Do we hold previews against the films themselves when rating them? I remember reading, probably in Entertainment Weekly, about a decade ago that audiences did not hold dishonest trailers against the films themselves. As such, movie producers have incentives to make movies look good, even if they are not representative of the actual movies people are going to go watch. Before I knew this trend, I was an outlier and did hold it against the films. When I became aware of this, it cemented my distaste for that practice. The first teaser trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story got me so excited that I decided to make one of my fun lists, calling it Favorite Trailers: Part 1—do not bother looking for it, since it is still just a rough draft. And you know what? That trailer has great lines that were not included in the final film. Shenanigans I say! I wanted to hear Felicity Jones, as the main character Jyn Erso, say “This is a Rebellion, isn’t it? I rebel.” And I really wanted to hear Forest Whitaker, Saw Gerrera, say “What will you do when the catch you? What will you do if they break you? If you continue to fight, what will you become?” Those lines with the Death Star’s iconic alarm sirens underneath them and with footage like a force savvy warrior taking out stormtroopers made me wish I could watch the movie right then.

So Rogue One lacked those lines. And on the whole it did not feel as amazing as The Force Awakens. But this was in a more classic Star Wars universe. Since it took place between Episodes III and IV it could have gone either way and it was a huge relief to see that director, Gareth Edwards, or perhaps executive producers John Knoll, who has been around since the 1997’s Special Edition of Star Wars as a visual effects supervisor, and Jason Gatlin, who was an EP on The Force Awakens, went in this direction. I have read that the film had a good deal of pickups1 and was re-edited to make for a more palatable sell to mass audiences. Who knows which version would have been better. What I do know is that the ending was not made less depressing, which is contrary to the entire history of Hollywood interference with films. And, this is the opposite of a spoiler — there are no Bothans, so do not look for them.

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Rogue One, © 2016 Disney.

****½

There were a lot of explosions for two people blending in.

The greatest compliment that I can give this film is that it feels like it really exists in the Star Wars universe. Had there been no prequels, this would have felt like the prequel that Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope deserved. In so many ways this could have been a sequel to the Episode III, but it really only fits that description in one way, and that way was a positive one. Timeline wise the Rebellion’s situation was desperate and this shows you just how desperate its position was.

Joining the Rebellion, and not particularly by choice, was Jyn Erso, whose father was a project leader on the Death Star. Through Jyn, Felicity Jones shows what such a great actress she is.  I have never recognized her between two films, which is an impressive feat. The first tie that I noticed to the prequels was Jimmy Smits as Senator Bail Organa. You may remember him as Princess Leia’s adopted father. An even cooler tie to the greater Star Wars films is the vocal choice of JAMES EARL JONES as Vader instead of Hayden Christensen. Contrast that to the DVD release of the original Star Wars trilogy where Christensen replaced original Return of the Jedi Vader/Skywalker as a ghost.

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Director Krennic (caped) with two Death Troopers, in Disney’s Rogue One. 

In terms of screentime, Vader played a small role, but even so he makes the primary antagonist, Director Krennic, seem so underwhelming. Ben Mendehlson portrayed him and he was great,  even as he tried to not piss his pants in front of Vader. While Vader’s costume is iconic, Krennic’s white is great. Who pulls off a cape in 2016? Director Krennic and Batman, that is who. And, of course, Darth Vader. Below I have another photo showing Krennic, but it was a younger Krennic wearing a travel cape, so it lacks the authority his full Director status justified. And it was a wise decision to have Krennic as a less imposing villain, since an attempt to overshadow Vader would have been foolhardy, thus to make us hate or fear him the film had to make him a different kind of evil.

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Mads Mikkelsen in Rogue One.

The film starts with Krennic coming for a Republican/Imperial officer, named Galen Erso, who had quit. The Empire apparently does not accept resignations, and Krennic has come to bring the whole Erso family in with him so that Galen—an excellent Mads Mikkelsen, doing his best work since Casino Royale—can help build the Death Star. Galen tells his wife and daughter to run, and one of them listens. Thus Jyn Erso survives, functionally an orphan because of the Empire. The re-cut does the most harm here because there must have been a story about Jyn growing up with a fringe Rebel named Saw Gerrera—Forest Whitaker—where he makes that great speech from the teaser. Alas.

Saw Gerrera, and eventually Jyn, wind up on the planet Jeddha. Galen Erso has convinced an Imperial pilot Riz Ahmed–Jason Bourne–to defect and to seek Gerrara, the man he trusted to raise Jyn when Galen was kidnapped. Jeddha is where the action picks up, and on the streets of its holy city, Jyn, and her Rebel handler, Captain Cassian Andor—Diego Luna, Julio from Elysium—start to form the core of the true rebels in this story. I would be remiss to further omit the droid of the story! Cassian’s mate, K-2SO, is unique in several ways, and casting Alan Tudyk to voice him was an excellent choice—he crushed it as THE Robot in I, Robot.  He is a repurposed Imperial droid, so he can blend in with Imperials until he has to talk. As a Chewbacca/C-3PO hybrid he is great. Probably my favorite addition to their group is Chirrut Îmwe—Ip Man Donnie Yen—whom I almost did not recognize in his blind and English speaking state. I hope he gets treated as a real favorite. Is he a Jedi? As his pal Maze Malbus–Wen Jiang–says, there are no Jedi anymore. The two of them were an archetypical duo and that is what Star Wars did, and does, and they totally pulled it off again.

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Krennic arrives with Death Troopers to find Galen Urso, in the background their shuttle is visible, Rogue One.

This film was a step forward for Star Wars by taking a step back into what it did well, but in a dark way. Episode VII was similar, but on a grander scale, with more important people. Now one major issue that people noted was the reprisal of Star Wars: Episode IV roles with the use of computer graphics. Many people were shocked by young Princess Leia, but earlier than that my biggest mark out moment was the first appearance of Grand Moff Tarkin with CGI Peter Cushing. My gasp made people look at me. The face was imperfect, but a huge improvement from Episode III Tarkin. I was shocked to learn that the voice was new, since Guy Henry’s impression sounded so accurate. Other highlights were Rebel Squadron leaders whom I recognized from the original (Episode IV). All told there were too many references for me to pick up on all of them and the obvious times when they opted to toss out references they cut off the lines you expect before they got cheesy. That is particularly important since the film gets so dark and well earned laughs were crucial to keeping the audience invested.

The final memory that I take from this film, even more than its message of hope and sacrifice, is the beauty of the Star Wars universe. Things look even sharper and better than in the incredible Episode VII. The battles and the scenery were beautiful and unforgiving, just like this film.

1 Pickups and reshooting are not a sign of weakness. For instance, The Lord of the Rings is arguably the second best film trilogy of all-time and for its extended editions they relied on pickups.

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