The official ban or “embargo” for posting movie reviews on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, ends at 5:30 pm on December 13, 2016, but that doesn’t mean there are not already anticipations and raves online regarding the film shrouded in secrecy. Forty-one year old director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, 2014; Monsters 2010,) inspired by the Star Wars franchise according to IMDB (he was born two years before the 1977 release of the very first George Lucas film in the series) sets an amazing tone with Saturn rings, exotic cinematography which delves into a dark, creepy, eerie – quite scary – feeling of imminent doom. Star Wars, after all, is as much a horror movie as it is science fiction. With Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing tied in to the series, Lucas indeed created a revved up Flash Gordon serial taking the 1936 13-part story idea into a new dimension. Adding Cushing and Lee, the Karloff/Lugosi of the next generation was pure “give the people what they want,” which is why Star Wars, like Star Trek, is so successful. There is also a cleansing going on with this 2016 film, purging the awful experiences that were delivered in 1999’s Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, 2002’s Attack of the Clones and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith. Those three “prequels” were as beautifully filmed as they were empty with some terribly forced acting an arrogance that derailed the fun and excitement of 77’s Star Wars, 80’s The Empire Strikes Back and 83’s The Return of the Jedi.
To put it all into its proper context, thirty nine years after the initial blasts from the Death Star comes a film that is as good as the first three. It is even better than The Force Awakens which by any standards was a mere reboot, not actually something that added to the franchise in any way other than it brought things back on track, got serious again, generating anticipation for the next phase of the blockbuster serial.
Rogue One is the critical space in between the saga, connecting Revenge of the Sith – the best of the three prequels – to Star Wars 1977, the “new hope.” Director Edwards hits a grand slam, giving an even darker look at the perpetual war, the Emperor’s Hitler-like approach to domination of the universe (forget a few galaxies, they were going for the whole enchilada) and James Earl Jones indulging in a unique savagery as Darth Vader is Deep Dark Vader here, more terrifying, more villainous, as out of control in his obsession as Ricardo Montalban in The Wrath of Khan. Much, much better than The Force Awakens, the serious dominance of the empire, the plight of the rebels, the dissension, all brilliantly written and delivered with a vengeance. This is an adult science fiction movie keeping a lid on the humor provided by Anthony Daniels’ CP30 – C-3PO – Co3P (it’s C-3PO) making just a cameo. The levity is brought to you by a new main character, a reconfigured empire droid K-2SO (played by Zootopia’s Alan Tudyk ) It is one of two elements taken directly from the Terminator series, 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, where Sarah Connor sends back a reprogrammed T-850, Model 101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger.) K-2S0 mimics some of the same C-3PO one-liners, but does so in a tongue-of-cheek way which adds to the film’s charm. That is to say, no Jar Jar Binks or Ewoks or Wookies. This is serious stuff, leave the children at home. You won’t be troubled by a ten year old Jake Lloyd playing young Anakin Skywalker (as bad a performance as Hayden Christiansen who followed as Hayden Christensen or – back to Schwarzenegger – the awful acting in 1993’s Last Action Hero by child actor Austin O’Brien,) for this is a story about the Force. It gets down to business and is what Star Wars was supposed to be about, domination, rebellion and blowing things up.
The other “borrow” from Terminator, this one the Christian Bale / Sam Worthington 2009 Terminator Salvation, was when the audience applauded to see the CGI Arnold come to life. Wikipedia sheds some enlightenment on this:
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s facial likeness was utilized via CGI, with a mold of his face made in 1984 scanned to create the digital makeup.
Roland Kickinger as The Terminator / T-800 (Model 101): the first Terminator covered in living tissue. Bodybuilder and actor Kickinger, who previously portrayed Schwarzenegger in the 2005 biographical film See Arnold Run, was his physical double on set.
In Rogue One Disney recreates the late Peter Cushing in similar fashion. Grand Moff Tarkin comes back to life (and they thank the Estate of Peter Cushing)
The settings – with palm trees juxtaposed to the crushing feet of the Imperial giant robots (think Sentinels in the X-Men series) along with a blind master of the mystic arts who might as well be Dr. Strange inside a Star Wars film. With Disney owning the rights to both franchises, are you surprised?
Two hours and thirteen minutes of spectacular Star Wars fun the way it should have been in the first place. Rogue One should be – and could be – the template of what is to come. It is – finally – a worthy addition to the sacred canon.
Joe Viglione is the Chief Film Critic at TMRZoo.com. He has written thousands of reviews and biographies for AllMovie.com, Allmusic.com, Gatehouse Media, Al Aronowitz’s The Blacklisted Journal, and a variety of other media outlets. Joe also produces and hosts Visual Radio, a seventeen year old variety show on cable TV which has interviewed Jodie Foster, director/screenwriter David Koepp, Michael Moore, John Cena, comics/actors Margaret Cho, Gilbert Gottfried, Gallagher, musicians Mark Farner and Don Brewer of Grand Funk Railroad, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Ray Manzarek, John Densmore, Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, political commentator Bill Press and hundreds of other personalities.