“They call it the Death star. There’s no better name. And the days coming soon, when it will be unleashed.”
This standalone sci-fi epic begins a new anthology series while keeping surprisingly close to the original “Star Wars” film series’ formula. Events of this film lead up to key event in the 1977 film Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” centers on Jyn Erso, played by Oscar® nominee Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) who is the daughter of the man who designed the evil Galactic Empire’s superweapon called the Death Star, Galen Erso, well played by Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale).
Although, these lead characters speak with their actions, the plot needs more background and development…Galen definitely needs the latter. Filmmakers seem content to name-drop “Death Star designer” and never really demonstrate Galen’s skills and instead focus on Jyn and her formidable intelligence, physicality and honest heart. Even the relationship between Galen and Imperial Director Orson Krennic, played by Ben Mendelsohn, gets glossed over. Krennic eventually focuses solely on pleasing the evil Emperor. It would have been more interesting to get a glimpse of the assumed accomplished life he was turning away from.
Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien) plays rebel alliance intelligence officer Captain Cassian Andor. He’s capable and continues the Rebellion’s uncanny talent to acquire and repurpose droids to do their bidding. Audiences do not get to see the conversion of K-2S0, voiced by Alan Tudyk (I, Robot) who also contributes the motion capture performance. This Imperial security droid speaks his mind and audiences step through familiar territory through new characters.
Veteran audiences and fans know what’s going to happen, so the journey is the focus. The background story on the people involved with the initial Death Star’s creation could be more interesting, but the appealing characters and impressive action provide satisfying entertainment.
The protagonists draw strength from the wise Chirrut Imwe, played by martial arts legend Donnie Yen (Iron Monkey, Ip Man film series). His amazing abilities astound even more because of a key condition while his good friend and mercenary Baze Malbus, played by Jiang Wen (Let the Bullets Fly), backs him up with heartfelt friendship and a repeater cannon weapon.
Clone War veteran Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker, bridges key characters while cargo pilot Bodhi Rook, played by Riz Ahmed (Jason Bourne), plays a key role. Other famous characters, created by George Lucas, also make cameos and there is considerable dialogue about other characters who are only heard not seen.
Filmmakers provide some surprises and also recreate several existing elements, scenarios and even sequences. Digital effects helps recreate characters in key moments, but the appearances often distract instead of invigorate. For example, Imperial heavy Grand Moff Tarkin is recreated using footage of the original performer Peter Cushing who died in 1994. The off-putting face colors and eyes agitate though his stern, memorable voice can help audiences overlook the flaw.
The plot, written by Chris Weitz (About a Boy, Cinderella) and Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, connects with relatable themes and overtones while meeting the stand alone requirements. The crew and effects experts should get Oscar nominations for the pleasing set design and visuals.
Filmmakers create some amazing battle sequences with tight shots yet smooth movements as audiences can soak in the incredible scope complete with the tropical environments on planet Scarif. Composer Michael Giacchino provides a solid score (under a short deadline) that deftly incorporates John Williams’ famous themes from previous films.
Like last year’s Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, which occurred 34 years after this recommended epic, Rogue One has enough entertainment and references for a fan’s wonderland while demonstrating the risks and high stakes well, but still needed some more grit over gloss with deeper character development.
The 134 minute sci-fi epic comes recommended (*** out of four stars) and rated PG-13 for extended scenes of sci-fi violence and action. Look for Star Wars: Episode VIII on December 15, 2017 then the next anthology films will be the untitled Han Solo film in 2018 then Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019.
Copyright ® Michael Siebenaler