MISS SLOANE (2016) and LA LA LAND (2016).
I write this just as the distressing news has broken that Carrie Fisher, beloved to all as Princess Leia, is critically ill following a heart attack during a long-distance flight today. The reports sound quite serious, and my prayers are with her.
Fisher's importance to the STAR WARS saga was brought home anew by ROGUE ONE. While the film was dark but inspiring, telling the story of the Rebels who sacrificed to obtain the critical Death Star plans which are in Princess Leia's hands at the start of STAR WARS (1977), the only part which made me cry was the last scene. In that thrilling final sequence, we're brought full circle to the start of the original film, aka A NEW HOPE. For someone who saw the first film when it came out, it was a profound moment to arrive back at the beginning of it all, forty years on, and the context established by ROGUE ONE now gives the first film considerably more weight.
ROGUE ONE tells the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), whose father (Mads Mikkelson) is forced by Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to help build the Death Star for Darth Vader (voiced once more by James Earl Jones) and the Empire.
Scenes of the young Jyn hiding as her father is taken away rather called to mind the start of THE SEARCHERS (1956). Years later, when Jyn is a young woman, her father slips out a message with a defecting Empire pilot (Riz Ahmed) that he has hidden a critical flaw in the Death Star, which can destroy the entire thing if it's exploited.
Jyn is recruited by Mon Mothma (Genevieve O'Reilly) and the Rebel Alliance to help find her father; eventually Jyn, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and other volunteers take off from the Rebel base on an unauthorized, seemingly impossible mission to obtain the plans, on a ship dubbed "Rogue One."
ROGUE ONE is a strong film with a meaty story which I was still contemplating days later. STAR WARS fans will be satisfied with it from the first moments of "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." even if the film is sadly missing the familiar 20th Century-Fox fanfare and CinemaScope extension music, given that it's now a Disney property!
Like THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965), it's somewhat difficult for me to write objectively about STAR WARS films, due to the great importance they have had in my movie-going life. In fact, I intended to review last year's THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) after seeing it a second time and still haven't tried to write about that one!
The only real problem with the film, to my mind, is that it was disconcerting that there were considerable changes from the trailers seen in months past, including scenes which caused considerable anticipation among fans. Key among the missing moments: Jyn telling Mon Mothma: "This is a rebellion, isn't it? I rebel."
The changes, which some speculate took place after reshoots, seem to have softened Jyn's character, which might not have been a good thing.
There are brief, crowd-pleasing nods to other familiar faces; in addition to characters from the original trilogy, Jimmy Smits briefly reprises his role from more recent films as Bail Organa, adoptive father of Princess Leia.
All in all this is a very good, worthwhile film, although the somber plot is such that I'm not sure it will have the same "rewatch value" as the original trilogy.
ROGUE ONE was directed by Gareth Edwards and filmed by Greig Fraser. It runs 133 minutes.
The good score is by Michael Giacchino (THE INCREDIBLES). It sparingly mixes in some of John Williams' original STAR WARS themes at appropriate moments.
Parental Advisory: ROGUE ONE is rated PG-13 for "extended scenes of sci-fi violence and action." While it's not graphic, this is not a STAR WARS film for young children, who may be disconcerted by the film's final minutes.
Trailers and videos are available at the ROGUE ONE page on the official STAR WARS website.