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Launch Date: December 16th

Distribuitor : CineForum

Title: „Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Direction: Gareth Edwards

Screenplay: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy

By Flavius

For a diehard Star Wars fan like myself, who grew up watching the original trilogy on VHS until the tape broke, played with every Star Wars toy I could get my hands on, read Alan Dean Foster and Timothy Zahn’s books pretty much as soon as they hit the shelves and viewed the entire experience with childish awe, it can be difficult to stay calm and objective at a Star Wars press release. Happily, there is a side of me that bypassed the emotionally rigged movie critic, partially due to experience and partially, though I hate to say it, because I grew up. One thing I cannot change or avoid in any way, is the excitement and joy I feel, whenever I get to see a new addition to this beloved universe. I felt it during the viewing of Episode VII (that I defend from naysayers to this day) and I certainly felt it as I sat in my IMAX seat today during the Romanian press release for “Rogue One”.

But before I continue, let me just say that this is a spoiler free review of the IMAX version. Even so I will refer to events and characters revealed during the promotional trailers and panels, excluding Jiang Wen’s spoileroni bomb, dropped with maximum effect at the Star Wars celebration panel.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Death Star Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm LFL

Of script, direction and acting …

For a prequel, “Rogue One” has an unusually high number of twists and turns, scattered across a very balanced and narratively deep script. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy managed to put John Knoll’s and Gary Whitta’s story into a cohesive, fluid and robust Star Wars anthology film, that doesn’t shy away from giving all of its characters background and substance. While Chirrut Imwe’s (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus’ (Jiang Wen) friendship seems to miss a few extra brushes, their comradery and devotion, as well as their constant back and forth about the force, more than make up for it. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and to a certain extent K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) profit from the extra script and screen time, coming across as well defined and built, with enough depth and nuance. Secondary characters like Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook and Mads Mikkelsen’s Galen Erso also receive the appropriate amount of attention, to feel realistic and find their place in your hearts. As a viewer, it is easy to get invested in their story and motivations. Probably the only miss here is Saw Gerrera. Not only due to the clumsy insertion of a character with an otherwise rich background (leader of the Onderon rebels in the Clone Wars series, fighting alongside Ashoka and Anakin, a long overdue idea of George Lucas, etc.)  in the film’s narrative body, but also due to a rather short exposition. In fact, Saw Gerrera as a character is far too rooted in other films or iterations, to stand on its own, with such little screen time. It is as if he entirely relies on viewer knowledge of the full Star Wars universe to hit his mark. Quite a bit of wasted potential here, not only from a story arc perspective, but also from an acting perspective. Let’s just agree that Forest Whitaker can do a bunch more on the big screen, than the breadcrumb of perdition into extremism he is ultimately given here.

nullDialogues are spiced with intelligent, cynical, cold blooded humor, courtesy of an effectively acted K-2SO. Alan Tudyk was just brilliant, setting the reprogrammed imperial droid right at the top of my droid chart. Jyn Erso’s quest for a path that would reunite her with her father and her personal interpretation of hope, is expressively played by Felicity Jones. The signature thick line between black and white, “dark side and the light”, fades under the weight of tough choices and morally ambiguous decisions, as Cassian Andor struggles with his mission. Diego Luna’s acting is great at portraying the moral deconstruction and personal sacrifice of rebellion agents. Acting is convincing across the board.

Sacrifice, selflessness, hope even conscience seem to form the binding leitmotiv throughout “Rogue One”. I couldn’t help but think of Mon Mothma’s speech in “Return of the Jedi”. Her soft yet grave voice uttering the words “many Bothans died”, whilst speaking of the deeds of unsung heroes. “Rogue One” is the only Star Wars film to delve into those untold stories, setting the individual before the masses, the small battles before the wars, the lives lost behind the curtain of the galaxy’s “turmoil”. It all plays like a sad tune in the background of major conflicts, the canvas for the grand tableau, the dirt under the feet of clashing titans. This is what sets this amazing movie apart from the rest of the francize in amazing, unexpected ways, like a pseudo mime to the blank sadness and stark seriousness of “Empire Strikes Back”.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story..Death Troopers..Ph: Jonathan Olley..©Lucasfilm LFL 2016.

The script takes full advantage of cameos, from the completely uncalled for, yet highly satisfying, to the “in your face”, CGI heavy ones. And since my pledge to keep this spoiler free keeps me from saying more, let’s just talk about the one everyone fainted over: Vader (the epic James Earl Jones). By now one would think that Vader is an already well established villain, without further need for emphasis. Well, think again. Maybe I expected less of him? Whatever the reason behind my nerdgazm, his appearance in “Rogue One” is bone chilling. It’s not only his dialogue with Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), where we find him just as direct and utterly menacing as ever, but let’s just say he has a scene so gruesome, it reminded me of the Jedi temple massacre.

Of cinematography, CGI and production design …

Even the way “Rogue One” was filmed, is meant to immerse the viewer into a micro to macro stance. The beach battle everyone looks forward to is one of the best (if not the best) on foot confrontation in Star Wars. It’s the way the camera angles from the viewpoint of a rebel soldier towards everything else, boots in the sand, blaster fire blazing close to the ear, in those rare occasions where it misses its mark. Death Troopers have a menacing presence to them, marching into battle with elite praetorian like deadliness and precision. When finally, we see AT-ATs engaging, it’s not anymore from a highpoint, but from right behind the helmets of rebels. It is so visceral, so intense it reminded me of “Saving Private Ryan”s tank scene. The heavy attack transports cut through the lines, shredding everything short of air support.

rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-trailer-breakdown-high-res-images_-18Scenography moves from wide screen cityscapes, to small detailed enclosures, teeming with diverse intelligent life, crowded, dirty, dangerous streets.  Props and CGI blend perfectly and seamlessly into it all, K-2SO included, in such perfect execution it never feels fake, or even remotely green screened. Perhaps the only time “Rogue One” calls for lenience is when it exposes a fully CGI rendered human character. To be fair, I giggled, having him return in all his glory was so immensely satisfying, I turned a blind eye to the imperfections, just as most of the fans will do. No I won’t tell you his name. No spoilers, remember?

Production design excels in details leaning towards the gritty, serious overall tone. Practical effects, pyrotechnics, battle CGI and sound effects were exemplar however, attaining more than any of the Star Wars films not part of the original trilogy. It all just felt so real I never had to “play along”.

Of music and soundtrack …

Michael Giacchino’s stab at an original score, pays more tribute than it should. Familiar notes and melodic phrases tingle the musical muscle memory into epic submission every now and then, but they never quite follow the cinematography into originality and surprise. During fight scenes, it seems to slowly crawl towards crescendo, but never truly gets there. In emotional or sad moments, it almost works as a frame, but never counterweights screen value and pure acting. It’s not bad, but it certainly doesn’t reach the targeted effect, falling short of true virtuosity.

Da word from F must see?

“Rogue One” takes full advantage of a well-established universe, reaching deep into the francize pockets for some of its magic tricks, but it never feels like it’s carried. With a well-defined, grounded tone, and a stand-alone ensemble of characters, with a solid, dramatic, fast paced, balanced direction by Gareth Edwards, “Rogue One” stands its own ground, in many ways making “A New Hope” a better film. As soon as the end credits rolled, I could only think of watching “A New Hope” right away, then falling prey to an inevitable marathon. The film is simply great, its minor flaws greatly overshadowed by its overall impact. Whatever they got planned for Episode VIII, I hope they watch and learn.

PS: Fans who know what the „Rogue” denomination stands for in the Star Wars universe, will understand how far it ties into the universe, how rich it is in meaning. Pour les connoisseurs though, not everyone is a „self proclaimed fanboy”.

Trailer:

High Rez Poster:

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