December 20, 2016 by bck1402
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Let’s just say my hopes were severely diminished by that title font. Seriously, it lacked weight; a mere outline plastered against a field of stars that brought memories of many direct-to-video independent (or cheap) sci-fi knock-offs that peppered the home video landscape, each trying to recapture the magic that was Star Wars. Sure, even the original Star Wars title was an outline against a field of stars in the background, but the lines were bold and strong, backed by that majestic theme, falling back as the primer scrolled upwards, getting us up to mark with what was about to happen. Talk about disarming a viewer of his expectations. Why couldn’t they use the title from the teaser trailer below? I mean, look at this final one…
Without that opening scroll, we are rushed through several moments in rapid succession to catch up with the plot just so the main story can properly begin, but what a ride it is after that. Fans of the saga will already know more or less how it ends (talk about our spoiler endings) but for the uninitiated, It could serve as a perfect entry point into the saga. The plot in a nutshell, big bad Empire is in charge, they have a new super-weapon (they have been building for the last 18 cycles or so, we saw the plans at the end of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith), so a small band of ‘freedom fighters’ (a Dirty Half-Dozen, or proper Suicide Squad, if you prefer) aspire to discover more about the weapon in order to find out how to destroy it. Again, if you’ve seen Episode IV: A New Hope that has been making the rounds since 1977, you know how that ends. What happens here lines up and lead rather nicely into that original space adventure.
Director Gareth Edwards delivers on the promise of his Monsters (2010), deftly fusing human drama with outstanding effects (not quite so successful with Godzilla (2014)), without letting the latter overshadow the former. Working from a story idea by effects maestro John Knoll, who developed it with Gary Whitta (The Book of Eli, After Earth), resulting in a script by Chris Weitz (The Golden Compass, About A Boy) and Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum, the upcoming The Great Wall), Edwards manages to wrangle an eclectic cast to deliver the goods. The effects work is also quite sublime, pushing the limits of a virtual performance further through the Uncanny Valley (for more on that, follow this link). We don’t know for sure how they pulled that one off, but there is a cast credit for the actor in place of that virtual performance.
Meanwhile, Alan Tudyk (Firefly, Serenity, Con Man) delivers another solid performance captured role (since I, Robot) as K2SO, the snarky reprogrammed Imperial Droid who is also brutally honest, and companion to roguish rebel, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a man haunted by his past actions in the name of doing good. However, it’s Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso who is the most front-and-centre, being both the MacGuffin and lead character through whose eyes we are following in this adventure. Ben Mendelsohn may be on ‘bad guy’ duties, but his Krennic isn’t half as threatening as he appears to be. The rest of the main cast including Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen and Riz Ahmed turn in solid performances while Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang are sure to draw some attention for their double act and action beats. And there are a few other surprises along the way too.
This being a Star Wars flick (in spirit if not in name on screen), the effects are out in full force, building its way in terms of presentation to the battle royale finale (is that a spoiler considering five of the previous seven movies have the same kind of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink ending). The editing and action choreography here is a cut above the expected, nicely tying in the emotion resonance and urgency of the mission at hand. What helps even more is the astounding score by Michael Giacchino, successfully picking up the mantle of John Williams by infusing certain classical themes into his new score while making it wholly his own. It really felt like the music barely stopped throughout the movie and it was remindful of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Ultimately, this is likely to appeal to the fans of the saga while giving an average viewer a pretty decent action flick. With a soaring score, some quick-fire background work on the characters (barely a line or two to establish their motives), solid pacing and editing in controlling the action and story, you have an entertaining and enjoyable romp that hit their emotional marks, and would make you want to revisit the original 1977 Star Wars. Oh, and do take in the IMAX 3D presentation if you can afford it.