Sunday, December 25, 2016

RockOtaku Reviews: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Hello degenerates, heathens, weirdos, deviants, rebels, and defected Imperial officers.  I am the Rock Otaku, and I’m here to show you worlds such as hard rock, metal, punk, alternative rock, movies, TV, anime, video games, and anything that makes us scream, shout, and Rebel against the Galactic Empire.

Today, I review a movie that I’ve recently seen that both fits my interests alongside my standards of high-octane, high-caliber blockbusters: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla (2014)), the film is an examination of the events that led to the events of Star Wars (or more accurately, Episode IV), specifically when the Rebel Alliance obtained the construction plans for the Death Star.  Said events sound easier said than done, but as the films shows, it was not easy to get to that moment.  There were a lot of secrets revealed, obstacles to overcome, decisions to make, Stormtroopers to kill, and, spoilers not here but it’s obvious what would happen, Rebels to die.  If you’d think that this would lead to a philosophical movie that deals with the costs of war and the morally-off decisions one must make to win war, you’d be both right and wrong.

Unlike the previous Star Wars films (the “Episodes” that deal with the saga of the Skywalker family, including last year’s The Force Awakens), this is a straight up war movie.  It has all the hallmarks of Star Wars, including the scenery, the ships, the concept of the Force (though it’s treated here like a religion rather than how we saw it in the main movies), and the sound effects, but it’s done without the black-and-white morality of the main films, instead the movie features the “good guys” doing some dirty deeds while there are some “bad guys” that act as if they have more honor and do things for the greater good (I’d go into spoilers if I went further with this), such as co-protagonist Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and antagonist Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) respectively.  But if there’s one character with a true arc, its main protagonist Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who goes from anarchist to one of the most important people in the Rebel Alliance’s fight with the Empire.

Overall, the film, while dark (and it gets darker towards the end), was a very entertaining story through its two hours of ground warfare, emotional scenes, inspiring moments, and, of course, space battles.  If you are not a hardcore Star Wars fan, and you felt that the films were light on intergalactic warfare due to their Campbellesque storylines, you’d definitely enjoy the film and its characters.  But if you are a fanboy, there are lines, moments, characters and cameos that not just provide some excellent fanservice, but also manage to tie this film into that universe perfectly.

Also, the pacing is well done.  With an urgent feel, the movie gives us the feeling that if these characters slow down too much, then the likelihood that the Death Star will wipe them out grows, and there are times when we’re given a breather that allows for greater character moments.  Plus, the action flies through at the right levels, provides some great character moments in them, and serve each part of the story properly.  There is never a sense that they wasted time on an action scene at all.  As for said action scenes, some of them, including the final battle, are some of the most intense, nerve-wracking moments in not just the movie, but the entire Star Wars series as a whole.  Plus, there is a moment where a character, thanks to improved technology and a strong direction, lets to cut loose with all his power, and it is one of the scariest moments in the franchise.

But despite the darkness and warfare, there is some strong comedy here.  The main droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk through motion capture and voiceover, much to Anthony Daniel’s chagrin), manages to both be a funny character in dialogue (the theater I saw this in cracked up when he made a quip) and in action, including a scene that leads into one of the more impressive fight scenes in the movie.  While Jyn and Cassian have some funny moments (though rarely as they are the emotional center), the banter between Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) showcases their comradery, their reliance on each other, and their friendship as two misfits in the series, a blind monk who believes in the Force and a mercenary who relies on some powerful guns.  Plus there is a funny line from Chirrut, whose delivery fits in the scene where it’s said, which needs to be seen to be believed.

As for the other characters, they offer moments that can bring out the feels.  There is never a moment where Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) is seen that is not emotional.  Plus, you get to feel for Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), who learns of Galen’s motives and decides to defect, and his arc is one of the more interesting ones in the movie.  You also get Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker), who provides one of the sadder moments in the movie.  Finally, there will be a lot of people that will feel for Jyn and what she goes through in this movie, and that’s saying how strong of a character she is.

Now let’s talk technical details.  This film’s cinematography is gorgeous, with fantastic shots throughout (and some with some interesting new tidbits about what’s possible in the universe).  There are a lot of handheld-cam moments that add to the intensity of the moments and make is as if you are with these characters when they go through what they have to deal with.  The action is also well done, mixing in-camera effects, intense choreography (plus having the star of the Ip Man movies is a guarantee of some fantastic martial arts action), soldier-like behaviors, and some CGI.  As for the CGI, it’s surprisingly well done, providing a sense of realism to the spaceships and vehicles (with the classic designs intact), while allowing for some very dynamic movements in flight.  Plus, the creature designs are excellent, with CGI only used on certain creatures that have less tangible designs as well as a majority of the creature effects being practical, costume, makeup, and puppetry.  This includes certain characters from the original movies.  Finally, the score is well done, with Michael Giacchino creating new musical cues for the movie while reusing John Williams’ classic themes at the right moments while giving them fresh spins.

If there are issues, there are two main ones.  First, the movie’s first two acts feel like a random hodge-podge of events that mostly do not lead to anything, but once the third act occurs, everything starts to make sense in the grand scheme of things, and allows for every major character (and the entire rebel team that decides to steal the Death Star plans) to have a major moment.  The other is how CGI is used to bring certain characters into the movie and the story its telling due to how they affect the movies this connects to.  While this is not an issue with a few characters, due to them being played by the actors that have played them before, such as Genevieve O’Reilly and Jimmy Smits reprising their roles as Mon Mothma and Bail Organa from Episode III.  This also does not affect (now is the time to bring him up) Darth Vader, as they found an actor for the physical portrayals while James Earl Jones returns to provide the voice, and he’s fantastic.  The characters it may lead to issues with are characters from the original film that appear in here, whose actors are unable to play here.  After a while, you get used to it, and their characterizations are intact, but it’s a minor issue due to the demands of the story.

As for the story and its demands, it led to some interesting ways to connect with current continuity.  Specifically, they all involve the original film, but they are inserted in ways that feel natural while providing appropriate fanservice, and some of them are extremely clever in how it’s done, such as using unused archival footage for certain characters.

Overall, this is a massively entertaining, but also very ambitious, entry into the overall Star Wars Saga.  While it may truly aspire to be an artistic tour-de-force, it’s great as a standalone anthology film detailing events mentioned in the main films.  I really enjoyed this movie, and if there are some issues, I feel that both older and newer fans are able to overlook them, and this is the true moment where the grit and story-focus of the Original Trilogy and the flash and technology used to make the Prequels mesh and show how the two styles can fuse properly.  I give credit to Gareth Edwards’ direction, the script from Cris Weitz and Tony Gilroy using John Knoll and Gary Whitta’s story idea, Greig Fraser’s cinematography, the editing from John Gilroy, Colin Goudie and Jabez Olssen, Michael Giacchino’s amazing score, and the fantastic cast.  In short, I’d recommend that you give this move a viewing in the theaters at least once, or maybe twice.  It’s worth it.

Final Score: 9/10 (Definitely a favorite)

Until next time, this is the Rock Otaku.  Live Loud, Play Hard, and May the Force Be With You.  Also, Merry Christmas!

All used references are done under the rules of fair use and are owned by their original creators. 

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