At the Cinemark
Ten-year-old Aidan was on the very front edge of his seat -- front row center, main section -- and leaning forward throughout most of “Rogue One.” He was literally bouncing during the pulse-pounding showdown.
“I loved it,” he gushed as he and his dad left the Seattle Imax theater where I saw the opening.
Another young fan left the theater humming John Williams' iconic theme.
The rebel force has new volunteers willing to take on Darth and defuse the Death Star.
“The Force Awakens” seemed aimed at the hungry believers who were anxious to reunite with their friends at the Star Wars Cantina.
But “Rogue One” feels like it’s trying to attract fans too young for the Cantina -- the future rebels. New quirky characters from a rainbow of backgrounds are introduced. Missing is Rey, who will be born some 15 years after “Rogue,” but her place is taken by Jyn who channels the fem power.
With the popular origin film out of the way, the revitalized “Star Wars” franchise fires its afterburners and launches a compelling new chapter in the saga.
“Rogue One” is a filler, in an endearing sense. The film drops back into the original six-pack, to fill in a gap suggested by the crawling words that started the series in 1977:
“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.”
“Rogue One” expands that crawl into a full 133 minutes, designed to give the rebels … wait for it … New Hope!
Despite being a part of an entrenched franchise, “Rogue One” manages to feel fresh, thanks to a half dozen compelling characters who manage to balance all the CGI effects.
My favorites: Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Imwe channeling the Force; Baze Malbus as Chirrut’s loyal gun-slinging companion; Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, a fearless Rebel soldier called to lead; and, of course, K-2SO the newest droid in the universe, who has a soul inside the beeps and tin.
These characters all have some moral depth, leading to surprising sacrifices that kill off major characters in the name of a higher cause. Rarely does a sequel-obsessed franchise kill key figures, but the “Star Wars” saga jumps from century to century, thus not needing one character to survive the series.
Having death as a live option adds considerable bite and unpredictability to the script.
The ending reverts to a rousing rebels-versus-empire finale, but by then we care about the rag tag rebel force and are bouncing in our seat just like Aidan.
I admired the score, in which John Williams' theme was given nuance by Michael Giacchino, and Brit director Gareth James Edwards imbued the film with some needed style.
My verdict: “Rogue One” forges a respectable place in the mythical series, with standalone power and some genuine depth. Not a classic, but a first-rate adventure with characters to care about.
I’m a certified cynic toward sequels, prequels and NyQuils designed to milk money from the cash cow franchise, but I still came away pleased.
But how will the diehard fans feel? I consulted two to get the verdict. I believe every critic should have a “Critics Cabinet” of resources to consult when the consultant’s favorite genre recurs on the screen.
When Potter appears, I listen to the Fuller Family, who have wands throughout their house.
For “Star Wars” I turned to two Carroll-grad Californians, Jon Men and Shawn O’Rourke, who both have Chewbacca blood in their veins.
Jon “loved the back half” and enjoyed cameos by “Vader! Leia! Tarkin!” But most of all he loved the rainbows that arched over the Star Wars universe.
“How about diversity in the cast!” he said. “A woman, two Chinese men, a Brit with Pakistani origins, and a Mexican. It’s wonderful and gratifying that each character could have been played by an actor of any ethnicity. This is not just a ‘Star Wars’ movie, it's progress in film.”
Shawn believes “Rogue One” will succeed both with critics and with committed fans. He notes “Rogue” is “darker and more violent … yet it fits well with the existing film universe and gives an unflinching look at what a rebellion against a galaxy-spinning tyranny would actually look like.”
And let’s finish with Shawn’s final thoughts, a poetic nod to “Rogue.”
“This new thematic direction doesn’t make the Star Wars mythos darker, it reveals the implicit darkness that was always there,” wrote Shawn. “It reveals that the path of Luke Skywalker’s hero’s journey was paved with the sacrifices of characters who weren’t around to get their medals and accolades once the Death Star was destroyed. While some may call the film redundant and unnecessary, I think it has only served to make the larger universe more nuanced and real. Moreover, ‘Rogue One’ serves as an important reminder that without sacrifice, there can be no hope.”
There’s New Hope, indeed, for the reinvigorated “Star Wars” franchise. Just ask Aidan, who’s probably still bouncing.