Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
(PG-13, 134 minutes, Action/Adventure/Sci-Fi, Director: Gareth Edwards, Writers: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk)
Led by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a ragtag band of members of the Rebel Alliance team up to steal the blueprints for the Death Star. They meet some familiar friends and foes along the way.
“This is a rebellion, isn’t it?”
I was excited, but nervous, about Rogue One. I really love Star Wars: The Force Awakens. JJ Abrams constructed the film with care and respect. He made choices, some would label them mistakes, with his version of Star Trek that instigated backlash from ardent fans. Abrams was prudent to learn from those decisions and not repeat them when it was his turn to helm the Holy Grail of film franchises. But like I said, I was nervous. Would Gareth Edwards proceed with the same vigilance?
One method for melding the classic and the future was in the use of the same Ultra Panavision 70mm lenses that Quentin Tarantino used to shoot The Hateful Eight. Not similar lenses, the exact ones that Robert Richardson and Tarantino dug up at Panavision. But instead of shooting on film, Rogue One affixed these lenses to Arri Alexa 65, the 6k Large Format camera used on the latest Mission: Impossible film. The marriage of Arri’s new camera with the Panavision lenses is described as giving the filmmaker all the benefits of digital while maintaining the grit and magnificence of those lenses.
The uncompromising look of the screen images matches the grittiness of the storyline. Being the first film outside of the Skywalker continuum, I was curious what that would exactly mean and how it would manifest itself on the screen. While previous Star Wars pictures could be described as a “Western set in space,” Rogue One is a war picture. And an uncompromising one at that. Weitz and Gilroy’s script zeroes in on the sacrifices, both large and small, that encompass violent conflict. Soldiers on each side are injured or killed in the pursuit of goals that dwarf their interests as a mere individual.
That being said, this film is different enough to have its own identity, yet still feel part of the greater Star Wars universe. It also functions effectively as a companion piece to the main story arc. Viewers gather bits of information about the origin of the Death Star and the rebel struggle. While watching, one realizes that there are more players in the cause than just those with the surnames Skywalker or Solo.
There is a bit of a learning curve when the film begins. We first meet Jyn as a little girl. We watch as her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), an esteemed scientist, is taken by the Empire. She evades capture. The story picks up a number of years later, as she is now a young woman who is enveloped into the Rebellion.
As other characters are introduced into the fold, the film doesn’t stall but, perhaps, idles. However, as the third act unpacks, the picture screams along. The battle that ensues is visceral and unforgiving. Even though this is a prequel, so ya sorta know how it all shakes out, the tension is still there. I found myself rooting for the rebels and their seemingly insurmountable cause. Please don’t misinterpret that as an indication of an entirely happy ending, though. It isn’t. As I mentioned earlier, for a Star Wars movie this one is particularly unforgiving.
“I’m one with the Force. The Force is with me.”
Overall, Gareth Edwards delivered a fine entry into the Star Wars pantheon of films. It’s not epic in the manner of Episode IV or blearily mundane like Episode II, it lies somewhere in the middle. It has both a function and a message. It tells a neat, concise story that stands by itself, yet can also be plugged into the greater narrative.
It’s oddly hopeful, as well.
The scene that sticks with me days later as I write this involves the blind martial artist, and Rebel, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen). As the sightless Imwe boldly makes his way through a blazing battlefield, he repeats an inspiring mantra.
“I am with the Force. The Force is with me.”
I get chills just thinking about it. Such moments remind me of not only the power of Star Wars as a cultural force but of the power of film as a whole. Hope and faith as concepts are puissant but incredibly fragile. To capture them on film, no matter how briefly, is a magical thing.
May the Force be with you.
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