Reviews for the Easily Distracted

Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Title: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Ned Flanders: Dear Lord, please make tonight's production better than Othello with Peter Marshall.

Brief Plot Synopsis: It is a period of civil war...

Rating Using Random Objects Related To The Film: Four and a half Darth "Vadar" Lives buttons out of five.

Tagline: "A rebellion built on hope."


Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: The Galactic Empire is on the cusp of completing a new weapon that promises to tip the balance of the war against the Rebellion in their favor. However, a defecting Imperial pilot threatens weapons director Krennic's (Ben Mendelsohn) triumph, especially when he's linked to Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), whom Krennic essentially kidnapped for the project. And it's for this reason the Rebellion recruits Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who is — you guessed it — Galen's daughter, now a criminal recently freed from the Empire's clutches. The Rebellion want Jyn to connect with Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a Rebel extremist and friend of Galen's, to ascertain the extent of the threat and what, if anything, can be done to stop it.

"Critical" Analysis: Just in case you were wondering, reviewing a Star Wars movie is basically a thankless task. Go too easy on it, and your critical objectivity is called into question (especially if your childhood obsession with the franchise is common knowledge. *cough*). Take the opposite tack, and you run the risk of aggravating a species of fan not widely known for their levelheaded attitudes about a galaxy far, far away.

It's almost not worth the millions of dollars we freelance writers earn each year.

Well, in for a credit, in for a wupiupi, as they say: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (to distinguish it from the seven other Rogue Ones released this month, apparently) is easily the strongest entry in the series since The Empire Strikes Back. Last year's The Force Awakens — while a delight — was also an unabashed retread (albeit a better one than Return of the Jedi). With Rogue One, director Gareth Edwards succeeds at a daunting task: creating new characters and settings while putting together a meaningful story.

[All while constrained by what's quickly (and counterintuitively) becoming one of the more confining properties in film. But we'll come back to that.]

Edwards starts off by bouncing us around more locations than your average Bond film does, setting down in Lah'mu, Jedha (home of Gerrera's separatists), Scarif (Imperial data archive), as well as some more familiar locales. Between that and the plethora of new characters, you almost suspect you're being distracted from something, until you realize how faithful Edwards and writers Chris Weitz  and Tony Gilroy are being to the Star Wars timeline, and how much of a relative slow burn Rogue One starts off with, compared to TFA.

Rogue One is a much more ruthless film than its predecessors. Gerrera's faction is viewed as too extreme for the Rebellion, depicted here as divided between those advocating caution and those favoring more direct action (Edwards mercifully avoids the tediousness of the prequels' Senate scenes). The movie is much more combat-oriented than TFA, and in far more brutal fashion than we've seen before. And it's a credit to everyone concerned that the third act is as suspenseful as it is, given that everybody knows the ending (spoiler: the Rebels eventually win).

Which isn't to say there's no humor. Reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) steals just about every scene he's in, like a combination of Marvin the Paranoid Android and Knights of the Old Republic's HK-47. And the Easter eggs are as plentiful as, uh, flies on a gundark.

Jones carries the film well, supported ably by Diego Luna (Rebel operative Cassian Andor), Whitaker (Gerrera is another Star Wars man-machine, this time on a DIY budget), Riz Ahmed (the defecting pilot), Donnie Yen (Chirrut Îmwe, a Force-sensitive monk) and Jiang Wen (warrior Baze Malbus, Chirrut's hetero(?) lifemate). Mendelsohn is probably the most impressive, portraying Krennic as a true believer, and almost sympathetic in his naked ambition.

Well, compared to Darth Vader, one of two Original Trilogy villains, at least.

Having said all that, and acknowledging that this is a more gushing review than normal, it's time to start moving this franchise away from the holy trilogy. The Force Awakens was, in many ways, A New EXTREME Hope, while Rogue One — though described by producer Kathleen Kennedy as a stand-alone film compared to the larger saga — necessarily leans heavily on the mythology. One character from the prequels makes an appearance, in addition to several from the OT (the aging/death of the actual actors notwithstanding, in some cases).

But we don't need Vader (or his helmet) in *every* movie. Edwards and company do such a great job introducing us to a wealth of new settings and diverse characters, all in the space of a couple of hours, that you find yourself wishing they'd start looking further afield for stories. Of course, with The Force Awakens grossing $2 billion-with-a-b dollars, Disney is under no pressure to upset the apple cart.

Random Thoughts: - There's probably a veery interesting story behind how much Gilroy (the Bourne trilogy, Michael Clayton), who came in to steer the film's notorious reshoots, had to do with the finished product.

- You never knew Donnie Yen whomping stormtroopers was something you needed in your life until you saw it happening.

- It's almost as if no one who grew up under the Empire had a happy childhood.
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar