Rogue One — 7/10

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016, Gareth Edwards)

When Disney wrestled the Star Wars property out of the hands of George Lucas, fans of the franchise likely had mixed feelings (yay, new movies! boo, new creators) but I saw a good opportunity — give directors who had a sense of camera and character a chance to work in the confines of a big popcorn blockbuster and see what happens. JJ Abrams already proved he could do it, turning out A FORCE AWAKENS (better than anything Lucas directed), and now Edwards has done him even one better — he’s made a crackerjack action/war movie, cloaked it in a fanboy uniform, and served it to unsuspecting masses. It turned out to be a unique curiosity that may not be good for the franchise, but it’s a fine piece of entertainment.

For those of us who cringe at the whiny, annoying waste of space that is C-3PO, ROGUE ONE gives us salvation: a far different droid named K-2SO, who is a sarcastic asshole, and that’s my kind of robot. The K-2SO character also doses the franchise with a much-needed sense of humor; not that the films have lacked it necessarily (Harrison Ford in particular was always amusing), but the style of it has been a little wet and childish. Now there’s something biting about the comedy, which mixes well with what becomes an ultimately dark, fatalistic tale.

After a confusing first 15 minutes that cross-cuts at an insane pace and introduces new characters every 90 seconds, ROGUE ONE eventually streamlines its narrative and sets up the mission that dominates the back half of the film. During the first half, it continues to build up (I won’t say develop, because they’re still kind of thin and one-dimensional) characters that are likable and well-acted. Even if it feels like a boardroom filled with white guys took a sensitivity class and stocked the film with a diverse cast out of punishment, that’s good for audiences — the likes of Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Felicity Jones, and Forest Whitaker are as good as the series has ever given us (save maybe for Ford, Guinness, and Boyega), and then there’s Donnie Yen being a badass. The battle climax takes place during the day, so we get brightly lit composite shots and action we can see — a terrific antidote to the black-drenched space battles that marred so many previous entries. And the political subtext (I do think it’s there, even though it clearly couldn’t have been intended to directly respond to the liberal outcry over the catastrophic election of a pompous, fascistic demagogue) weighs down the stakes to where they do mean something.

There are apparently a lot of callbacks and references to previous Star Wars movies in here that I missed (even though I’ve seen them a few times, they go in one eye and out the other; nearly impossible to remember), so perhaps I wasn’t as bothered by the desperation as much as a fan would be. I also don’t care about CG being used to make someone young (it’s usually creepy, but so is plenty of stuff). So if a fan wants to criticize ROGUE ONE as if it’s trampling on sacred ground, good for them — but for me this is ground that had too many potholes and needed some good pavement.

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