Monday, December 19, 2016

"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" Review

This weekend I went to see "Rogue One," the first "Star Wars Story" movie that lies outside the main Episodic Trilogies.

Although I tried to avoid spoilers as the release date got closer, I knew that this movie dealt with the lead-up to the original Star Wars film (now known as "Episode IV: A New Hope"). Specifically, it told the story of the Rebel spies who stole the plans for the Galactic Empire's planet-destroying superweapon, The Death Star.

In the beginning of "A New Hope", Princess Leia is introduced trying to take the stolen plans to the Rebellion while trying to find one of the last Jedi, Obi-Wan Kenobi. Her ship is intercepted by the Emperor's enforcer, Darth Vader, but the plans manage to reach Obi-Wan after Leia sends them off with the droids, R2-D2 & C-3PO. The farmboy Luke Skywalker gets caught up in the situation & eventually ends up taking down the Death Star thanks to the stolen plans & his connection to The Force, a mystical field of energy that surrounds all living things.

This is the now-familiar scenario that "Rogue One" leads into by the end of the movie, and it does so seamlessly.

•  Here is my spoiler-free review of the movie:

It was a great movie, with everything a Star War fan could possibly ask for in telling this particular story. Despite the regular presence of battles and conflict in the series, this was more of a war movie than any other Star Wars film to date. It focused on the harsh realities and unforgiving nature of battle, while also showing the power of hope combined with the determination to fight for a just cause. As opposed to the storylines of the Skywalkers and Force-wielding Jedi, this movie focused on the experiences of "ordinary" rebel soldiers.

One interesting thing that "Rogue One" accomplished was to gray the area between "good" and "bad". This was especially true regarding some of the tactics of the Rebels. From the point of view of The Empire and its sympathizers, the Rebel Alliance would be considered terrorists- willing to carry out sabotage, assassination, and killing on a large scale to meet its ends. Of course, the Rebel view would be that drastic measures need to be taken in order to free the galaxy from an oppressive military dictatorship. In this movie, you definitely get to witness the oppressive nature of The Empire, through forced labor camps, invasive planetary occupation, and the willingness to commit genocide to maintain fear and order in the galaxy. It's easy to sympathize with the plight of the Rebellion and the people who want to escape the iron grip of The Emperor.

The main protagonist was Jyn Erso, the daughter of reluctant Imperial engineer Galen Erso. Galen is a brilliant scientist was coerced into working on the beam weapon of The Death Star. He is responsible for covertly integrating a flaw into the design that would later be exploited by the Rebels, once they had acquired the detailed plans of the battle station. After Galen was separated from his family, Jyn was raised by the isolated Rebel extremist, Saw Gerrara. Like other women in the Star Wars universe, Jyn is tough, independent, smart, and able to hold her own in the face of seemingly impossible odds.

The supporting characters were diverse and came together to form a ragtag, but dedicated, team who understood the crucial importance of their mission. They were willing to sacrifice their own lives, if necessary, to save the lives of countless billions from the destructive power of The Death Star.

I really liked the blind warrior monk character, Chirrut Îmwe. He wasn't a Jedi, but was a devotee of The Force- which flowed through him as he took out squads of Stormtroopers with his staff. His mantra was: "I am one with The Force and The Force is with me." Interestingly, he and his companion Baze Malbus were identified as "Guardians of the Whills". In the original conceptions of Star Wars, George Lucas envisioned the Skywalker saga as a story told in an ancient book chronicling the events of the galaxy, called "The Journal of the Whills".

Chirrut & Baze were residents of the moon Jedha, which was once an stronghold of the Jedi containing ancient temples and colossal statues. These remnants of The Old Republic are now ruins strewn across the desert landscape since the Empire took over and destroyed the Jedi's legacy there. I loved the visuals of these ruined monuments that hearkened back to a forgotten age. I would love to see movies that eventually explored this location in it's prime, as a site of Jedi power.

Jedha is also a source of Kyber Crystals, which were used in the construction of lightsabers. The Empire is now confiscating all the crystals it can find, for use in the Death Star's main weapon.

In addition to the gritty experiences of the rebel soldiers, "Rogue One" also showed the power struggles and operations of The Empire. The main conflict on this side is between the head of the Death Star project, Director Orson Krennic, and one of the top Imperial officers, Governor Tarkin, who wants to take both control & credit of the Death Star. Only one of these characters is seen in "A New Hope", so one can guess at how this rivalry turns out...

Amazingly, Gov. Tarkin was recreated digitally, since the original actor, Peter Cushing, died. The level of realism achieved by this & one other surprise appearance was an impressive feat of CGI. Star Wars continues to push the envelope of special effects that Industrial Light & Magic started almost 40 years ago.

Another featured character from the original series (that everyone was the most excited about from the previews) was The Dark Lord of the Sith himself, Darth Vader. If I had one complaint about the movie, it would be that they could have given Vader just a *little* more screen time. I say this because the very limited time he did have was absolutely awesome. I'm not going to spoil his scenes, but it was an excellent handling of (in my opinion) the greatest fictional character ever. You got a quick glimpse into Vader's tortured existence, and a clear understanding of his terrifying power.

As a extremely critical, but fervent Star Wars fan, I can say that this was an outstanding and satisfying addition to the saga's canon. There was a lot of focus on war & battles, and I usually enjoy the more mystical aspects of the stories. However, there were so many treats for fans and the film was visually so engaging, that I got totally swept up in the adventures of the Rogue One squad.

I would highly recommend this movie, and if you consider yourself a Star Wars fan, you should see it immediately! I guarantee you will want to re-watch "Episode IV: A New Hope" (or at least the opening sequence) right after it.

Having loved this saga since I was a child, I feel grateful to experience a new age of Star Wars!

The Official Monkey Buddha Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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