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ROGUE ONE Proves That Excellent Prequels are Possible [No Spoilers]

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{All images courtesy StarWars.com}


rogue-one-posterRogue One: A Star Wars Story

Screenplay by Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy
Story by John Knoll & Gary Whitta
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Produced by Lucasfilm
Copyright 2016

With Rogue One, director Gareth Edwards and his team have proven two things: 1. that you can make a Star Wars movie without the Skywalker clan front and center, and 2. that you can make an excellent prequel to Star Wars.

For it is an excellent prequel, even though I have some quibbles — they’re minor, and I’ll get to them in a moment — and it’s very much a Star Wars film even without the requisite elements we’ve come to expect.

For one, the absence of a rollup isn’t as jarring as you might think. Mainly because then you’d have to make sure that it aligns with Star Wars Rebels, and that would run the risk of locking the Rebels production into a particular trajectory. Even with the cameos and Easter eggs in this movie, they may have already done that to a certain extent. Having said that…

Quibble #1: There should have at least been the Star Wars logo at the fore. It would have given us a little continuity and establishment that we’re watching Star Wars, even with the rollup abandoned. And I didn’t like the title card. It looked unfinished.

Left to Right: Riz Ahmed, Diego Luna, Felicity Jones, Jiang Wen, and Donnie Yen as a motley Rebel crew in Rogue One.
It’s a motley crew. (Jonathan Olley / Star Wars.com)

The story, as we all know, details the antics of the rebels just prior to the Death Star plans landing in the hands of Princess Leia. This movie takes its entire plot line from these two bits: “Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire” and “Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR.”

That's some heavy metal. (StarWars.com)
That’s some heavy metal. (StarWars.com)

Extrapolating from there, John Knoll had an idea that turned into the plot for this story: rebel leaders recruit Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) because Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) has learned that her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), is involved and has sent a message to Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) through Imperial cargo pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed).

Erso was conscripted to design the superlaser weapon on the Death Star by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), and the two have a long history that’s apparently covered in the book Catalyst, which is a prequel to this prequel.

Got all that? Good.

Saw seems to have one too many black Sabbaths. (StarWars.com)
Saw seems to have one too many black Sabbaths. (StarWars.com)

Note that Jyn isn’t recruited to steal the plans, just to make contact with Gererra. Along the way, she and Andor pick up Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). She just ends up being in the right place at the right time to go rogue and lead the mission to steal the plans to the Death Star.

That’s all the detail I’ll get into.

Without getting too spoilery, the performances from everyone are very good. More than what you’d expect from characters you’ve never seen before and don’t expect to see again — it is a prequel, after all — and there’s enough emotional investment in the characters that the final outcome of the film has its impact. That, among the film’s high points of cameos, Easter eggs, and returning villains.

Orson Krennic wants so much to be the Boss. (StarWars.com)
Orson Krennic wants so much to be the Boss. (StarWars.com)

Yes. Villains. No spoilers, as it’s a fun surprise just how much a certain villain is back. Darth Vader (voiced again by James Earl Jones) is here in his full Sith Lord villainy, and he’s in the film just enough to make it matter. And when he has his moments, he has his moments. And not just at the end. But I won’t get into that one yet, because… spoilers, Sweetie.

Quibble #2: Darth Vader’s voice isn’t mixed right. And Matthew Wood should know better. In the original trilogy, his voice was much more electronic sounding. Telephone voice, with some fizz-fuzz and reverb. It’s almost as if someone lost the recipe card for Grandma’s sugar cookies and is trying to do it from memory. Some have said that Vader sounds older (of course), but it’s the flatness of the sound mix that bugs me. He doesn’t sound like Darth Vader. It’s a problem over on Rebels, too. Surely Ben Burtt made notes. Or maybe, you know, someone should ask Ben Burtt…

Iron Maiden or Iron Giant? He's no C-3PO... (StarWars.com)
Iron Maiden or Iron Giant? He’s no C-3PO… (StarWars.com)

To get into details any further (and to share any more quibbles) would be wandering into Spoiler Territory, and you’re not ready for those burning lands.

Suffice to say, the performances are solid, as is the screenplay. Plenty of fun moments from K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), which are as close as this film gets to anything near cutesy. Because it doesn’t get cutesy. It’s a war movie, and it has that sensibility. No Jar-Jar equivalent at all. Which is a good thing.

And the surprises … for those of us who have been there from the beginning, who saw Star Wars in 1977 when it was Star Wars and when we studied every little detail from time immemorial, the surprises are the best payoff of this film, and there are enough that they warrant more than one viewing just to take it all in and appreciate just how much this movie has been made by fans.

No roses. Guns. (StarWars.com)
No roses. Guns. (StarWars.com)

The online chatter about the last ten or fifteen minutes? Yeah, this movie deserves that discussion.

Also, a note about the music. Michael Giacchino delivers a much better score than he did for Star Trek, which was just utterly forgettable. His music here is very evocative of John Williams’ work, right down to the instrumentation and types of cues that match up with certain types of scenes. A solid score that has its own voice without sounding derivative. I found myself comparing it to Joel McNeely’s score for Shadows of the Empire. Giacchino hits much closer to the mark.

It's a rush. (StarWars.com)
It’s a rush. (StarWars.com)

This film, more than the other prequels, has to deliver on so many points, and it does. Solid marks all around. The battle sequences are frenetic and visually amazing, especially when ____________________________ happens. And when you see _________________, you may jump out of your seat. Same for when you see ________________ and _________________. I counted at least five times I reacted openly to something.

Yes, there were tears. I was seven years old again.

Some are calling it the best of the films outside of the originals, and some are even putting it in their top three of all of them, just behind The Empire Strikes Back and second or third best of all time. I’d say that’s not hyperbole. Myself? I’d put it in the top five, at least. Perhaps #4 behind the original trilogy, because without those there wouldn’t be anything else.

And come on, Ewoks…

 

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Jason P. Hunt

Jason P. Hunt (founder/EIC) is the author of the sci-fi novella "The Hero At the End Of His Rope". His short film "Species Felis Dominarus" was a finalist in the Sci Fi Channel's 2007 Exposure competition.

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