The first of the “Star Wars Tales” series of films is out in theaters – telling the full story behind those two sentence in the opening crawl from A New Hope – “Rebel spaceships, operating from a secret base, have struck their first victory against the evil Empire. During the battle, Rebel Spies managed to steal plans to the Empire’s secret weapon…”

Cast and Crew

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso
Diego Luna as Cassian Andor
Alan Tudyk as K-2SO
Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe
Wen Jiang as Baze Malbus
Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic
Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera
Riz Ahmed as Bodhi Rook
Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso
Daniel Naprous and Spencer Wilding as Darth Vader (suit)
James Earl Jones as Darth Vader (voice)
Guy Henry as Grand Moff Tarkin (performance)
Sir Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin (likeness)

Story by Gary Whitta & John Knoll
Written by Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy

Directed by Gareth Edwards

The Premise

Jyn Erso is the daughter of Galen Erso, a prominent scientist who has been shanghaied by the empire to for a massive construction project. When Galen gets a message out to resistance fighter Saw Guerrera that he’s working on a massive super-weapon called the Death Star, and that he’s managed to slip a weakness into the design that the ship, the Rebel Alliance under Mon Mothma & Bail Organa sends agent Cassian Andor to pick up Jyn, get the message from Guerrera (who spirited Jyn away from the Empire), and ultimately to find the Death Star plans so they can use this weakness to stave off imperial domination of the galaxy…

High Points

Gareth Edwards gets the language of Star Wars dogfights perfectly. The battle over Scarif, which wraps up the film, scratches the itch of what you expect from big space battles in Star Wars, with a whole bunch of really neat new moments (including one involving a Hammerhead-class ship from the KotOR era)

Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang as the spiritual center of the film, through Chirrut basically being Don Quixote (he’s not a Jedi, though he might be Force-Sensitive, but he seeks to walk the path of the Jedi nonetheless) combined with Zatoichi and 8 Diagram Pole Fighter, and Baze as badass gun-toting Sancho Panza (who pulls him out of the fire and is often exasperated by his friend).

Alan Tudyk as K2-S0 also makes for a fun, kindler, gentler HK-47.

The script also gets that A New Hope is Flash Gordon meets The Hidden Fortress meets The Dam Busters, and goes from that to make a film that is Flash Gordon meets The Guns of Navarone. It’s a film that takes some important cues from World War II commando action movies, where not everyone is going to make it out of this mission alive.

This film really gets that the Empire are monsters, and I really, really hope that out of this movie, people get that and we get a damper on some of that Imperial Fanboyism in Star Wars fan circles – maybe a boost in membership of the Rebel Legion.

The Controversial Point

This is something that I’m shocked hasn’t caused more discussion and debate yet, because this is something potentially groundbreaking in film. I’m spoiler-tagging this because it doesn’t appear in promotional materials, and it very much surprised me when I saw it in the film.

The film features the appearances of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin and a young Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, through a digital double created by performance capturing a human actor and digitally inserting Cushing and Fisher’s likenesses onto the actor’s faces. Red and Gold Leader from A New Hope also appear through archival footage. In the case of Tarkin, the performance actor is also providing an impression of Cushing’s voice (which is generally spot on). In the case of Leia and Red & Gold Leader, their vocal performances are done through re-cut dialog.

Something like this had been done before in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. However, this is completely different. That said, I think, in the case of Tarkin, it worked – somewhat. The face is clearly digital, which knocks me out of the movie somewhat. However, the performance feels right, and I think that Gareth Edwards, Guy Henry, and the visual effects team treated the performance with enough gravitas and consideration of the decisions that Cushing made as an actor in A New Hope that it works here. However, this also raise the question of what this means for the rest of the series. Will the new Han Solo movie feature digital likenesses of young Harrison Ford & Billy Dee Williams? Will other directors use this to have actors who have since passed on reprise their roles as characters they’ve played in the past? This is a potential game changer, and I’m really interested about the dialog that comes out of this based on this artist decision, and what other directors do with it in the future. It will obviously get abused (as other technological developments have in the past), and potentially overused – but the question becomes whether this development will stick around.

The Low Points

The Rebel Alliance here is a depicted as a darker thing than I think it’s been shown as in any other medium in the EU. It’s depicted as being about as dark as, say, the Bajoran Resistance on DS9. Not quite Hard People Making Hard Decisions – but not quite the unified committed heroic front we see in A New Hope either. Now, this victory could cause that transition, but it’s not clear on screen.

On the other hand, while Saw Guerrera is described as an extremist and too dangerous for the rest of the Alliance, that also isn’t quite made clear here either – aside from keeping an alien pet to Mind Whammy people into telling him what they want to know, Guerrera is less of the out-and-out terrorist he is set up to be.

Scores

Originality: 4/6

Effects: 5/6 – though the Controversial Point may make it a 3 for some people.

Acting: 5/6

Story: 4/6

Emotional Response: 5/6 – especially at the end of the film.

Production: 5/6.

Overall: How do you tell a Star Wars story on the big screen, focusing on the Alliance, with no Jedi. This is how. 6/6

In total, Star Wars: Rogue One gets 34 out of 42.