Saturday, December 24, 2016

'Rogue One' is simply one of the best 'Star Wars' films

With it being a lot busier than usual in mid-December in the NORWALK REFLECTOR newsroom, I just now am finding time to put fingers to keyboard to review "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story."

And yes, my CCCers, despite "Rogue One" coming out one week ago, this is a spoiler-free review. What else would you expect from your neighborhood-friendly blogger? …

"Rogue One" simply is one of the greatest "Star Wars" films that has been released.

Let me start with the ending and work slightly backwards for a bit: I was amazed — and obviously impressed — at just how close director Gareth Edwards ended "Rogue One," mere minutes, if not seconds, before the opening seconds of "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope."

That being said, we all know the Rebel Alliance and Princess Leia ends up with the Death Star plans on disc and puts them into R2-D2. But I had some doubt after our hero, Jyn Erso, managed to send the schematics away.

That's pretty amazing storytelling when I knew how the ultimate story ends (with Luke Skywalker firing the shot that blows up the Death Star to end "A New Hope"), yet I still was worried it wouldn't happen.

And why what got me worried?

One name — Darth Vader.

Vader is the badass of the trilogy in "Rogue One." He's a bad mo-fo who is not to be trifled with; the Dark Lord of the Sith is one scary dude.

And that's the way it ought to be. Team "Rogue One" delivers, most especially in [Spoiler alert!] the hallway scene in which Vader slaughters a small squadron of Rebel soldiers. The last soldier in there holding the disc and panicked that he too was about to be murdered — and his sense of urgency in trying to get the attention of someone else to hand him the disc is palatable. [End spoiler] 

The climactic planet-side and space battles in "Rogue One" are the most spectacular in the "Star Wars" saga.

Much like the "saga films (the prequels and classic trilogy), this is about the ultimate battle between David and Goliath. The Rebel Alliance is outnumbered, outmanned and has the major disadvantage in weaponry.

And the Empire is everywhere, creating the sense of oppression and hopelessness that Emperor Palpatine, Vader and their Stormtroopers (and the ultra-cool Deathtroopers!) spread with their very appearance.

Being told from the front line of the soldiers fighting the good fight against impossible odds, "Rogue One" is more of a war film than anything else we've seen from the "Star Wars" universe.

The Empire's oppression starts in the early moments of the film. Stormtroopers are everywhere; it's no wonder the galaxy seems to be under one massive military state.

Yet how can we not root for the Rebels?

It's simple and it comes in the line that Felicity Jones so earnestly delivers as Jyn: "Rebellions are built on hope." More than that, as people — especially moviegoers — are geared toward pulling for the underdog. It's in our very nature. And as a result, in action movies we want the big baddies to fall and in romances, we want the slightly mismatched couple, made of people who are meant to be together, to fall in love and live a wonderful life together.

"Rogue One" takes a bit to get some traction. For the first 20 to 30 minutes, it takes some time to introduce the characters, but more importantly, figure who is on what side. And since so many more planets and settings are introduced, it takes some mental gymnastics even for a diehard "Star Wars" nerd like to keep track of it all.

This is where this standalone film sets itself apart from the other "Star Wars" installments (and that includes the novels and animated series): It's not so clear whether certain characters are on the side of good or not. At least not at first.

This subtlety in characterization pulls us in, getting us to wonder exactly what a person's agenda is. And where will he end up when his ethics meet the road?

Getting us to care for characters not named or associated with Skywalker or Solo is one of the biggest triumphs of "Rogue One." By the time the storyline gels, I was pulled in, enthralled and now not just curious, but invested in these Rebels' fates.

Granted, my heart broke as the film and massive battle ended. But "Rogue One" ends with hope — and what's "Star Wars" without hope for the future? Grade: A-

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