Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 13 min.
Our content ratings: Violence 5; Language 0; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 4.5
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts;
so I am helped, and my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.
The hope of the righteous ends in gladness,
but the expectation of the wicked comes to nothing.
I could tell at the advance screening of director Gareth Edwards’ Imax-3-D addition to the Star Wars universe that the Disney people have hit pay dirt. The two beer-sipping strangers seated next to me laughed and cheered along with the audience throughout the length of this 2 hour 13-minute film. Those who feared a letdown akin to that felt by fans after viewing the disappointing second trilogy must have felt a sense of great relief. And now everyone knows how the Achilles heel that enabled Luke Skywalker in A New Hope to destroy the Death Star got there in the first place. Also, we have a new strong female leader, Felicity Jones fleshing out well Jyn Erso, a pensive rogue character living under the dark shadow of her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) because he is regarded as the father of the Death Star.
In the film’s prologue the girl Jyn is traumatized when Empire forces led by the hissable villain, Imperial Science Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), track her father to a remote planet called Lah’mu where he has started a new life as a humble farmer. Once a leading scientist, Galen had taken his family and fled when the evil Empire arose. Krennic, dressed in a white tunic, jackboots, and flowing cape that reminded me of a picture I once saw of a leading Nazi (I think it was Goering), tells Galen that the Empire wants him to return to finish building its super weapon. When Galen refuses, Orson kills his wife. Little Jyn witnesses her mother’s murder from her hiding place. As her father is dragged away, she flees.
After the opening credits, we see her as a grown woman, raised, we later learn in a flashback, by the Rebel zealot, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Locked in a prison cell for crime(s) not revealed, she is about to be transferred to a workcamp of the Empire, but not for long. She is sprung by Rebels because they need her skills for a mission. “We’ve intercepted a coded Imperial transmission. It indicates a major weapons test is imminent,” Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), leader of the Rebel Council tells Jyn. The girl is reluctant to become involved, but if she doesn’t, they will hand her over again to the Imperial authorities. From a hologram obtained by
Bodhi Rook they learn that her father had been forced to head the Death Star project, but that he has secretly built into its system a fatal flaw that would enable the Rebels to destroy it. Later the Rebel Council debate the authenticity of the hologram. When the Council members are unable to agree, Mon Mothma decides not to take any further action.
However, Jyn, wanting to find her father and obtain the Death Star plans, decides to go rogue, calling together a motley crew much like those we have seen in such WW 2 films as The Guns of Naverone or The Dirty Dozen, engaged in a mission so dangerous that many, or all, of them believe they might die. Members include the ethically conflicted Rebel Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his sarcastically retorting droid sidekick K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). The latter is a newly programmed former Empire droid with a smart aleck attitude that will endear him to the audience, as well as providing the sparse humor in this rather dark film. Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) has defected, leaving the dark Side of the Force to join those fighting for justice. Also, there are two Asians that remind us how indebted producer George Lucas was to the great Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai adventure Hidden Fortress, in his A New Hope. This time scriptwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy pay tribute to a series of films, also released during the early 60s through the 80s, featuring the samurai Zatoichi, dubbed “The Blind Swordsman.” Chirrut Îmwe’s (Donnie Yen) blindness is compensated for by his keen hearing and his closeness to The Force. His mantra, “I am with The Force. The Force is with me,” will remind people of faith of similar statements in the book of Psalms about the presence of God with those who call upon him. With his staff and reliance upon the power of the Force, Imwe is capable of taking out a dozen storm troopers at a time. His companion and body guard is the bearded Baze Malbu (Wen Jiang), an equally fierce fighter in the many scenes of hand-to-hand combat.
As the Rebel band sets forth on their mission to discover the whereabouts of the Death Star and its plans, the Empire’s leaders are anxious about delays in the completion of their moon-sized weapon. Aboard the Death Star, which is hovering near the Rebel-held planet Jedha, Science Director Krennic expresses the Emperor’s concern to Death Star commander Moff Tarkin, and even doubts if the weapon can be effective. Krennic orders a preliminary test, thus destroying an entire city filled with unsuspecting innocents It is a scene of mass destruction that hits harder than the planet-destruction scene in New Hope because we have been shown a little more of the populace—it is he home of Saw Genera, the man who raised our heroine when she was bereft of her parents.
Jyn and crew obtain a ship, the name of which provides the title for the film, Rogue One. When they discover where the Death Star plans are stored, their mission intensifies. Even though we know from A New Hope that Luke Skywalker and his fellow pilots know the exact location of the flaw, the suspense is great.
At times, I found it a bit difficult to follow a few of the plot changes, but all of this was forgotten when the final battle arrived. On a tropical island of the planet Scarif the Empire has built a towering data facility that is heavily guarded, so our band must figure out how to sneak in so they can search for the plan. Meanwhile the Rebels, deciding to act after all, have assembled a fleet of war ships, which emerge out of hyperspace, ready to attack the data center. The ensuing battle on the island ringed with palm trees will remind WW 2 film fans of such Battles as those of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, depicted respectively in The Thin Red Line and Flags of Our Fathers. While our heroes infiltrate the facility, a battle takes place overhead, with X-Wings and TIE Fighters and huge battle cruisers engaged in fiery combat. Rebel pilots give up their lives attacking the huge Imperial ships and attempting to break through a powerful force field that guards the entrance to the data center. On the sands below, as they dodge and fire at the huge AT-AT walkers, both Rebels and storm troopers lose their lives. The death toll includes some of our heroes, emphasizing the cost of obtaining the plans that enable Luke in New Hope to destroy the Death Star. Earlier, Cassian Andor highlighted what is an important theme of the film when he said to Jyn, “Rebellions are built on hope.”
Many, besides the director, writers, and talented cast, contribute to the film’s success. Composer Michael Giacchino incorporates some of the character themes established by John Williams. The digital technicians move far beyond those of any other film, not just by their depictions of city streets and rooms teeming with strange-shaped aliens and awe-inspiring planetary and battle scenes, but by digitally resurrecting the late Peter Cushing as Death Star commander Moff Tarkin, as well as a surprising shot of the youthful Princess Leia receiving the Death Star plans. (For the prophetic 2013 sci-fi film in which this digitalizing process of an actor is described see The Congress.) A non-digital Darth Vader (again voiced by the very much alive James Earl Jones) also stands out in several scenes—the only ones in which a light saber is depicted.
Although my qualms remain concerning the casual way in which the killing of storm troopers and others is depicted so casually, I realize that this is routine in such adventure and thriller films. These films require a temporary “suspension of values” if those advocating for non-violent social change are to enjoy the show. (Gandhi himself said that he would rather see people fight violently against evil than to submit or run away in cowardice.) To see briefly old friends and enemies; to thrill at the dog fights between X-wing Rebel fighters and the bar-bell shaped Empire interceptors; to notice the used look of the ships and equipment; to roam the exotic streets of cities on the different planets teeming with humans and aliens dressed in their colorful clothing; and to hear snatches of John Williams’ music embedded in the new score—these are all cinematic joys. Although I usually discount the Imax 3-D format as a ploy to gauge an extra $3 from the public, this time I was glad for the format, which seems truly to immerse the viewer in the action.
The mixed cast is an improvement on the all-white cast of the 1977 film that began the Star Wars series, though as some have observed, the multi-hued Rebels and Empire minions are all humans, no tentacled aliens among the heroes. (Maybe because such would have required more weeks of work by the special effects crew?)
A couple of reviewers have detected more social relevance in this film than in the previous release. The story is spun from the crawl of A New Hope, part of which reads, “It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Emperor’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR…” This film tells how those “secret plans” were stolen and at what great cost. In real life, as well as reel life, freedom from tyranny comes at great cost, whether in “a galaxy far, far away,” or in our own.
This review with a set of questions will be in the Jan. 2017 issue of VP. Please help support this site by buying an issue of the journal or subscribing to it for a year.