By Greg Canzio (Fort Pierce, FL, US)

 

***DISCLAIMER: I try to approach each film I see without any strong emotions prior to seeing it. Obviously, there is a level of excitement each time I watch a film, but having preconceived expectations can be dangerous to the viewing experience. But since I was a child the Star Wars franchise has been an important part of my life. The original trilogy was a huge factor in why I love film and I even have a soft spot for the prequels because of the positive memories I associate them with. While I try to stay unbiased it can be extremely difficult as Star Wars are not just films, but a part of my life I spent so much time invested into. That is why so many Star Wars fans have been harsh on the prequels, while other fans look past their flaws. This is my best attempt to review Rogue One with a balance of emotion and professionalism. END***

After a whole year of waiting, a new Star Wars film has finally hit theaters. No, not Episode 8, which is set to be released a year from now, but another prequel. I know the “P word” is like nails on a chalkboard for some fans, but this film is a bit more satisfying than THOSE films. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a visually stunning, sometimes narratively underwhelming yet passable addition to the Star Wars franchise.

Rogue One takes place before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. Led by the dissident Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a small group a Rebels take on a mission to capture the plans of the Empire’s superweapon, The Death Star. In simple terms, Rogue One is the opening crawl from A New Hope turned into a two-hour-plus film with a $200,000,000 budget.

Like a Blaster battle between the Rebels and the Empire, Rogue One contains many hits and misses. But first and foremost the film is a refreshingly unique Star Wars story. The film deviates from the Skywalker saga and focuses on being a more traditional battleground war film. At times Rogue One even resembles some of cinema’s all-time great war films. As a fan, this was spectacular to witness.

Star Wars fans are able to discover new characters such as the rebel with a cause, Jyn Erso. Jones continues the trend of brunette heroines in the Star Wars franchise, but while the character of Erso had the potential to be incredibly intriguing, Jones underplays her to a fault. There are many moments of blandness in her performance. This is similar to her male co-star Diego Luna who plays Rebel officer, Cassian Andor. Luna lacks the charisma and charm the previous Star Wars heroes possessed. Forrest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera is widely underutilized but this may be a result of the film’s much talked about reshoots.

Donnie Yen plays Chirrut Îmwe, a blind warrior who still believes in The Force. Yen shares his jaw-dropping material arts talent to Western audiences with some of Rogue One’s most memorable action sequences. His partner Baze Malbus, played by Jiang Wen, is a mercenary that alongside Îmwe has some of the film’s most badass moments. The newest droid introduced to the Star Wars universe is K-2SO voiced by Alan Tudyk. Far from the next Jar-Jar Binks, K-2 delivers some of the film’s drollest dialogue in a rather bleak Star Wars film. Ben Mendelsohn’s baddie, Orson Krennic can be a bit over the top at times but is certainly menacing. With all that said, there was not enough time and effort spent into making these characters particularly interesting. I never found myself emotionally invested into them like Luke, Han, and Leia or even Rey, Finn, and Poe. Director Gareth Edward’s struggled with the same issues when he made his retelling of Godzilla in 2014. Edwards goes for style over substance.

Rogue One continues the trend of outstanding CGI and visuals effects making 2016 a benchmark year. There is one CG character in particular that will certainly be much talked about upon viewing. The score from Michael Giacchino lacks the bone-chilling nature of John Williams’ scores, but Giacchino only had four weeks to conduct. So in that regard, not bad. The screenplay written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy lacks the punchiness of the previous films, but works as a by the books action blockbuster. Well, minus a giant beam of light shooting up to the sky.

Rogue One can be tedious throughout the first two acts. The film also suffers from frequent pacing issues and annoyingly jumps around between multiple narratives. This can make Rogue One feel a bit overstuffed at times. This may be the result of the reshoots the film underwent earlier this year. While the film’s first two acts lacked character depth and emotional elements the action-packed, fast-paced and often violent finale saves Rogue One from entering the realm of mediocrity. This includes one of Darth Vader’s greatest moments.

It was undeniably exciting to witness the event that was once a footnote in Star Wars history and the film is filled with tons references from the previous installments that will make fanboys cheer. But it is almost impossible to ignore the fact that Disney is a Cash Cow. While overall Rogue One is an entertaining placeholder until Episode 8 is released, it bears the question, is Rogue One all that necessary? Were a few sentences in A New Hope’s opening crawl sufficient? Am still trying to figure that out myself.

Rating: 3/5

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