‘Rogue One’: Send Dis­ney back to draw­ing board

The Washington Times Daily - - LIFE - BY ERIC ALTHOFF

Well, here it is, then: a story you didn’t know that maybe didn’t need to be told. The mis­sion to steal the plans for the Death Star is now here for all to be­hold in “Rogue One,” the lat­est in what will surely be an an­nual ef­fort by Dis­ney to squeeze ev­ery last bit of mys­tique (read, “dol­lar”) from the un­told mythos of the “Star Wars” uni­verse.

Which is not to say that “Rogue One” lacks merit or is a bad film. It is a com­pe­tently made and at times gen­uinely thrilling stand-alone ad­ven­ture di­rected by Gareth Ed­wards (“Godzilla,” “Mon­sters,” thus show­ing his pen­chant for oth­er­world­li­ness) and co-writ­ten by Tony Gil­roy (the tal­ented writer-di­rec­tor of “The Bourne Legacy,” “Du­plic­ity” and “Michael Clay­ton”).

Of the plot, I re­veal noth­ing save for what al­ready has been pre­sented in trail­ers: The Em­pire has con­structed the ul­ti­mate dooms­day weapon to smash the fledg­ling Rebel Al­liance, and it’s up to the forces of good to steal the blue­prints and de­stroy the Death Star be­fore it de­stroys all hope — “new” or oth­er­wise.

For this mis­sion, Rebel leader Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) tasks young petty crim­i­nal Jyn Erso (Felic­ity Jones) for rea­sons that later be­come ap­par­ent.

Miss Jones does her best to im­bue Jyn with spunk and in­di­vid­u­al­ity — and ku­dos to the film­mak­ers for once again em­ploy­ing a fe­male lead. But Jyn is less de­fined and, there­fore, far less in­ter­est­ing than hero Rey (Daisy Ri­d­ley) in last year’s “The Force Awak­ens.” Giv­ing a pro­tag­o­nist a par­tic­u­lar gen­der is far less im­por­tant than cre­at­ing a mem­o­rable char­ac­ter with a solid backstory. Though Jyn has a past that mo­ti­vates her ac­tions, she never rises above the script’s re­quire­ments for her.

A mot­ley crew of un­de­sir­ables rounds out Jyn’s team, none of whom is de­tailed much beyond plot points. The most in­ter­est­ing is the friendly droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), who, like HAL-9000 in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” is as hu­man as the hu­mans.

I wish the cast’s most prom­i­nent Asian actor were not a martial arts mas­ter, al­beit a blind one (writer-di­rec­tor Takeshi Ki­tano cov­ered this ground in “The Blind Swords­man: Za­to­ichi” 13 years ago). But when you sign in­ter­na­tional but­t­kicker Don­nie Yen (“Kung Fu Killer,” “Ip Man”) for the part, you might as well use him for such, I sup­pose.

How­ever, Mr. Yen el­e­vates what could have been a thank­less, stereo­typ­i­cal role into one of the more in­trigu­ing of “Rogue One”’s rogue’s gallery, por­tray­ing a semi-as­cetic whose be­lief in the Force may be unequal to his abil­i­ties to use it. His is the most well-rounded char­ac­ter and per­for­mance.

Be­cause “Rogue One” is a pre­quel to “A New Hope,” the screen­play pains it­self with ty­ing ev­ery­thing to films in the saga we al­ready know so well, re­plac­ing mys­tery with fan ser­vice. With Episodes VIII and IX forth­com­ing to fur­ther the canon, this would have been the right time to ex­per­i­ment. Per­haps, with a team-mis­sion-ori­ented sto­ry­line like this, go for a hy­brid heist-in-space flick with in­ter­ga­lac­tic im­pli­ca­tions — a cross be­tween Jack Ryan and “Ocean’s 11” but set against the back­drop of Rebels and Im­pe­ri­als.

Alas, “Rogue One” goes for turf much well­trod, in­clud­ing an overly elab­o­rate, si­mul­ta­ne­ous bat­tle in space and on terra firma we’ve seen in ear­lier vis­its to that galaxy far, far away.

This is war, af­ter all, so Mr. Ed­wards and his army of CGI artists stage spec­tac­u­lar ac­tion scenes in space and on planets, even if the screen gets jammed at some points with too much go­ing on for com­pre­hen­sion. Much will be de­bated in the weeks ahead about “Rogue One”’s sin­gle most con­tro­ver­sial feat of com­puter en­gi­neer­ing in re­viv­ing a fa­mil­iar char­ac­ter in an eerily un­set­tling way, in what I can only con­jec­ture is an at­tempt at homage but one that gives chills for all the wrong rea­sons.

Homages also are du­ti­fully spoon-fed to the au­di­ence in un­sub­tle ref­er­ences to the other films, the most wel­come of which is the brief re­turn of Darth Vader, thank­fully still voiced by James Earl Jones, whose basso pro­fundo con­tin­ues to in­duce more dread of the Sith lord than Vader’s ne­far­i­ous use of the Dark Side — which, when it does hap­pen in “Rogue,” will make you sit up much straighter in your seat.

“Star Wars” is one of the planet’s best-known brands, and with Dis­ney now the owner of ev­ery bit of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty of George Lucas’ uni­verse, it will likely be decades be­fore the Mouse House runs out of spinoffs. One bit of ad­vice for fu­ture ef­forts by way of par­rot­ing the late Steve Jobs: Se­ri­ously, next time, think dif­fer­ent.

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