Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Looking at Movies *Special Edition* - Rogue One (A Star Wars Story) (2017)

The drive-in season has started, which means that Niagara's Watercooler will start featuring movie reviews every Monday. To get us up and going, we offer two "special edition" reviews of movies that are currently in theaters.

Every time I hear about a movie franchise that wants to explore every nook and cranny of its story line, I cringe. At some point, the Avengers are going to start getting boring and while all of those Friday the 13th movies were fun, they became cumbersome after a while. But there are three franchises, in my opinion, that could be explored to their very depths and they would still be entertaining - Godzilla, Star Trek, and Star Wars.

There are already countless books, comic books, and television cartoons dedicated to all three of those franchises, and none of it has lost any momentum. When I found out a couple of years ago that Disney wanted to drill deep into the Star Wars story and make "story movies," I was hesitant. After I saw Rogue One (A Star Wars Story), I stopped being hesitant.
Any casual fan of Star Wars knows the plot to Rogue One. This is the story that takes place just a couple of days before the successful attack on the Death Star that is the climax to Episode IV (I trust I am not telling anyone anything they don't already know - David Gilmour, I hope not!). This is the story of the people who risked their lives to get the Death Star plans, and what an amazing story it is.

Right off the bat, let me anger George Lucas fans by saying that the dialogue in Rogue One is very well done and not cringe-worthy, like it was in the first six episodes. Good dialogue normally carries a movie, but Lucas managed to tell engaging stories with some of the worst dialogue ever written. In Rogue One, we finally get to see what a Star Wars movie looks like with good dialogue and, oh, what a difference it makes.

One thing that Lucas was a master at was introducing characters at a pace that did not seem too quick or almost frustrating to follow. I found Episode VII and Rogue One to lack this ability to pace the story properly and give depth to its characters in ways that Lucas seemed to make look effortless. It may also be that finding another Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill is not quite as easy as Disney may have thought it would be, and the actors that are being used in these stories lack that intangible charisma the older actors had. Despite this shortcoming, the story does flow fairly well if you give it time. But it does look to me like they tried to cram too much into this movie, and some of the subtle references and plot points seem to have gotten lost.

There has been plenty of talk about the CGI that brought Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher back to life to reprise their roles as Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia, respectively (the one caveat being that Tarkin is only a Governor in Rogue One and has not yet been promoted to Grand Moff). For me, the Cushing CGI works very well. It looked a little awkward in some spots, but overall it was very well done. But there was something off about the Carrie Fisher CGI that made it look almost amateurish. While Carrie Fisher herself was overjoyed to see her younger face on the big screen again, I found myself trying very hard to not allow the fact that it was CGI ruin the moment. 

Kudos to director Gareth Edwards for insisting on going old school with many of the effects, costumes, and sets. While it is obvious he used high-tech toys in some parts, the overall look of the movie made it feel like it was happening just days before Episode IV. I was afraid that we might see slick and modern stormtroopers or a new look to Darth Vader, but Edwards went even so far as to have Vader's red eye coverings in this movie, and that is some serious attention to detail.

This movie is fun, the effects are superb, and the story is engaging. The new robot we are introduced to is funny, and we even get to see some old friends from the first trilogy. Overall, this was a good film, but I could see why Gareth Edwards said that he will never direct a big budget movie ever again. The ending of the film was significantly re-shot, and there are moments where the story jumps around a little. But I found this movie to be more entertaining and original than Episode VII and well worth a trip to your local drive-in.

Rating: 3 out of 5

George N Root III is a movie fanatic who spends all spring and summer at the drive-in. Follow him on Twitter @georgenroot3, or send him a message at May the force be with you, all of you.