Movie Review - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - IMAX

I attended the Tuttleman IMAX theater inside the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. A 5-minute preview of Dunkirk, the World War II film from Christopher Nolan, played beforehand. The difference between the images for Dunkirk and the images for this new Star Wars film were night and day.

The Franklin Institute has a huge dome that is 70-feet across and 4.5 stories high. The images for Dunkirk completely filled that dome. The images surrounded and enveloped the entire room, which seats about 300 people. The images for the Star Wars movie didn't fill the dome. It left some empty space on the top and bottom. This is because Nolan shot Dunkirk on actual 70mm film on true IMAX cameras. Gareth Edwards who directed this Stars Wars movie shot it digitally for the most part. He captures some great vistas and scenes of large ships flying around in air and in space, but somehow even that isn't as fantastic as the aerial scenes that Nolan demonstrates in Dunkirk.

In a screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, it apes in a lot of ways the previous Star Wars movies. It's not surprising given that last year's Star Wars: The Force Awakens was very much an aping of the original 1977 film, if not a direct, beat-for-beat ripoff. Of course, this movie also borrows from the original trilogy. This movie is no better in that regard, no new ideas. We're accustomed to it, not only here but also in other sequels. What helped The Force Awakens though is the fact that the characters in that movie were a lot stronger than the ones here. The characters here are more or less sketches and not as fully fleshed out as they could have been.

Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything and Like Crazy) stars as Jyn Erso, the daughter of the scientist who helped design and create the Death Star, the iconic weapon that is the size and shape of the moon and has a laser that can blow up an entire planet. Once the Republic fell and the Empire rose to power with Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine at the top, Jyn's father left and wanted to live in peace with his wife and daughter. Yet, a military commander with the Empire finds Jyn's father and brings him back to help finish the Death Star. This happens when Jyn is just a little girl. She grows up estranged and alone, eventually winding up in some prison.

Diego Luna (Y tu mamá también and Milk) co-stars as Cassian Andor, a soldier and a Captain with the Rebel Alliance, the underground military group that is working to overthrow the Empire and restore democracy under the Republic. He's clearly been through a lot and has lost a lot in this fight. The movie gives him a moment to express that, but the movie never goes any further. Who did he lose? Or, how many people did he lose? Why did he join the rebellion specifically? This movie is more about answering those questions for Jyn, but not Cassian whose presence here is supposed to be as crucial or central to this film.

Alan Tudyk (Firefly and Suburgatory) plays the voice of an Iron Giant-like robot named K-2SO, except he's not so giant. Personality-wise, he's a mix of C-3PO and R2-D2. He's the comic relief that can do all kinds of technical things. He's the perfect sidekick in that he also functions like Chewbacca in certain regards. Tudyk has voiced cartoon characters from Ice Age to Moana, so he's good in the role.

Donnie Yen (Ip Man and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) plays Chirrut Îmwe, a blind martial artist who believes in the force and at times channels it. Wen Jiang plays Baze Malbus, a guy who accompanies Chirrut and helps to protect him. Not much more of their relationship is learned. Not much more is learned about Han Solo and Chewbacca's relationship either like how they met or what kept them together, so as it goes, it's not necessary to flesh out Chirrut and Baze any more than is done. However, it doesn't seem like Chirrut or Baze are relatives, so a little bit more of their backstory would have been appreciated because as their fates were revealed, little to no emotional connection could be felt for them.

Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland and Lee Daniels' The Butler) plays Saw Gerrera, a rogue member of the Rebel Alliance. It might be a spoiler to say that Saw Gerrera dies, but it's a death that has little to no emotional impact as well. He's introduced as a crucial character. He supposedly helped raise Jyn and is a confidant for Jyn's father. Yet, he's quickly dispatched without any resonance at all.

Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom and Starred Up) also co-stars as Orson Krennic, the military commander who takes Jyn's father and brings him back to the Empire to finish working on the Death Star. Clearly, the two have history, but the movie never really gives them any scenes to explore that history. Jyn's father is Galen Erso, played by Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale and Doctor Strange). With the exception of Whitaker, Mendelsohn and Mikkelsen are the two best actors here, yet they are criminally underused. The same for Jimmy Smits who is just a cameo here.

As the plot plays out and certain action sequences come together, the echoes to the previous films in the original trilogy become clear. At one point, I felt like I was watching the third act of Return of the Jedi (1983), minus the Ewoks. Unfortunately, I did care about the Ewoks, but I didn't care about the fates of any of the characters here, and mainly because I didn't know any of them. Director Gareth Edwards shows us what they're doing and how they're doing it, but rarely did I get why.

It's certainly a grittier version of the Star Wars universe than we've seen before. In some ways, it's darker than any other Star Wars movie, despite pushing this idea of hope constantly. It feels like a traditional war movie in certain regards. In many ways, it concludes in a similar fashion as many war films from Glory (1989) to Saving Private Ryan (1998). Yet, the endings to those movies were gut-punches where every death is felt, almost to one's core. That was not the case here.

Despite feeling like a war movie, I strangely walked away from this film feeling like I had seen an installment in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Not much character work has been done in the recent installments of those Tom Cruise movies. It's more about the action set-pieces and there's really no takeaway. It's just another Hollywood blockbuster of little to no substance. It's just an easy way for Disney to add another half-billion or more to its yearly revenues.

Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 14 mins.


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