Combustible Celluloid
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With: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O'Reilly, Beau Gadsdon, Dolly Gadsdon
Written by: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, based on a story by John Knoll, Gary Whitta
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action
Running Time: 134
Date: 12/16/2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Death Star Dust

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The one-off Star Wars film Rogue One takes place after the events of the prequels, and just before the events of the original Star Wars (1977).

Quality-wise, it's right in the same place; it's better than the prequels, but not quite as good as the original trilogy or last year's The Force Awakens.

Director Gareth Edwards, whose Godzilla reboot was met with polite, if not exactly enthusiastic, response in 2014, delivers about the same level of filmmaking here.

The cinematography tends toward dreary grayscale, rather the brightness and boldness of the other Star Wars films, and while the editing on the series so far has been crisp, the Rogue One cutting is rather muddier.

The story, about the rebel soldiers that risked their lives to steal the Death Star plans so that Luke Skywalker could blow it up, seems simple enough.

But the screenplay, by Chris Weitz (Cinderella) and Tony Gilroy (the Bourne films), starts off as thickly convoluted. We visit four different planets, only one of which, Yavin 4, will be recognizable to fans.

Dozens of characters and space-things feature fancy, made-up space-names, and are all introduced at once.

Betrayals and arguments and speeches follow, but essentially it all comes down to Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones).

She is the daughter of the man who designed the Death Star, and out of a sense of devotion and duty, he built in a hidden weak spot. With the help of a sullen rebel soldier, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), she must retrieve the plans and get them to the rebel leaders.

The movie then stretches this simple task into a needlessly complex one.

Jyn and Cassian never look like they're having much fun. Much of the humorous byplay evident in other Star Wars films is absent here, heaped entirely upon the shoulders of a comic relief droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk).

At least he has a good joke about excessive explosions.

Then come the nods to the original film, most of which are great fun. Edwards re-creates them with meticulous dedication, the exception being a creepy, computer-generated version of Grand Moff Tarkin, resembling actor Peter Cushing (who died in 1994).

It's in these moments, when Edwards is clearly re-experiencing the joy of the very first film, that his Rogue One comes alive.

That, and watching Hong Kong martial arts star Donnie Yen (Iron Monkey, the Ip Man trilogy) using his own brand of Force to dispatch several stormtroopers.

Though it's certainly worth a look, Rogue One is a minor Star Wars story, and perhaps it might have been better treated as a minor film, shorter, brisker, and with less hype.

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