Some people would say that the “Star Wars” Prequel Trilogy (“I: The Phantom Menace”, “II: Attack of the Clones” & “III: Revenge of the Sith”) was overall an inferior storyline to that of the Original Trilogy (IV, V & VI) from the 70s and 80s. Part of that was said to be, since elements of certain events and characters have already been locked by the classic films, then no twists and developments that took place in the sequels couldn’t touch the aforementioned events and characters other than to show how they came to be so. Another complaint of Original fans was that the squeaky-clean and cutting edge aesthetics of the prequels jarred with their memories of the used-future and rugged utilitarian atmosphere from the old films that were supposed to have taken place years afterwards.
After 2015 saw the release of “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” under the Disney ownership of Lucas film, the “Star Wars” film craze returned in full swing, all the more intensified by the desire of fans to see where old characters have gone after the end of the evil Galactic Empire. But suddenly the producers have taken a significant about-face in storytelling progression, with the release of a spin-off film that doesn’t count as a part of any established trilogy. Rather it takes place shortly before the very first movie in 1977, and elaborates on the opening scrawl about how the heroic Rebel Alliance manages to get their hands on the plans for the Empire’s Death Star super-weapon. “Rogue One” is the first installment of a separate “Star Wars Story” anthology that tries to fill in gaps in the world building of one of science fiction’s most beloved universes.
Directed by British filmmaker Gareth Edwards, who helmed the 2014 “Godzilla” film, the film focuses on Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a grifter and former ward of the Rebel Alliance and daughter of Galen Erso (Madds Mikkelsen), an Imperial engineer. Freed from Imperial captivity by the Rebels, Jyn is tasked by the Alliance leadership to find information on her father’s whereabouts from his a defecting Imperial pilot named Bohdi Rook (Riz Ahmed) who claims to have data about the super-weapon that the Empire is building (Death Star, of course).
Jyn is accompanied by Rebel Intelligence Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a reprogrammed Imperial security droid called K-2SO (voice of Alan Tudyk). They also pick up two former guardians of an ancient Jedi temple, the cynical Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and the blind Jedi devotee Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen). This motley crew sets out to find Jyn’s father, and ultimately must attempt to infiltrate a highly secured Imperial base to acquire the plans for the Death Star, an unsanctioned mission that could turn the tide of the Galactic Civil War, but might end up getting them all killed.
Sort of like the prequel films, there’s generally no suspense as to what the outcome of the narrative is, so the best way to judge the plot’s merits is in the manner of how the events lead up to what we already know, and that lies in the characterization of the players in place during the story.
Jones is effective at illustrating how Jyn shifts from disillusioned con artist to inspiring Rebel commander. Luna sells the motivation of jaded Rebel agent Cassian, who tries to reconcile his worthy cause with the dark deeds he did in its name.
Tudyk’s voice as K-2SO could serve to give birth to a new favorite droid character in the franchise with how he plays a snapping servant unlike the high-strung C-3PO. Donnie Yen was a breakthrough character in his blind Jedi wannabe who can beat up Storm-troopers with a stick. The brief appearance of Forest Whitaker as Saw Guerrera from the “Clone Wars” sub-franchise was too brief, but still serviceable. And several returning faces have caught everyone’s attention due to them looking like the 1977 movie, when their actors have either aged or died already.
This was the result of some swanky SFX worked that saw a body double of Governor Tarkin being given a CGI replica of the late Peter Cushing’s face. A chance discovery of unused footage from “Episode IV” saw two pilot characters returning in the direct story prequel of their film, wherein they die. And this graphical works extend to the vehicles, starships, locations, battle effects, and the dreaded Death Star’s deadly (if deliberately under-charged) firepower.
Finally, a great deal can be said by how the production managed to tie in “Rogue One” with the canon Original Trilogy movie it precedes narrative-wise. The Death’s Star’s hilarious design flaw is explained brilliantly, and when the stolen plans reach the hand of a CGI-faced Princess Leia in the ending, the audience when I watched the film applauded and cheered. Now that’s a good sign that the film did its job well.
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