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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Force Is Fully Awake And About"
5 stars

It was almost exactly a year ago that I sat down and found myself surprised to be typing out a genuinely positive review of, of all things, a new “Star Wars” movie. After all, while I was as impressed as everyone else my age who first saw the original film when it debuted in the summer of 1977 and the first sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back,” when it arrived three years later. However, even at a young age, my critical faculties were acute enough to realize that “Return of the Jedi” was a giant load of crap and when the prequel trilogy came along years later, I had little use for them as well. And yet, while one could theoretically argue that it was essentially a nostalgia fest dedicated to reaffirming the faith among true believers than in striking out on its own, “The Force Awakens” was nevertheless a enormously exciting and entertaining film that had me feeling something that I hadn’t experienced in several decades—a desire to see the next film in the franchise.

That said, I was still a bit uneasy when I heard that in addition to the current trilogy that was kicked off by “The Force Awakens,” Disney Studios, the new keepers of the Jedi flame, were going to be producing a slew of stand-alone adventures that would take place in the same universe but not have anything specific to do with the new series. Not only that, the first of these films was announced as being essentially a prequel to the events depicted in the original “Star Wars.” One trip to the nostalgia well was fine and good but this sounded like overkill and not even the hiring of Gareth Edwards, whose previous film was the surprisingly great recent American version of “Godzilla,” was able to completely quell the bad feeling that I was beginning to have about this. As it turns out, I need not have worried because “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is not only a better and more satisfying film than “The Force Awakens,” it is one of the best things to come out of the entire franchise—a thrilling and compelling work of pure entertainment that will delight fans and neophytes alike for the ways in which it both pays homage to the series as a whole and strikes out in new and fascinating directions of its own. (I will try to tread lightly on the more pertinent details but those sensitive to potential spoilers would be advised to check out at this point.)

As the film opens (without the usual expository crawl that usually kicks off the proceedings), a little girl named Jyn Erso looks on in horror as her mother is killed and her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), is captured by the malevolent Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who needs him to return to the folds of the Empire to continue working on the super-weapon that he was designing before he and his family went into hiding. Years later, the now-grown Jyn (Felicity Jones) is serving time in prison on a number of charges when she is broken out of confinement by members of the Rebel Alliance and taken to their headquarters. As rebel leader Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) explains, a pilot with the Empire (Riz Ahmed) has defected to the rebellion and is reporting that not only is Galen still alive but that the weapon he has been working on all this time, a giant sphere capable of destroying entire planets, is set to become fully functional imminently and could single-handedly change the balance of power between the Empire and the Rebellion for good.

The one person who might know where Galen is located is his old friend and rebel separatist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and since he raised Jyn following the disappearance of her parents, it is hoped that she will be able to persuade him to give up Galen’s whereabouts. Accompanying Jyn on this mission are Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who has been given secret orders in regards of what to do with Galen if he is found, and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), a droid formerly belonging to the Empire whose reprogramming has left without any sort of filter in regards to saying what is on his CPU. Along the way, they also free that imprisoned pilot and acquire a couple more hands in Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), a blind swordsman in the tradition of .Zatoichi and a passionate believer in the Force and his more caustic sidekick Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). As they try to find Galen and get a hold of the plans for the so-called Death Star, they are pursued by Empire forces determined to stop them, even though it seems impossible that a motley band of rebels could possibly nab the plans and figure out a way to destroy the all-but-impenetrable creation.

Of course, anyone with even the slightest familiarity with the original “Star Wars” knows the ultimate results of the mission chronicled in “Rogue One”—the challenge of the film, therefore, is to figure out a way to tell a story that not only plugs into the established narrative without too many hiccups but which is still able to hold viewer interest even though they know how it will all turn out, at least in the broad strokes. Co-writers Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, neither one of them slouches behind the keyboard by any means, have somehow managed to do just that. The story that they have concocted is filled with little touches that will delight fans of the series and successfully pulls off the trick of supplying backstory to incidents that have survived for about four decades without it without coming across as cheesy fan fiction. While all that is going on, they have also created a story that can indeed more or less stand on its own with compelling characters, an intriguing narrative, a number of nicely done story twists and a genuine sense of humor that results in a number of big laughs that are completely unexpected and all the more welcome because of that. Perhaps this is the advantage of writing a one-and-done story instead of one that spreads out over a series of movies—instead of allowing themselves to stretch things out, Weitz & Gilroy pack everything they need into one screenplay and the result is perhaps the “Star Wars” film with the most overt sense of narrative drive since the original.

For his part, Edwards approaches the material as someone who is less concerned with making a film that conforms to the parameters of what is expected in a “Star Wars” film than he is in creating one that fits into the previously established franchise while still making it in his own unique directorial voice. Right from the start, with the absence of the expected title crawl or John Williams score (Michael Giacchino does the honors here), you get the sense that Edwards is trying for something different and as things go on, it gets more interesting as it replaces the gaudy space operatics with a grittier approach to the battle scenes between the rebels and the Empire that are more reminiscent of the you-are-there approach taken by a film like “Black Hawk Down” than the slicker one taken by so many other sci-fi films over the years. As I said earlier, the film is very funny at times—with the comments of K-2SO inspiring some of the biggest laughs—but the material also has its darker aspects that Edwards happily does not quite try to sugarcoat in any way, especially regarding the ending. As a result, this is easily the first film in the franchise since “The Empire Strikes Back” that has a genuine touch of dramatic heft and import to it that even those not especially enthused by the series will recognize.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is a hugely entertaining film in which all of the elements fall into place so seamlessly that it can’t help but make the vast majority of recent would-be blockbusters look even lamer than they already do. The performances are strong (as Jyn, Felicity Jones is far more likable and interesting than in anything else she has done to date and her castmates are equally good), the story is smart and compelling, the visual pyrotechnics are ingenious in the way that they blend state-of-the-art CGI technology with a kind of grubby, hand-made feel that reminds us of the original “Star Wars” and its once cutting-edge look and it even manages to throw in a couple of genuine surprises into the mix that should delight all comers. (A pox upon anyone who chooses to publicly reveal them before most people have gotten a chance to experience them for themselves.) It also confirms that Gareth Edwards deserves a place at the table as one of the best directors of blockbuster entertainments to come along in years—a man who can provide all the flash and sensation one could hope for while still managing to make it seem more like a genuinely personal work instead of just another filmed deal. From what I understand, Disney is hoping to push out a “Star Wars”—related movie every year, alternating between the formal trilogy and spinoff works like this one. If those subsequent films can maintain the levels of quality set by both “Rogue One” and “The Force Awakens,” that is sounding more and more like a promise instead of a threat.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27565&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/13/16 11:57:05
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User Comments

8/18/20 Ed Riddick Moving, bittersweet, visually stunning, complex beautifully realized characters. Best SW 5 stars
3/05/19 Admiral Raddus Rogue One, may the Force be with you. 5 stars
12/23/17 Chris Did the orignals proud unlike the sham the force awakens 5 stars
12/03/17 Oz1701 an interesting idea but it did feel like i was watching gameplay at times 3 stars
7/20/17 Chaz Walter It was really cool to see a film centering on the building of the Death Star. 5 stars
5/30/17 zenny Starts good, but then the CGI battles go on and on and on... zzzz... 3 stars
12/31/16 the truth Good action moments made boring by dull characters until Darth Vader starts kicking ass 3 stars
12/27/16 J The prequel that Lucas wishes he could have made. 5 stars
12/26/16 Flipside Bri Very lackluster compared to Force Awakens. The characters are mostly boring. 2 stars
12/26/16 Koitus Very well done. "True" to gamers of "Battlefront" and "Empire at War." 5 stars
12/23/16 Dawg Shark First Star Wars movie to even make an attempt at bringing the reality of war to the screen 5 stars
12/21/16 mr.mike 1st half just ok, 2nd half kicks ass. 4 stars
12/20/16 Chris 10 Times better than that garbage The force awakens. 5 stars
12/17/16 ActionMovieFan I want to sodomize Felicity Jones, fantastic movie by the way. 5 stars
12/17/16 Jack It should come with a laugh track. Especially when pencil legs Vader shows up. 1 stars
12/15/16 Bob Dog The story hops from Planet Dull to Planet Duller, but Rogue One's not bad as a comedy. 2 stars
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  16-Dec-2016 (PG-13)

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