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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen

Written By: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, John Knoll and Gary Whitta (story)

Directed By: Gareth Edwards

The Shot

Though it’s officially a standalone film outside the numbered “Episodes” of the Star Wars saga, Rogue One truly is a Star Wars story, fleshing out a key piece of lore for existing fans in exciting fashion while also proving to be just a damn fine adventure for anyone who cares to watch.  The Force is strong with this one.


The Highball

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEDDAR CHEESE BALL.

That’s no cheese ball… it’s a space station!


Pairs Well With...

GRASSHOPPER.

Revisit a classic.  Besides, we both know that you really did not want me to make a “Jyn and Tonic” joke, which may have almost happened.

“I trust her with my life.”


One of my all-time favorite PC video games is the old LucasArts title “Dark Forces,” a first person shooter in which the player’s first mission is to steal the plans to the Death Star, under the guidance of an operative named Jan Ors.  Though I enjoyed the game very much, I always felt that the introductory mission was too offhand a treatment of so pivotal an event in the Star Wars saga.

Apparently, the new Disney-employed stewards of LucasFilm legacy agreed, and so the first “Star Wars Story” the studio has come up with to annualize the franchise between “Episode” films is one that seeks to do more appropriate justice to the theft of the original Death Star plans, and fleshes out the characters and events leading up to said theft.

Behold Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

For established fans, though there is of course a bias toward excitement, there’s also a moment of trepidation and holding one’s breath.  (And it’s just not the one when they realize that there is no opening crawl.)  As an off-year one-off, would Rogue One be given the same level of respect by the studio as the primary Star Wars saga films?  Would the story – built by necessity around so many already well-established icons – work?

And for any audience, even looking beyond that cadre of us who can quote dialogue from the rest of the saga word-for-word, would Rogue One just be a good movie?  Fun, adventurous, that sort of thing?

Fortunately, the answer to all of the above questions is “yes.”  Though it’s not entirely flawless – the lack of a John Williams score is very noticeable, and the one that audiences get instead is hardly remarkable or up to task of matching the scope of the film – the Force is none the less very strong with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

First off, steeped in established lore though it is, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an exciting adventure flick that’s accessible to anyone.  Enough context is provided that no one’s going to get lost for the sake of the story’s subtler points, and the galaxy-trotting tale is just plain gripping and peppered with lots of fantastic action sequences of every sort.  (I, for one, could watch Donnie Yen smack the hell of the Empire with a staff all day long, but there’s also plenty of blaster fire and thrilling spaceship battles to go around… not to mention a test shot or two from the little ol’ Death Star.)  No character is given a full life story beyond what’s absolutely necessary to the tale at hand, of course, but the important ones are given enough depth to be multi-layered and step beyond the realm of being cutouts.  Indeed, I found it especially interesting – and refreshing – to see how the characters of the Rebellion are not all goody-goody white knights; rather, they’ve all come to the moment at hand via very different paths, some of which involve morally questionable acts of which they are not proud.  It brings a realistic complexity to the tale, and that makes the adventure all the more interesting.

To be honest, I found the early reluctance expressed by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to make her an even more compelling heroine, because it’s relatable and it makes sense.  In that, though this may be the direct prequel to a story from 1977, Rogue One delivers the audience a truly modern protagonist… and she’s surrounded by a diverse cadre of companions.  Without question, this is a great ensemble. 

And hey, how about that Death Star?

Though it is stylistically distinct from other entries in the Star Wars saga, for established fans, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story feels like a movie made especially for them.  The new characters are dropped into a familiar, lived-in, and well-used universe that blends nicely into fan expectations, complete with the use of old school sound effects, cameos from old friends (and troublemakers), AT-AT walkers, and red lenses in Darth Vader’s mask.  (Hell yes we’ve got us some Darth Vader in the house, still voiced by James Earl Jones, thank you very much!  And there’s even a glimpse of some Vader stuff that hasn’t been… oh, you’ll see!)  Here I don’t want to give away too much, since after all so much of the fun comes from the screen experience, but I will say that the presentation of Grand Moff Tarkin is nothing short of amazing: perfectly and tastefully handled with the help of technology some might recognize from Tron: Legacy, and multiple mentions of thanks given to the late Peter Cushing in the credits.

As fan, I must admit: it gave me chills.  Happy chills, to be sure…  You’ve just got to watch.

And that, is course, is my recommendation.  (And though you surely were expecting that from the start, I promise that it was not a foregone conclusion.)  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an outstanding adventure that deserves to be counted as one of the most exciting pictures of 2016, and a tale worthy of being added to the lore of the Star Wars saga.  Yes, I definitely missed having a John Williams score, but overall, the Force is strong with this one, and it deserves to be seen as many times as one can manage on the big screen, and then certainly to be owned afterward come home video time.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, December, 2016


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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