‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ Review

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Director: Gareth Edwards

Writers: Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy

Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Meddelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Jimmy Smits, Alistar Petrie, Genevieve O’Reilly, and Mads Mikkelsen

Synopsis: The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic sage to follow.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

 

When it was announced that Lucasfilm would start doing spinoff/standalone films, many fans were excited about the endless possibilities that would entail. Then it was announced that we would be getting a prequel to Star Wars IV – A New Hope, that would follow the rebels we read about in the opening crawl that stole the plans to the Death Star. Fans were eager to see how that story played out, and then everything started coming together. The cast was put together, the director, and then the trailers were released. Everyone seemed pretty happy. Then the dreaded and new dirty word in Hollywood came out, reshoots. Even though everyone in the production said it wasn’t too big of a deal, fans started to worry. Well, it looks like we didn’t need to, because Rogue One: A Star Wars Story delivered on its early promise – a war film about the brave group of rebels that stole the plans to The Empire’s deadly weapon.

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The film doesn’t start off with the traditional Star Wars opening crawl, and instead starts with Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) getting a former Empire scientist, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to come back to work on the Empire’s newest weapon. Before they can capture him however, Galen sends his daughter Jyn off to hide. We skip forward years, and an adult Jyn (Felicity Jones) is held by Imperial forces until she is saved by the Rebellion. There she meets an intelligence officer in Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and a re-programmed Imperial droid K-2SO (motion capture and voiced by Alan Tudyk) where they offer her freedom in exchange to help them get a message from her father that is being held by an old mentor, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and a defector pilot Bodbi Rook (Riz Ahmed). Along their journey they recruit former Jedi temple protectors Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) to help them on their mission that becomes something bigger than they thought: save the galaxy from the Death Star, and steals the plans to help the Rebellion.

Rogue One is the first of new standalone/spinoff films, and if this is any indication on how Lucasfilm and Disney are going to handle the films, I think we are all in for a fun ride and great films. While the film does hark on some elements that we all love about Star Wars, the film feels different in a lot of ways too. While the previous Star Wars films have some “dark” overtones, Rogue One does feels more like an actual war film.

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The whole film is essentially a race against the clock that sees our characters jump from one planet to the other to get vital pieces of information, and trying to stay ahead of the Empire and Krennic. What also helps is the action is extremely top-notch. Sure we remember all the lightsaber battles and sky battles from the previous films, but what we’ve never really seen the ground troops, and the dirty side of the war that is finally introduced giving us a different side of the rebellion. Not only that, there is no Jedi in the film, sure we go to the home planet of the Jedi, but the closest thing we get Jedi is Donnie Yen’s character and the appearance of Darth Vader. So if you think Star Wars films need Jedi, Rogue One will prove you wrong.

Besides the action, the characters are what also make Rogue One a great and fun film. Felicity Jones’ Jyn is a great character to follow, who eventually accepts her place in the rebellion to stop the Empire, Luna’s character is complex in his own way that makes total sense now that we get a wider and better look at the Rebellion. Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen are a likeable duo with Yen being a major highlight for me – and will be for fans of his. Riz Ahmed’s Bodbi is unfortunately underdeveloped, but does have his moments, while Ben Mendelsohn’s continues to be reliable in everything he does as his Krennic is a worthy Imperial officer villain, although I wish they would have done more with him. They do involve him in a small arc with a character many Star Wars fans will know, and although I want to talk about that, I think I’ll let you experience that yourselves. The highlight of the film is Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO, who brings most of the humor to the film, and will probably go down as people’s newest favorite droid.

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The film does have some issues. Like I mentioned, some characters just don’t have enough to do or are underdeveloped, and some plot lines are pretty thin or aren’t fleshed out enough that we’re left wondering why bring this up? It also takes a while to really pick up, but once it does, oh man, is it totally worth it and sucks you in completely. I also had just one minor issue with one Vader scene, but we can talk about that some other time.

All in all, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a great film to the Star Wars series. While the film has a few missteps, and the fear that reshoots would ruin the film, Rogue One is a hell of a lot of fun for new and seasoned fans.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

4.5 out of 5

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‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Review

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Director: J.J. Abrams

Writer: J.J. Abrams, Michael Arndt, and Lawrence Kasdan

Cast: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Adam Driver, Domhnall Gleeson, Gwendoline Christie, Anthony Daniels, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Max von Sydow, and Mark Hamill

Synopsis: 30 years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat rises. The first Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of Heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance.

 

*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*

*Reviewer Note 2: I have already seen the movie twice, and the review was ready to go on Friday. However, I wanted to wait until this week to post the review. The review is spoiler-free, but still.*

 

Look, I’m not even going to pretend that this review is going to be easy to write. Not because I thought the film was bad, because it wasn’t, but because this film is so surrounded by secrecy that most of you probably won’t read this until after you watch the film – and I wouldn’t blame you. So, I’ll keep my promise to you that this will be a spoiler review and I’ll do my best to not even hint at any possible spoiler or could be considered a spoiler.

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The Force Awakens starts off like every Star Wars film before it, with the crawl. The crawl lets us know the important thing and the plot point that will set up the new trilogy: Luke Skywalker (Hamill) is missing – hence why’s he’s not in any promotional material – and in his disappearance a evil arises called The First Order lead by Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) and his generals in General Hux (Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Driver). The one thing standing in their way is the Resistance which is lead by General Leia (Fisher) who has been fighting them since they rose to power after the Empire feel. In the middle of all this are our new heroes and lead in a Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac), a scavenger Rey, a former Stormtrooper who’s now on the run, and a droid in BB-8. Along the way they meet up with familiar faces in Han Solo (Ford) and Chewbacca (Mayhew) who also help them out to fight off the First Order and their new weapon that threatens the galaxy.

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It’s hard not to see the familiar structure of other Star Wars films in The Force Awakens, but what director J.J. Abrams was able to do with the similarities was create something that still felt fresh and was excited to watch from beginning to end. Abrams doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia, although there are scenes that are oozed in it, but instead takes what the series has already given us and adds to it. The Force Awakens has great action, cinematography and more importantly, it’s a ton of fun and lets us get to know the characters that we want to root for them and follow their journey to the end. You can arguably say that maybe The Force Awakens relies too much of the similar story structure, but it works nonetheless.

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The new characters are great, and not a stinker in the bunch. Oscar Isaac is the first new character we see and he brings a nice swagger and charm, that to be honest, I was not expecting and that’s coming from a Oscar Isaac fan. John Boyega’s Finn also brings his own swagger and charm and even brings some of the funniest moments in the film. At the same time, we’re seeing a different side in the battle between the Dark Side and the Light Side. Finn leaves the First Order and abandons his role as a Stormtrooper. We’ve haven’t really seen that side before, and given that Finn is probably one of the characters you really can’t nail down. Sure, he does heroic things in the film and is on the side of the resistance, but he was a Stormtrooper too. Boyega handles it well and if your first exposure to Boyega was Attack the Block like mine, you know he was able to rise to the challenge.

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Finally, Daisy Ridley as Rey is one of the best characters in the film. She feels like a real person and is a character that you can easily root for. She’s not just a badass character, but one that can be vulnerable, funny, and naïve. Rey, similar to Finn, is looking for more in her life. She’s also heard the stories of Luke, Han and Leia, and is wide-eyed to find out that all of it was real and she’s now going on her own adventure. Rey will definitely be a highlight for many once they watch the film. Of course, there’s BB-8 as well. I mean come on, have you seen the commercial’s, have the droids in the past not been great? BB-8 was awesome too.

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Now let’s talk about the Dark Side. Kylo Ren gets most of the screen time and attention so Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke and even Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma are just a bit underdeveloped and are clearly saved for the future films, but it still would have been nice to see them a little more, especially Captain Phasma. It’s understandable, obviously, considering this is the first movie of a new trilogy, but it was a little frustrating considering all the secrecy for the characters just to be saved for future films. However, Gleeson’s Hux does get a fair amount of screen time and you really tell there is something about him and the fact that he’s younger than other Generals we’ve seen in these films.

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Thankfully, not all of The Force Awakens is CGI (I’m looking at you George Lucas!). Abrams goes back to the roots of Star Wars and has a ton (!) of practical effects and physical creatures so the cast can interact with. It could have been easier to go with CGI creatures, but the fact that Abrams and producers Bryan Burk and Kathleen Kennedy went the route of building creatures makes the film feel so much more special. Sure there are CGI creatures, but there isn’t an over abundance of them. One of those CGI creatures is Maz Kanata, who Lupita Nyong’o does the voice and motion capture for. Her character appears right in the middle of the film and while her character doesn’t feel important, she does play an important role, and is one of the characters I’m sure we’ll see more of in the future.

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All in all, what makes The Force Awakens undoubtedly work is that the film is fun. It really is fun and funny. Abrams is always able to find a nice balance of action and comedy that they serve their purpose equally and one doesn’t overpower the other. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve had this much fun and laughed with a movie since the summer and Mad Max: Fury Road. The most importantly thing the film does however is that it doesn’t lean toward or on its past. It embraces it future while paying respect to the past. Disney, Lucasfilm, Abrams, who ever deserves the credit, should be given all the credit in the world for making that move. It was great to see the old cast come back, but it was even better to see a brand new cast of characters, especially John Boyega’s Finn and Daisy Ridley’s Rey.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens is truly a great addition, and continuation, to the Star Wars franchise. It will make you feel like a kid again, it will make you cry and more importantly, it will make you happy that there is another Star Wars movie in our lives.

 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

4.5 out of 5

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