Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rogue One could be the best Star Wars film

Rogue One could be the best Star Wars film
by rick olivares

I might sound like a heretic here but I’m going to say that “Rogue One” is pretty close to dislodging “The Empire Strikes Back” as my all-time favorite Star Wars film. Maybe another viewing of both will help me sort that out. But why quibble? Let’s take it farther.

The Gareth Edwards-directed film could also zoom on to the top as the year’s best. And here’s another bit of heresy. It could also dislodge “Captain America: Civil War” as my favorite film of 2016. Yep. That’s how good “Rogue One” is.

I love how “Rogue One” has that feel of a stand-alone film yet neatly falls into Star Wars continuity like a proton torpedo into the meridian trench of a Death Star.

When I say that Rogue One stands alone, I mean it doesn’t fall into the trap that “The Force Awakens” did where it blatantly rip-offs “Star Wars: A New Hope”. It’s devoid of Star Wars nostalgia and just as the title suggests, strikes out where no Star Wars film has boldly gone before.

Even if you know what’s going to happen – just like Captain America’s inevitable philosophical clash with Iron Man in Captain America: Civil War -- it’s a suicide mission with no one coming back, the manner in which the story is weaved unfolded is what makes the difference.

Thus, this is a war sci-fi film. Not like the cartoony “Starship Troopers” vein but gritty, painful, and chaotic combat that we saw with “Aliens”.

And that description is apt for this action-packed epic that provides the back story to the rebel alliance receiving the plans for the destruction of the Death Star. And almost from the beginning of the film when Galen Erso’s family faces the nefarious Orson Krennic and his black-suited Death Stormtroopers we dive bomb into the tension and danger. The scenes at Yavin 4 provide momentary respite from the carnage and the destruction.

I love how we’re treated to a different form of warfare that what has been previously featured in all the Star Wars films – close range combat on the ground. While there’s the ubiquitous space battle at the end, there’s the battle on the beaches of an atoll at Scarif that recalls the HBO series “The Pacific” and “The Thin Red Line” with a feel from “Platoon” and “Apocalypse Now”.  

And you have to appreciate that. From the deserts of Tatooine to the frozen ground of Hoth to the forests of Endor to the open plains of Naboo, the locales for ground battles is just cool. When we see the Death Troopers walking in a sweep formation towards Galen Erso’s domicile in Lah’mu.

In fact, I love the myriad of planets/locales in the film. It gives a sweeping feel to this ala the Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible films.
I love the clever use of the Death Stars’ destructive capabilities. I figure the technology of the day makes for a better depiction that is both terrible and breathtaking to behold.

More to the homages that might not be obvious, I love how the film makes use of some – to my mind – iconic images. The scene where Cassian Andor and Jyn Erso embrace on the beach as the fallout from the Death Star strike reaches them. Shades of “Deep Impact” where the characters of Tea Leoni and Maximillian Schell share a hug before the tsunami hits them.

And that leads me to the characters whose diversity works out well. While Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso reminds me of Daisy Ridley’s Rey, I like the fact that she isn’t as good as she thinks she is.

Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, the rebel intelligence officer who looks like a nice chap but who also has this mean streak in him. He is a man willing to do what it takes, even kill an innocent, just to keep secrets and the battle going. He later displays a conscience but remains unwavering in his belief that it’s the rebellion above all. I had this flashback to Mandy Patinkin’s Iñigo Montoya in the film, “The Princess Bride” who says the classic, “My name is Iñigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” And that’s the point – cavalier but deadly nonetheless.

I wish they gave Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn a little more evil-ness. He was bordering on Malcolm McDowell’s brutal Captain Van Berkow in the action-war film, “The Passage”. Good to see some Imperial Officers with backbone and bite.

Donnie Yen comes away with perhaps the most memorable character of the film next to Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO enforcer droid that is a tremendous upgrade over the whiny C-3PO and annoying R2D2. Playing the blind warrior, Chirrut Imwe, he’s like Stick in “Daredevil”. Totally bad ass with a tinge of mortality as he oft recites, “I am one with the Force. The Force is with me.” It would be nice to see more of his character although he does bite the dust in the end like everyone else.

There’s the CGI of the late Peter Cushing as the Grand Moff Tarkin and the younger Carrie Fisher and while it’s cool it does lend a touch of creepiness more so since the former passed away in 1994. While some may debate the ethics of that, I am sure that beyond doubt that the filmmakers asked permission from Cushing’s family before proceeding.

Was it seamless the use of a CGI-generated Tarkin? Close. Only because you know Cushing has passed away do you scrutinize the CGI character. It’s cool but creepy. On the other hand, there’s the beautiful and young Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia… that takes my breath away.

And the return of Darth Vader… in vicious form! No David Prowse but James Earl Jones’ voice is none worse for the wear! Delicious. Bad ass. That left me wondering if they can adapt the comics story “Vader Down” (that ran across the Marvel Comics’ “Star Wars” and “Darth Vader” this year). The Sith Lord took center stage there and showed by Jedi and those corrupted by the Dark Side are not one to be trifled with.

While there are loads of characters who don’t get enough ample screen time (I would have loved to see a little more exposition on Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera as a rebel leader), Gareth Edwards and company would have done well to look at how the Russo brothers juggled a large cast in “Captain America: Civil War”.

But that a little quibble. “Rogue One” is a solid and enjoyable film that merits repeated viewing. There’s so much to soak in from the Jerusalem-like Jedha to Scarif to Eadu that has this feel of LV-426 (you know what I mean if you are a fan of “Aliens”). There’s the battle as well that was just fun to watch. Love them Imperial Walkers.

All in all, Rogue One is the Star Wars film that “The Force Awakens” is not. And that is good. Damn good. Excellent even. As to paraphrase one of the more memorable liens from the film, “Good movies are built on hope.”

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