MOVIE BUFF-ET: Rogue One puts the war in Star Wars

If you ever wondered how the Rebel Alliance got ahold of the schematics it used to plan the assault on the Imperial Death Star in the climax of the original Star Wars film, director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla and Monsters) has the tragic yet inspiring answer for you in the latest movie in the Star Wars cannon, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

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George Lucas’ Star Wars: A New Hope mentioned that the Alliance garnered the Death Star blueprints at a great cost, and the current film details that cost in no uncertain terms.

Felicity Jones stars as Jyn Erso a young woman, who has been in hiding since the Empire abducted her genius father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to force him to build a weapon of mass destruction.

Her connection to a prominent but rogue rebel Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) makes her the perfect bargaining chip for the Rebels to use to strike at the Empire.

Giving much more of the plot away would be a disservice, but Disney and Edwards did a wonderful job of fitting this film into continuity with the original movies, while charting its own course.

While the original Star Wars Trilogy featured heroes fighting in a war, Rogue One is more about soldiers bonding together to perform missions vital to the Rebellion’s very existence.

Joining her on the mission is officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) as well as blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (DonnieYen), mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and a troop of other rebels willing to risk their lives in the hopes of saving others by defeating the Empire.

The film features a fantastic space battle in the climax as well as the most brutal ground fighting depicted in the Star Wars series. While the film features all the conventions one would expect from a space opera — from far-out aliens (and even a couple of familiar ones) and techy gadgets and weapons — the realism of the battle scenes adds heft even to the more fanciful elements of the movie.

The film features several characters from the original trilogy, one of which is Darth Vader. While his character is at the center of six of the seven previous Star Wars movies, there is a scene toward the end of the film that fans have played out in their imaginations for decades. The scene could very well be Vader’s finest on film, particularly from an action standpoint.

Viewers will notice subtle and not so subtle allusions to World War II as well as the U.S.’s war in Iraq.

Two other characters from the original series, whose identities I won’t divulge, are recreated on the screen with the help of CGI effects, but don’t fare quite as well as the Sith Lord. The effects are high quality, but not quite as strong as the digital work used in Ant-Man or Captain America: Civil War to de-age Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr. respectively. Regardless, the scenes still work within the context of the movie.

The movie’s design fits squarely into the already established Star Wars universe, but Edwards takes fans to lush settings that they had never experienced before in Star Wars films.

The film’s conclusion is emotional and inspiring, and really leaves the door wide open for future films to delve into the far corners of the fantasy universe Lucas created.

The score by Michael Giacchino is effective, but suffers from not being the work of the legendary John Williams, whose music always played such a pivotal role in the previous Star Wars movies.

(PG13) 2 hr. 13 min.
Grade: B+

Classic Corner

The Bishop’s Wife

Christmas magic must have permeated the air in and around Hollywood in 1946-1947. It could be argued rather successfully that the three best Christmas-oriented films ever committed to film were produced during that span.

George Seaton’s It’s a Wonderful Life opened less than a year before Henry Koster’s The Bishop’s Wife did on Dec. 9, 1947, and George Seaton’s Miracle on 34th Street was sandwiched in the middle with an odd-for-the-subject-matter, May opening.

While Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life are better known, The Bishop’s Wife may be the most charming of the three.

The incomparable Cary Grant stars as the angel Dudley who is tasked with the assignment of helping Bishop Henry Brougham, (David Niven) rediscover his zest for life by essentially making him jealous. Dudley steps in to take Brougham’s place in a number of festive activities while the Bishop spends his time fund raising for a new cathedral.

Brougham not only becomes jealous, but the angelic Dudley also begins to fall for the bishop’s wife Julia, played by the lovely Loretta Young.

Ironically Grant was originally cast to play the Bishop, while Niven was set to play Dudley before producer Samuel Goldwyn stepped in to make the swap.

The fanciful romantic-comedy is filled with enchanting scenes, opening with Dudley walking the Christmas-clad streets of the city. Dudley and Julia share what has to be the most romantic ice-skating scenes ever filmed.

A discussion concerning ancient history with the atheistic Professor Wutheridge (Monty Woolley) is witty and clever as Dudley brings out the best of the professor by lending an understanding ear to the lonely old man.

Like It’s A Wonderful Life, the film draws inspiration from the root of all modern Christmas stories, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, reminding us to count or blessings and not to become too busy to enjoy the life we are living.