- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

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 butt-kicker 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 overly 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 well-trod, 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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