Sunday, January 15, 2017

$UCCESSFU! FILMS SERIES: "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (2016)

The biggest problem with prequels, in my personal opinion, is they tell you what happens in their successors. In other words, franchises that release prequels to their successors years later give the latter a disadvantage when viewing said films chronologically.

This was the biggest disadvantage George Lucas had with his Star Wars prequels (Episode I--The Phantom Menace, 1999; Episode II--Attack of the Clones, 2002; Episode III--Revenge of the Sith, 2005), because, when viewing all six cumulative films chronologically, they ruin the experience of the original trilogy (particularly that of The Empire Strikes Back, 1980). The same goes for Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy (based on J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel to The Lord of the Rings), what with its overuse of extended action sequences and inclusion of later characters like Sauron and Legalos. The key is not to put emphasis (at least, too much of it) on these details so that they don't draw attention to themselves.

Band of rebels (l-r): Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Diego Luna,
Felicity Jones, Donnie Yen, and Riz Ahmed
This is what makes Rogue One a worthy improvement, as well as a respective addition to the Star Wars canon and a solo film in its own right. Considered to be the first standalone movie in the franchise (a Han Solo film is currently in the works), Rogue One centers on a group of Rebel fighters, led by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), on a mission to steal the plans for what would become the Death Star, thereby setting up the events of the 1977 original, A New Hope.

A Star Wars film for those who don't love Star Wars films, the story gets right into action (and without title cards!), briefly showing Jyn as a child whose conflicted and checkered, yet loving, father sends her on her own, Years later, she becomes involved with a band of rebel fighters (under the name "Rogue One") in a pursuit to steal the plans for what will become known as the Death Star, and of which Jyn's father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) may be involved. Other new characters that fit into the Star Wars canon nicely including the scene-stealing "reprogrammed rebel droid" K2S0 (Alan Tudyk), extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), the determined yet conflicted Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and the cold and menacing Imperial officer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).

What makes this entry unique is its gritty tone and action. The aforementioned characters strike a thin line between good and evil at times, yet they (for all their flaws) illustrate what is/was lost and what's worth fighting for. The series' motif of the Force gets more in-depth here, particularly with blind Jedi fighter Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), who thoroughly exemplifies this belief system ("I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me").

As The Force Awakens did last year, the terrific action sequences and effects (in large part) hearken back to the practical effects of yesteryear while married to today's CGI effects when necessary. There's even the (now-controversial) CGI inclusion of character General Tarkin (played in the 1977 original by the late Peter Cushing, and whose estate was contacted and asked by the filmmakers for permission to use his image) and another famous character (no spoilers!), as well as subtle references to other iconic images and themes.

Unlike the aforementioned seventh episode, however, Rogue One is very much a gritty war story. Yet, both films carry a sense of nostalgia and excitement. Not to mention strong female leads. Even the score by Michael Giacchino (who also composed the John Williams-like score for Super 8, 2011) makes this story a different episode in the franchise. And while it ends unexpectedly, it illustrates hope for the future. The film's final images mirror real-life unexpected tragedy around the time of the its release, yet they illustrate hope for the world--and not just the future of movies.

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