I went to see 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' on the day after Christmas with my neighbor Don. Originally, the entire family was going to see the film but one by one everyone dropped out leaving Don and I to go alone. The movie has won its first two weekends and the early (12:50) show on Monday had a sizable crowd of over 40 moviegoers mostly made up of young adults.
I’ve never been a huge fan of the Star Wars franchise. It always seemed light on action and heavy on artificially induced dramatics (replete with music). When it was on, the results could be breathtaking. The opening half hour of ‘Return of the Jedi’ is some of the best filmmaking I’ve ever seen. But for every great scene or great character like Jabba The Hut, Yoda, of my personal favorite Admiral Akbar there seemed to be hours of silliness with chattering droids, whining simians like Chewbacca and my least favorite characters the insufferable Ewoks who somehow manage to defeat an empire squadron by using giant logs they must have spent years chewing into battering rams and such. As great as the beginning of ‘Return of the Jedi’ was the Ewoks and the transformation of Luke Skywalker from a dynamic young Jedi to whining brat begging his daddy (Darth Vader) to save him made the second half of the movie unwatchable.
Instead of continuing the Star Wars saga after the third movie, creator George Lucas decided to make his next trilogy the prequel to the first three movies so that movie #1 (Star Wars) was really movie #4, Movie #6 was really #3, and so on… If you get it good for you because it confuses me so much I can’t discuss these movies because I still think of the first movie as the first movie. After the second trilogy the Disney corporation bought the rights to the Star Wars franchise and is remaking the Star Wars universe in its own image with enough Easter eggs for the diehard fans but also bringing the story line forward with new characters and presumably enough marketing power to rival the comic book franchises of Marvel and DC for decades to come.
‘Rogue One’ takes place a little before the start of the original Star Wars movie which is either the first or the fourth in the series depending on your world view. In the beginning our protagonist is Mads Mikkelsen who normally plays the baddest of bad guys from the title character in the Hannibal television serues to Le Chiffre in the Casino Royale James Bond film and Kaecilius in the recent Doctor Strange movie. In this film Mads plays Galen Erso, the lead engineer of the famous planet-destroying ‘Death Star’ who has run away from the Empire. Since Erso is key to completing the project he is hunted down and forced back to the project but not before he manages to squirrel away his daughter in the care of rebel Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker in his normal contemplative to the point of somnambulant manner).
We then flash forward to the present time of the move which is really long ago and far away when the daughter Jyn Erso is captured by the rebel alliance in the hopes of forging an alliance with Gerrara. Jyn agrees to try to set up a meeting and is escorted by a team led by Cassian Andor, a rebel captain and one of the few biped humanoids in the entire movie that doesn’t speak with an English accent with vaguely Shakespearean intonations. Along the way the pair pick up some allies on a planet hopping journey to three separate planets to meet up with Jyn’s father and the Empire’s recordkeeping planet in order to steal the plans for the Death Star to find the fatal flaw built into it by Jyn’s father.
I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would. There was all kinds of action on each of the planets with hand to hand combat, spaceship battles, those camel type machines, and even a guest appearance by Darth Vader himself. Vader was awesomely menacing as he cut down rebels with his light saber and keeps his allies in line by causing them to be unable to breathe with the slightest gesture and warning them not to ‘choke on their ambitions’. What I didn’t miss from the other Star Wars movies I’ve seen was inane filler masking itself as political intrigue and the idiotic droids that are meant to provide comic relief. One of the main characters is a droid (K-2SO) which had predictably idiotic dialog but at least it was a battle droid that was a fighter. There was one piece of idiocy that I really enjoyed and that was the fish headed Admiral Raddus who leads the rebel space ship fleet and just like his predecessor Admiral Ackbar has a knack for interrupting the battles with a close up of his giant fish head to state some obvious point and then it’s back to the action. The Admiral has one sterling moment when he orders his ‘Hammerhead Corvette’ around to slam two Starship Destroyers into each other in a serious breach of the laws of psychics.
The movie is a bit darker than most of the other Star Wars movies I’ve seen. The ‘Death Star’ gets to show its stuff twice and I wouldn’t advise getting too emotionally attached to many of the characters that are featured in the movie. I wonder if someday this will become thought of as a seminal movie in the use of CGI instead of human actors. There are many characters from the 1977 ‘Star Wars’ movie that appear in this film as incredibly lifelike animated characters. I wonder how long it will take Disney to make it cost effective to have the leading roles in future films of the Star Wars franchise played by CGI characters that are indistinguishable from live actors. It seems to only be a matter of time when our future superstars stop getting replaced due to contract demands or old age because they don’t exist outside of a computer chip. I didn't think that would be possible a couple of years ago but that was before I saw how easily the local Wal-Mart replaced a dozen cashiers with eight scanners for self-checkout.