December 23, 2016

Rogue One (no plot spoilers)

I saw the new Star Wars film last evening. More about its billing as “: A Star Wars Story” rather than simply Rogue One, later.

The film’s screenwriting is its strongest aspect, holding up well throughout. It incorporates cameos by a handful of original characters and fills in details not explained in the first three stories. This is an eminently watchable, moderately engrossing film. I recall just a couple of watch-checking moments.

Some movies are carried by star-power, others by effects. For this one it was story from start to finish. It played like a good book, read.

Fitting between the end of the third prequel and the original Star Wars film of 1977, Rogue One tells the tale of how the Death Star was conceived and how its plans wind up in Princess Leia’s hands. A CGI-assisted scene of a young Carrie Fisher holding the plans in her hands ends the film.

Rogue One falls down somewhat in the midst of its two-hour, fourteen-minute run time. In particular, the main battle scenes should have been compressed. It’s a minor quibble, as the scenery chewed by the characters here was spectacular. Let’s say knocking off fourteen minutes and bringing it in at a maximum two-hours would have improved the experience. I’ll blame the director, Gareth Edwards, for letting the writers go on a wee too long describing the action. His otherwise well-paced story lagged in the second act.

The film’s acting is debatable. Is it the writing, or the actors that make the atmosphere grim? Felicity Jones is convincing as Jyn Erso, if a little on the flat-affect side. Diego Luna is more convincing as the rebellion head of intelligence, Cassian Andor. These are the lead female and male actors. Of all the characters in the story, though, the most interesting and amusing might be the re-programmed Empire droid K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk. (Tudyk played Wash in the Firefly series and the follow-on film Serenity.) The character provides much-needed comedy relief in otherwise oppressive scenes. Chirrut Îmwe, played by Donnie Yen, is another. Yen is a martial artist, and his training is strongly reflected in the character’s battle scenes. That his character is also blind makes the scenes that much more engrossing. Unresolved is whether Îmwe is, indeed, a Jedi as speculated.

We’ve come to expect more swashbuckle from Star Wars films, though. There was little of that here. It’s a grim tale of resistance against an authoritarian government and that, perhaps, informed the actors’ portrayals. If you’re expecting the fun of, say, Star Wars: The Force Awakens you’ll be disappointed with Rogue One. Go into this film with no expectations and you’ll be rewarded.

The scenery, though largely matte- and CGI-based, is first-rate believable. One exception: the main battle scenes feature rebels storming a beach, D-Day style, with incongruous palm trees swaying in the breeze. Part Saving Private Ryan, part Apocalypse Now, the scenery actually distracted me from the action.

Aside from a brief bit of Darth Vader’s Theme as that character made his first appearance, the soundtrack was unremarkable.

Overall it was an enjoyable film, especially if you’re into the Star Wars universe and continuing saga.

One final point about the film’s naming convention. This film’s title revolves around the problem with numbering films, only to later realize there is missing story that needs telling (and selling). This story fits neatly between Anakin’s not-quite demise at the end of Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith and his full embodiment as Darth Vader in Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. How to fit a name between “Episode III” and “Episode IV?” Along those lines Rogue One would be Star Wars: Episode 3.5 - Rogue One. The filmmaker resolves this by subtitling the new film “A Star Wars Story.”

I get it. It’s a story set in the Star Wars universe. It’s a clunky way to resolve the title of a story that fills in a crack, though less clunky than “Movie Title colon Episode Number dash Subtitle.” That scheme takes the prize for awkward titling, so much so that it was dispensed with for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. George Lucas was going for the serial nature of the pulp comic books of his youth. Better still that they drop the scheme altogether and just give us a title: Rogue One, full stop. The audience can figure out what the story is about.

#rogueone #starwars #lucasfilm

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