ROGUE ONE
Author: Rick Shew (Follow @SHEWRICK)
Date: December 15, 2016

SYNOPSIS: In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire's ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the Star Wars timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.

There is something different about the beginning of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - something missing that the previous Star Wars films all had. Yes, we see the famous line “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….” but no John Williams score blasting in our ears and pumping through our veins, no “Star Wars’ logo for us all stand up and cheer to- and, no famous text crawl to set the stage for the rest of the film.

No, this film is…different. In fact, it is what LUCASFILM has referred to a test of sorts: An ambitious trial run to see if audiences will embrace a “stand alone” Star Wars film, so that LUCASFILM can explore more non-episodic ideas in the future. I for one, applaud them. Gareth Edwards – the director – and the absolutely amazing cast for pulling off the impossible: A Star Wars film that does not revolve around the Skywalker family, yet is as engaging as any episodic film, to date.

Rogue One takes place in-between 2005’s Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the 1977 original film, Episode IV: A New Hope. Or to better frame the timeline, it takes place in the weeks leading up to Episode IV: A New Hope.

In the 1977 original film’s aforementioned opening crawl, we get the message “Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR – an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.” That simple sentence is what inspired the film makers to explore the actions of those rebel spies and bring them to life in the grittiest Star Wars movie since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.

The cast may be the best ensemble cast of actors ever assembled for a Star Wars film. I know that is a bold statement, but I cared about every single one of the characters in a way I have not felt since the 1977 original. Alan Tudyk brings K-2SO – a former Imperial Droid turned….err….programed… good guy – to life in a way we have not seen since Anthony Daniels (C3PO) and Kenny Baker (R2D2) in 1977. K-2SO brought comic relief to a film that very much required it – and did so without ever getting too annoying, too overbearing or too self-aware of his own comedic purpose. And it was beautiful.

Ben Mendelsohn as Director Krennic was deviant and masterful, Diego Luna was simply brilliant as the Rebel hero (anti-hero) Cassian, and Felicity Jones was not only fabulous as the lead heroine, Jyn Erso, she delivered perhaps the most touching sequence in the saga. Personally, I loved Natalie Portman’s performance in Revenge of the Sith. When she tells Anakin “You're breaking my heart!” I felt it, I truly did…but Ms. Jones’ scenes may very well be the most touching of the franchise.

I could go on and on about the dynamic cast including Riz Ahmed and the great Forest Whitaker – but the man that steals the show is Donnie Yen as Jedi Inspired Quasi Buddhist, Chirrut Imwe. I want it officially on the record, that I think this Martial Artist bad ass, who also happens to be a very serious actor, deserves a nod from the Academy for Best Supporting Actor. He gives a beautiful performance that exudes an array of emotions that I have never seen in a Star Wars film before. And if you do not get chills in the last scene he is in, then I suggest you seek therapy.

There are also some familiar faces from the franchise that are fun to see again. Jimmy Smits returns as Princess Leia’s adopted father, Bail Organa. The last time we saw Senator Organa, he was holding his new baby girl (Leia) on his peaceful planet of Alderan at the end of Episode III. And even though his role is not very large in Rogue One, it is significant – and it was also nice to see LUCASFILM use actors from the Prequel Trilogy to help tie in the entire franchise nicely.

Mon Mothma returns, as well. This time, the character is played by Genevieve O’Reilly, who actually played her in Revenge of the Sith - albeit in a deleted scene (one that should not have been deleted, I might add).

Then there is another character from the original 1977 film that was very much a bold choice by the filmmakers to explore, but it does work. I will leave it there, in hopes that you are not aware of his presence yet and can surprised when you see him.

But the most high profile character to return is no other than our favorite Sith Lord, Darth Vader. What I found interesting about Vader in Rogue One, is that since A New Hope, we haven't had a Vader that is just a 100% serious bad ass. Much like in A New Hope, this Vader is ruthless and evil to the core. Rogue One has the most chilling Vader moment ever put on film – and I loved every delicious second of it.

Seeing Vader in this raw state was very refreshing. He is nobody’s widower, nobody’s daddy; he is just an evil son of a bitch that you never want to meet in a dark alley. And we, the audience, are better off for it.

In the end, Rogue One is a war movie – a true war movie. It is visceral and it is haunting. And yet, at the same time, it is absolutely beautiful.

With that said, it is not without its flaws. In all Star Wars films, John Williams’score takes on a life of its own and the music is a character in itself. However, Michael Giacchino’s score is forgettable to me – and in some cases, downright irritating. John Williams was definitely missed.

I also found some of the editing to be a bit incoherent and even though I understand having a different opening from the episodic films, the missing transition swipes could have helped make it feel a bit more like a Star Wars film. Maybe that plays into my editing issues.

But these are minor quibbles. I love this film. And the biggest compliment that I can give this cinematic achievement is that we never once hear the word “Skywalker”.

Nor do we notice.

Or care. - Rick Shew

GRADE: A-

Rick Shew is a lifelong Batman fanatic and co-host of the BATMAN-ON-FILM.COM PODCAST.

His love for Batman traces back to the ripe age of 5 when he became obsessed with the 1960’s TV show and later a diehard Batman bomic book reader (THE KILLING JOKE remains his all time favorite).

As an actor, Rick has appeared in numerous films, local & national commercials and over a dozen theatrical productions. However, his favorite gig of all time was playing Superman, alongside Batman, Batgirl, The Green Lantern & Wonder Woman in the "DC Comics Live" show at Six Flags San Antonio, TX.

Although Rick attended The University of North Texas, he is a diehard Texas Longhorns football fan. He is a HUGE fan of THE Dallas Cowboys as well (#DezCaughtIt).

Other likes include cooking, reading and hosting his left leaning political page LeftShewPolitics.

Rick resides in Dallas with his 3 beautiful women (his wife and their 2 daughters), his kitty cat and his dog, Cooper.

Follow Rick on Twitter @SHEWRICK.


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