Rogue One – 4 stars

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My own Star Wars experience goes something like this.  I saw the first film in the theater and like any 13 year old boy, was enthralled.  My father was captivated as well, because it harkened back to the serials of his youth.  By the time the next two films came out, I was in high school/early college, and I did not see them because I was too cool to go to a kiddie movie.  Fast forward to the late 90s, early 00s, and I have children.  I couldn’t wait to show them Star Wars and the two that followed, in anticipation of the next trilogy.  They were enthralled by the first three movies, and like most folks, bored by the mind-numbingly antiseptic and stupid second set.

Fast forward to last year, and the triumphant return of a Star Wars movie that is not in the hands of the animatronic George Lucas, and everybody cheers.  Sure, the movie was pretty much a replica of the first film, but it breathes life and marked the fact that the series had been wrested from the dolt Lucas.  So, rejoice!

Which brings us to Rogue One, a prequel to the 1977 debut of the series.  As you likely know, in that first film, the rebel alliance must stop the Death Star, and the iconic figures of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Princess Leia take on the task.  Rogue One gives us the story of how the alliance was able to get the plans to do exactly that.

Now, to my introduction.  When I watched Star Wars with my Dad, it was exciting and engaging and even spine-tingling because I was 13 years old.  It also had the added bonus of speaking to my father through nostalgia encased in a rip-roaring yarn.  So, he didn’t have to sit through an insipid child’s movie.

But now, an entire industry and ethos has grown around Star Wars, and the series has had to deal with an unexpected but incredibly lucrative development – the emergence of an audience who demand that same feeling they had when they were 13 years old, in perpetuity, until the day they die or are kicked out of their parents’ house.  And that is a hard row to hoe.

Now, you can’t put the failure of the horrible Lucas trilogy on the demands of the arrested development audience.  Those films were execrable, to anyone, anywhere.  And as noted, last years’ coming out party had to merely not suck.  And it didn’t.

Rogue One, however, is a little better than not sucking.  It is a rip-roaring yarn but, in an effort to keep the interests of the 36 year old man living in his parent’s basement surrounded by his collectibles, it gives him all the normal elements but in a dirtier, darker package.  Space looks more like Blade Runner and Alien than the gleaming, clean world of the earlier films.  Moreover, one of our protagonists (Diego Luna) is a rebel spy and, if necessary, a cold blooded killer of the innocent (it is a sharp rebuke to Lucas’s fey re-imagining of the shoot-first cad Han Solo when Luna mercilessly puts down a friend who may jeopardize the mission) .  The other lead (Felicity Jones), is an embittered castaway, neutral on the issues of the day.  Together, they embark on a decidedly dour suicide mission that is deftly handled by director Gareth Edwards.

There are problems.  Jones’s transformation from cynical to heroic is clumsy and way too fast.   The first half is slow.  Forrest Whittaker and Mads Mikkelsen, as, respectively, the father-figure and father to Jones, are thin characters.  And the idea that information is still held in what essentially are super floppy disks in the future is weird.

Still, I liked this film and respect the attempt to please the kiddies, the geeks and the critics all at once.  It is vulnerable to attack on all sides, but it does a fair job at a difficult task, giving folks iconic moments, gritty semi-realism, and winking nods to characters and circumstances that die-hard fan know are forthcoming.  I am particularly thrilled at something truly and wonderfully surprising that happens at the end which I cannot share.

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