by Peter J. O’Connell
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Released: Dec. 2016. Runtime: 133 mins. MPAA Rating: PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.
Long ago in a galaxy far, far away . . . actually, American movie screens in 1977 . . . an epic began unfolding: Star Wars. This blockbuster sci-fi film (later subtitled Episode IV: A New Hope) concerned the battle of various rebels against the Galactic Empire and soon was followed by two sequels in the early 1980s and later by three prequels from 1999 to 2005. Then Episode VII came along in 2015, The Force Awakens. Now we have Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which, in terms of the development of the epic, comes between Return of the Jedi (1983) and A New Hope (1977). Rogue One, however, is—mercifully—minus much of the magical/mystical mythology of the other films of the epic.
Instead, Rogue One is essentially a (very) high-tech version of a World War II movie set in, well, a galaxy far, far away. There are versions of such familiar figures from that genre as daring commandos, heroic resistance partisans, stolidly courageous GIs. And, of course, the saga has its stormtroopers, evil emperor and other figures reminiscent of the Third Reich and the Empire of the Rising Sun. The various good guys/gals and bad guys engage in complex (sometimes too complex) maneuverings involving spy intrigues, dogfights in the skies and land battles.
The influence of many classic WWII films—American, British, even Russian—can be seen in Rogue One. For instance, the sprawling, spectacular, culminating battle on a tropical atoll planet pays homage to John Ford’s The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), which starred John Wayne and included documentary footage that Ford had shot during the battle of Tarawa in 1943.
The John Wayne character in Rogue One is Jyn Erso, not a rough, tough, gruff guy but a beauteous, spunky—make that super-spunky—young woman warrior (Felicity Jones). Jyn’s mission is to work with various rebel factions to recover the secret plans revealing the flaw that her scientist father (Mads Mikkelsen) deliberatelbuilt into the super-weapon, the Death Star, that he was forced to design for the Empire.
Jones, last seen in 2015’s Inferno dashing about key locales of Western Civilization with Tom Hanks, here dashes from planet to planet. (The settings are striking, using sites from Iceland to the Maldives.) Jones is quite convincing as Jyn. And the supporting cast is quite competent. We even get (courtesy of movie magic) appearances by Peter Cushing (died 1994) as Grand Moff Tarkin and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, made to look younger even than she was in the 1977 film.
Michael Giacchino, composer of Rogue One’s music, in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, expressed feelings about the film that most who have seen it probably would share: “It is a film that in many ways is a great World War II movie, and I loved that about it. But it also has this huge, huge heart at the center of it . . .. Yes, it’s an action movie, and it’s a Star Wars film . . . but I didn’t want to forget that it was also an incredibly emotional movie as well.”