Friday, April 12, 2024

Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” — Call it Chapter 3.5 –a Holiday Present with a Kickass Female Lead


All I can tell you tonight is that “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” is a kickass holiday present to all “Star Wars” fans. It’s really Chapter 3.5 in a sense, what comes between “Revenge of the Sith” and “A New Hope”– and you will love it. The end of this movie has had me smiling for two hours. Also, I can confirm as Kathleen Kennedy said in an interview — this is a standalone movie– sort of. There will not be a sequel. Which is almost too bad. The spirit of “Star Wars” is alive, and George Lucas should be a very happy man that generations have loved his story so much.

UPDATE First of all, the Rogue One story is all about Felicity Jones. Oscar nominated for “Theory of Everything” and maybe known a bit on the indie circuit from movies like “Like Crazy,” this 33 year old British actress kicks ass from beginning to end of the movie. Her Jyn Erso is certainly now part of a “Star Wars” movement from Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia to Daisy Ridley’s Rey, but even more so. Tomb Raider? Wonder Woman? Girls are going to flock to “Rogue One” to see Jyn turn the galaxy upside down.

The story is that in the years between “Sith” and “New Hope,” Jyn’s dad Galen (Mads Mikkelson)– a genius scientist– has been helping the Empire develop the Death Star. But he’s sworn it all off, and gone missing with his wife and daughter (Jyn). When the Empire comes calling, Jyn is sent into hidingĀ  thanks to Forest Whitaker’s Saw Guerrera. When Jyn reappears as a young lady, she’s wise and tougher than nails. Now everyone wants the plans to the Death Star– and if you remember, “A New Hope” (which we old folk call “Star Wars”) begins with Princess Leia having those plans. The story of “Rogue One” is basically: how did she get ’em?

Because we’ve gone back in time from “A Force Awakens,” some people turn up from “Sith” including Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa (you remember, he adopted Leia after her mom died and her dad became Darth Vader and she was separated from twin Luke) and Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma. Darth Vader is also back– and badder than ever–voiced by James Earl Jones as if 40 years haven’t passed since the first movie.

But the really crazy return is Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. Cushing died in 1994! Yet, he’s a main player here, back as Darth Vader’s boss and also chief villain. His other henchman is Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic, who is evil personified. But Cushing– if no one told you he was CGI you wouldn’t think about it. And he’s not the only CGI person from the “New Hope” era running around. Quite something to see!

And so off Jyn goes with a band of rogues (because you know she’s Dorothy, as all “Star Wars” is “The Wizard of Oz” in space). There’s Diego Luna as Cassian, Riz Ahmed as the pilot Bodhi, Alan Tudyk as K2 (their C3PO), and Jiang Wen as Baze Malbus. But the standout, for my money, in this crowd of Jyn’s saviors is Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe, a blind samurai Jedi who absolutely shines and nearly steals the movie.

Much more I can’t tell you about the story, or the Easter eggs, or the Christmas present at the end of the movie. But director Gareth Edwards has done George Lucas proud. He’s made the perfect step in between the two original trilogies. It’s a human and humane movie, and while the effects and production design are top notch they also feel analog and warm. The screenplay makes all the characters instantly accessible, and the pay off for all this is huge.

Some people have already started writing analogies between the Vader-Krennic era and the rise of Trump. Me? I was happy to get away from it all for two hours. But the Death Star and its inhabitants seem all the more real right now. And what we really need is a Luke Skywalker ASAP.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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