Thursday, December 15, 2016

I saw Rogue One...

"Star Wars" works best when kept simple. The same goes for Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and John Carter: the exalted forerunners to George Lucas' multi-million-dollar creation. Cloud the stories and you end up with something that's not quite what it's supposed to be: evidenced by the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy, with plots too complicated for their own good.

“Force Awakens” got the franchise back on track, but not without some declaring it too repetitive in structure: mirroring, that is, more of what came before as opposed to directing the mythology into brave, new turf. 

Rest assured, the latest entry, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, should keep most parties pleased, for the film not only embraces the saga’s classic elements in an uncluttered way, but initiates its own ominous but fun tone. This blend is abetted by several new characters, who shine in their traditional heroism, along with some new window dressing, like the Death Troopers, and old, sentimental hardware, like the ATATs and Scout Walkers. 

Director Gareth ("Godzilla '14") Edward's entry (scripted by Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz, from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta) takes place between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope”, detailing a caper to steal the dreaded Death Star's blueprints, or more precisely a flaw that will lead to its destruction. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is assigned to this monumental task, since she holds a special connection to the Death's Star's designer: her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen). If she can locate her captured dad, she may gain valuable information that could (and should) deliver the Rebels one of their most rousing victories. 

Good guys and bad guys surround Jyn on her magnificent quest, with Clone Wars veteran, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) aiding her cause, along with the film's primary droid (and destined sought-after, action figure), K-2S0 (Alan "I, Robot" Tudyk), reprogrammed to aid the Alliance. The ensemble is also distinguished by the cruel yet stylish Imperial Weapons leader, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn); the soulful and insightful Chirrut Imew (Donnie Yen); the practical and loyal Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen); the humble and diligent Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed); and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a clever Rebel captain, who's perhaps the most inspirational of the intrepid lot. They see-saw throughout the mission, influencing it at various times in varying ways, but never dominating any part to muddle the whole. (Oh, if only "Phantom Menace" had followed this path.)

Also to its benefit, the story never loses track of its lead, the easy-on-the-eyes Jyn, keeping her team a respectable second within the story structure. This again adds to the the tale's sensible simplicity, even when the action becomes thickly laden. (In fact, this chapter even drops the "Star Wars" prelude scroll to plunge us all the quicker into its first. exciting act, along with Michael Giacchino's mounting score.)

Incidentally, the term, "Rogue One", is an off-the-cuff "call sign" culled from a Imperial vessel seized by the Rebels and for die-hard fans, a label referenced in "Empire Strikes Back". The term also, according to various sources, represents the movie's outside-the-box (gone-rogue), association to the trilogies. Even more so, the term defines Jyn and her troop's risky and unorthodox urge to gain the upper hand. 

If I hold any objection to the adventure, its the minimal use of Mikkelson, who would have given the story an extra tier of grace if granted the screen time. His sideline position, therefore, makes his recent "Dr. Strange" performance more significant in comparison. At least Whittaker's supporting scenes compensate for Mikkelson's relegation, due to the former's compassionate style. (In fact, most of the supporting characters shine in a similar way, adding just enough seasoning to the plot.)

Oh, and let's not forget the film's most coveted cameos...Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin! Yep, as we discerned from the trailers (and arguably, the main poster), Vader (Spencer Wilding, with James Earl Jones again voicing) is in full swing and strategically placed at just the right moments to make us nostalgically cheer or affectionately boo. But Grand Moff Tarkin, you ask? Yes, the grand governor has returned, and it's not just another actor filling his shoes, or is it? For all intents and purposes, we're looking at Peter Cushing, though in "uncanny valley" CGI'd form and blessed by vocalized emulation. (Personally, I always felt that Cushing's Tarkin should have carried on into other chapters; alas, his fleeting, far-off persona in "Sith" was neat, but lacking.)

Contrary to what some might proclaim, "Rogue One" isn't a galaxy-shaking stand-alone. How could it be, existing as an obvious bridge between chapters? At the same time, there's no doubt that it creates a mostly independent aura unlike any other "Star Wars" offering: in style, an "Empire Strikes Back" offshoot/wannabe, but by no means committed to link seamlessly to those pieces surrounding it. That's a pretty novel approach and should act as a standard for all future "anthology" chapters to follow. 

1 comment:

  1. So, it's now mainstream knowledge (for those who really wished to look behind the curtain): Guy Henry was the actor upon which Cushing's image was draped. Henry evidently did Cushing's voice, as well. (I assumed it may have been computerized, based on Cushing's voice from "New Hope" or any number of other films in which he's starred.)