunicated by the Alliance for excessive violence, we have assassinations, etc. Waging war against a ruthless opponent is pretty much impossible to do with clean hands and this is made clear.

*I'm not overly familiar with the cartoons like Clone Wars and Rebels, especially the former, but I know that Saw Gerrera, the rebel too extreme for the Rebellion, was originally from Clone Wars. And I'm told the Ghost, the ship from Rebels, appears during the fleet-action scene. It's good to see Disney integrating all the different Star Wars properties.

*Speaking of the fleet-action scene, my favorite scene from Return of the Jedi was the Battle of Endor. The Battle of Scarif that serves as the climax of the film is a lot smaller-scale, but it's still well-done.

*The ground-combat portion of the Battle of Scarif is well-done as well. We see combined-arms and a much more effective demonstration of the importance of air support than the hovership-looking things used to trip up AT-ATs in The Empire Strikes Back.

*The reprogrammed Imperial enforcer robot K2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, is pretty fun. He gets some good lines.

*The movie is really dark. That might not be to everybody's taste, but given how the Emperor is building a superweapon and is on the verge of dissolving the Senate and cementing himself firmly as uber-dictator, these were not good days. Obi-Wan calls them "the dark times" for a reason.

The Bad

*The movie is extremely long and the first parts of it are rather slow. That was my single biggest problem with the movie.

*Owing to the importance of the Death Star, they needed Grand Moff Tarkin, but Peter Cushing (who played him in the original) is dead. They briefly had him at the end of Revenge of the Sith, seen from a distance, but that wouldn't work this time. However, rather than recasting him with a new actor made up to look like Tarkin, they used CGI to paste Cushing's face onto actor Guy Henry's body. It kind of looks funny and I wish they hadn't done that.

*No title crawl. This is petty, but it might provide some good context.

The Verdict

Better than The Force Awakens by far. Hopefully the first of many to come. 9.0 out of 10.

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