Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – A Review by Kyle Jonathan

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

2016.  Directed by Gareth Edwards.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Donnie Yen) Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm LFL

Making a one off prequel to one of the most iconic series in the history of film is not only a dangerous gamble, but a virtually impossible task.  Gareth Edwards’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, not only exceeds inhumanely high expectations, it delivers a remarkably mature war film that explores the morality of insurgency and the simple moments of heroism that define generations.  Featuring immersive visuals and a courageous sense of grit, Rogue One takes the Star Wars saga into the trenches, where the Jedi are but a whisper and the people fighting and dying on the ground have only their convictions as weapons.

Tony Gilroy and Chris Weitz’s script builds from the ground up.  Stealing respectfully from Melville’s Army of Shadows and Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers, the blueprint for impassioned defiance washes over the action, moving the birth of the rebellion into a morally gray existence that resonates throughout.  The consequence of actions, of murder, are not only explored, but paramount to the film’s purpose.  The dialogue has chop, but the genius of Rogue One is that no character towers among the others as the face of war is an identity unto itself.  Diego Luna and Felicity Jones have the film’s best exchange, where the price of compliance and the weight of trauma becomes the focus, grounding the film in an uncharacteristically relevant tone that persists throughout the film’s jaw dropping final act.

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Donnie Yen delivers a thoughtful performance as a blind monk, upholding the lost ideals of the Jedi, while Alan Tudyk steals the spotlight as a reprogrammed Imperial droid.  His deadpan delivery is so perfect, that it is a testament to not only phenomenal voice acting, but the pure humanity of the story.  There are alien characters sprinkled throughout, and they appear as organic combatants, rather than the novelties of predecessors.  Mads Mikkelson and Ben Mendlesohn support as venerable frenemies who use their formidable talents to communicate an ocean of fraternal betrayal with a handful of lines.  Unbelievable CGI effects revive several characters from the original trilogy to enhance the story, using nostalgia as a springboard to build a secret history, whose importance will forever impact viewing of the other films in the series.

Greig Fraser’s cinematography is intimidating, offering an optical experience unlike any other Star Wars entry.  This is a beautifully ugly film, with the sweat and grime of battle contrasting with plush locales and forbidden alien sanctums.  Space and ground battles are intensely dappled throughout and then Edwards opens the floodgates, filling the final portion with a combat sequence that is both natural and surprisingly realistic in the science fiction context, taking a single line from A New Hope’s opening crawl and delivering a novel of blood and laser fire.  The shadows receding from behemoth Star Destroyers is the perfect antecedent to the quiet desperation of the rebels making their final gambit that plays out on a sun washed planet that is beautifully out of place in the various locales previously offered.  Michael Giacchino’s score emulates Williams’s legendary performance but maintains its own identity, perfectly symbolizing Rogue One’s fledgling iconography.

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In theaters now, Rogue One is a stunning entry into the Star Wars universe. A bona fide war picture that is charming in its brutality and emotional in its summation, this is the Star Wars film that we’ve been promised for decades.  Featuring a checklist of everything that every film in the series should supply and a copious amount of “on your feet” sequences, Rogue one hearkens back to the age when we watched movies to be entertained, and ultimately inspired by a message of resiliency and triumph.

Highly.  Highly Recommend.

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