Star Wars: Rogue One (2016) (a film review by Mark R. Leeper).

‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ is the story of the early days of the Rebel Alliance that first appeared in the original 1977 ‘Star Wars’ film. A new young hero is introduced, Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones). The story is grim and gritty with a fairly complex plot that ties up loose ends from the original series that you most likely did not know were loose ends. It is probably the best writing of any ‘Star Wars’ film to date. It also has some of the most impressive sky battles to date. The film is directed by Gareth Edwards (‘Godzilla’ (2014) and ‘Monsters’ (2010)) and written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. It answers some of the questions about the original plot that you never thought to ask. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

George Lucas foresaw the ‘Star Wars’ story as two trilogies or sometimes three. For several years, it remained two trilogies. Now not part of the earlier series comes for now, two individual films set in the same universe and having some minor crossover characters. ‘Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens’ (2015) was close enough to the series that it got its own Roman numeral. On the other hand, the eighth film is more original and has a more complex storyline making it probably second only to the 1977 ‘Star Wars’ as the most startling and original film of the series.

Galen Erso was a major engineer for the Death Star, until he escaped the empire’s grip. Orson Krennic, the leader of the Death Star project finds Erso and drags him back to the project. In the process, Galen’s wife is killed in the struggle but his daughter Jyn escapes. How much trouble can a little girl possibly be to the Empire? Right! Since the days of Jason and the Argonauts, leaving children who have grudges against you has never been the smart move.

Flash forward fifteen years, Jyn is bent on revenge and that revenge might as well be getting the plans for the Death Star to the somewhat chaotic Rebel Alliance. ‘Rogue One’ runs parallel to the story we already know and tells us some of the history of the Rebel Alliance.

The film stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), one of the engineers who designed the Death Star. Felicity Jones is probably best known as the demure Mrs. Stephan Hawking in ‘The Theory Of Everything’. Mikkelsen may be remembered, among other roles, as Le Chiffre, the villain of ‘Casino Royale’ (2006). We also have Alan Tudyk, who was hilarious in ‘Death At A Funeral’, completely engulfed in the robot K-2SO, where his talent for physical comedy goes unseen. Why is it that when somebody does some interesting acting in a serious film, the next thing you know they are acting opposite digital effects in an SF or fantasy film? I guess being in a special effects film is the new form of dramatic success.

The new film comes only about a year after we got our last ‘Star Wars’ film, a sign of how the franchise will be paced under the ownership of Disney. This film is full of amazing digital effects, particularly in mammoth space battles. But the most startling visual effect is quietly having Peter Cushing play about five minutes in this film, recreating his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. It was impressive for us but effortless for Peter Cushing, we assume, since he has been dead for something like 22 years. Somehow it always seemed that Christopher Lee would be the first of the pair of friends to return from the dead. While it is startling to see Cushing alive on the screen again, using a voice that sounded very unlike Cushing’s compromises the effect. There probably are impressionists who could have made Cushing’s lines sound like Cushing really was speaking. Cushing is beloved of many film fans and to see him apparently appearing and speaking in a new film is a jaw-dropping moment. The ‘Star Wars’ films are always trying show off new technology to show the viewer what he has not seen before.

This is a solid adventure film with very effective land and space battles. Have no fear. What humour there is is nowhere near as broad as bringing in Jar-Jar Binks or pod races was in previous films. By the end of the film, we see this story is an attachment to the original series that clicks smartly into place. Fans of the ‘Star Wars’ films and don’t be ashamed to admit it if you are one will see a more complete expansion of the mainline story and a lot of visual excitement. I rate ‘Star Wars: Rogue One’ a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Mark R. Leeper

(c) Mark R. Leeper 2017

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