Monday, December 19, 2016

Review: "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (spoilers ahead)

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her ragtag band of Rebels in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"
Today we feature a review of "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" written by Bill Menser. We saw it on Saturday and he had all sorts of opinions, so I asked him to write a review. He is being paid for this. 

Bill has been around long enough to know his "Star Wars." How long? Long enough to have seen "The Phantom Menace" from the balcony of the old Rio Theater. Long enough to have seen the VHS tape in which Han Solo shoots Greedo not because Greedo shoots first but because Greedo has become a bore and is obviously going to try something. Anyway, here's the write up ...

The reviews I have read of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” have been mixed, with more people saying they liked it than those who didn’t. I’m with the majority, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have problems with the film.

Before I go any further, a warning. This will contain spoilers, so if you want to avoid them stop reading right now and find another review to look at. If you are fine with spoilers and people having opinions different than yours, or possibly even the same, please keep on reading.

The first ten minutes of the film start off on four different planets, with different characters for each segment. As I was finally adjusting to each planet’s story, the movie would suddenly switch to different characters in a different system, making the process confusing.

It finally settled on a planet where the main heroine is. Jyn Erso is young at this point — about 7, I would guess —and she is on a farm with her father and mother. An Imperial shuttle appears on the horizon and the father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) goes to meet it, telling his wife and daughter to hide. Galen, it turns out, used to be an Imperial scientist. Death Star Project Manager Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) has arrived to take him back. He politely refuses. Then Mommy Dearest decides she has to help Papa by showing up with a blaster, getting herself predictably killed and leaving Jyn hidden in the family bolthole as her father is taken away. Jyn gets found by ... some guy.

This turns out to be Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whittaker), a rebel extremist. By this time, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is older and on a prison ship. She gets rescued by rebels who see her as a way to get to Saw, now in seclusion. Saw eventually dies because he doesn’t want to run from the Imperials anymore. His death feels like a reason to give Jyn more issues, when she already has enough. But now she knows where her father is. She comes to his rescue in time for him to die. (Major spoiler: Nearly everybody in this movie dies.)

The only really refreshing bit for me was K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, of “Firefly” fame. He was a sigh of relief in what I felt was an over-budgeted fan-film. This sassy robot got a laugh with almost every line he delivered.

My enjoyment of his character was countered, however, when Darth Vader, after Force-choking Krennic and looking as smug as a man in a mask can, says, “Be careful not to CHOKE on your aspirations.” I had to roll my eyes at this. Vader has never been wisecracker.

Speaking of Vader, I know they got James Earl Jones to voice him once more, but he sounded like someone trying to impersonate James Earl Jones. If they touched his voice in post-processing just a bit and made it half an octave lower, it would have been Vader, but it sounded too much like some replacement with a head cold.

While the first half of the film didn’t hold my attention that much, the second had me invested. Of course the relationship between Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and Jyn felt like a fan fiction: Jyn, the girl with a dead parent and daddy issues falling for the Rebel, angsty and seemingly uncaring. Of course they end up with each other.

For the climactic battle, a small team sneaks through a giant atmospheric shield with a captured Imperial cargo ship they somehow hijack from the Rebel base. The Imperial shield looks like something straight out of Mel Brooks’ “Space Balls.” The team lands on a pad and passes the inspection process, and they somehow manage to sneak by the soldiers on the pad.

While Jyn, Cassian and K-2SO make their way to the main tower, the Rebel team creates a distraction by blowing up as many different landing pads as they can, to make the attack seem much larger than it is. By this point Krennic has figured out they’re after the data archive. He takes some Death Troopers to investigate (these are basically Imperial Stormtroopers, except they can aim and wear black instead of white.)

Cassian and Jyn retrieve the Death Star plans (which her dad has thoughtfully named “Stardust,” his nickname for her), then Krennic and Cassian have a shootout while Jyn climbs to the radar dish on top of the tower. Cassian is hit and falls, seemingly dead. Which of course he isn’t. Jyn realigns the dish to transmit the file to a waiting rebel ship that has conveniently showed up during the attack. Krennic steps in between her and the console and at gunpoint asks who she is. Jyn reveals she is Galen Erso’s daughter, then Cassian shoots and kills Krennic.

Now able to transmit the data to the waiting ship, they do so just as the Death Star appears out of Hyperspace on the horizon. Uh-oh! Jyn and Cassian look at each other lovingly and make their way down to the beach as the Death Star fires on the planet. They die holding hands in a blinding white flash, but the Rebels have the plans. Vader shows up to butcher a few dozen Rebels, but they still manage to pass the plans on to Princess Leia, who gets off the ship.

Even though I felt like the script had been lifted from a fan-fiction website, “Rogue One” was still a “Star Wars” movie. It had all the proper elements. It was political and word-heavy, it had great fight scenes and big explosions. It had some wit, one-liners and even a villain (Krennic) you could feel something for. The supporting cast — a defecting pilot, a blind monk who is strong with the Force, and his friend, not so strong with the Force but an ace with heavy weapon — got some good lines and helped move things along. C-3PO and R2-D2 got a cameo to remind us this is a warm up to “Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.” Same with Vader and Leia, but I felt like it could have left them out and still flowed perfectly into George Lucas’ original from 1977.

I don’t regret seeing “Rogue One” and would recommend it to others. On my personal “Star Wars” scale, with “The Phantom Menace” representing a 1 and “The Empire Strikes Back” rating a 9, I would give this one a 6.