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Saturday, August 17, 2019

MOVIE REVIEW: 'Star Wars' saga illuminates sacrifice for Rebellion

Going into “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” there is a presupposition by the filmmakers that you’ve already seen all or some of the other “Star Wars” stories
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Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for watching one small but crucial piece of a very large puzzle and being that Person who will constantly whisper questions to your seatmates or — Heaven forbid — pull out your phone to check Luckily, this is a film so rooted in the archetypal heroic quest that everyone can enjoy in varying degrees: hardcore fans, newcomers and young children alike can appreciate the rebels and their fight against the Leviathan.

Seeing “Rogue One” as the title, new viewers may initially think this was the first band of rebels, or this was the first attempt against the Galactic Empire. Director Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”) and writers Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”) and Tony Gilroy (“State of Play”) illuminate the many strings that connect the characters in this film to the ones from the events of “Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” (2005), occurring almost two decades prior in the saga timeline, and “Episode IV: Star Wars” (1977), the events of which will begin in just a few days. Most notably, Edwards shows an ongoing parallel between the encroachment of the Empire throughout the Galaxy and the widening pockets of Rebels that weaken the links of the chains.

“There is more than one sort of prison.” Indeed, this film has characters bound by their blind allegiance, hubris, or fear, just as others are literally cocooned within suits or other apparatuses, in dark holes, or jail cells. Then, we see those who do not allow their limitations to become a trap, such as the blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) who commands his scenes with a marked reserve and intensity matched by his companion, the more bellicose and thunderous Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). Together, these men are the heart of Edward’s approach to this Star Wars story: equal parts John McTiernan and Richard Mulligan, the explosions alongside the introspection of what it means to be an individual in a war. 

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has been on her own since she was fifteen and was abandoned twice before that: first by her father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), when he left to work on a top-secret project for the Empire; then by her mentor, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), whose extremism isolated him from fellow Rebels. As a young woman, Jyn is a part of the Rebellion, but her faith in her father tempers her devotion. She is rescued from an Imperial labor camp by Cassian An-dor (Diego Luna) and his reprogrammed droid, K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), who displays a deadpan wit and lack of irony that steals every scene he is in. Cassian is initially reluctant to trust Jyn, and we sense he has been burned before, but when she receives a smuggled message from her father about the Empire’s secret weapon, her resolve overcomes his reluctance.

Adherence to religion is a theme of “Rogue One,” as we see one side rapidly developing the tenets of its faith even as its ethos demands destruction, enslavement and terror as its controlling structure. It seeks to destroy the spirit and faith of the other side by obliterating its temples and other religious structures, but the Rebels utilize more of the inward power, invisible to weaponry, to guide and protect them. The Force can be harnessed by good or evil, as evidenced by Darth Vader’s fidelity, but when one accompanies it with individual will and self-reflection, he or she will always be more powerful than a blind disciple.

Towards the end of the second act, as Jyn and Cassian argue their case before the Rebellion leaders and assemble a team to help with their cause, the film’s pace succumbs to inertia and drags on under the weight of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo as the characters decide what to do with Galen’s information about the weakness on the Death Star. Once the Rebels realize what the mission will entail and how much will be sacrificed for the cause, the inertia snaps like a rubber band and the film ventures boldly into the riveting third act that included multiple references to “Spaceballs” (honestly, am I alone in thinking the blue shield over the planet Scarif made it look like Druidia, and did no one else hope the combination to the shield lock was 1-2-3-4-5?).

The guerrilla-style attack on the Imperial Security Complex on Scarif, where the Rebel team causes one hell of a distraction so Jyn, Cassian and K-2SO can sneak inside and steal the files, capitalizes on the increasing awareness that the closer they get to success, the further they get from rescue. As the mission becomes clearly doomed for Jyn and Cassian’s team but triumphant for the Alliance as a whole, the explosions grow sharper, the faces more in focus, the character’s actions more determined. Director Krennic (Ben Meldelsohn), whose ultimate goal in his Imperial work is recognition and notoriety, instead leaves a legacy of managerial failure, security breaches, and crumbling projects. Grand Moff Tarkin (originally played by Peter Cushing, whose face was superimposed here on actor Guy Henry) sees merely a blip in a larger agenda and uses the Death Star’s destruction of whole cities as test runs for his prize weapon. Only Darth Vader is alarmed by the weak point in the chain of Imperial power, and his final push to retrieve the files is a heart-pounding rush as Rebel troops rush the tiny disk from one set of hands to another in hopes of getting it away to the Alliance.

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