Or as many people are going to call it - Star Wars: Episode 3.5. It's pretty great. But before I talk about about it, I really want to stress that I'm going to be as spoiler-free as possible. There's a lot of fun stuff in this movie, and I really want people to experience that for themselves.
Okay, down to brass tacks. This movie takes places right before Episode 4, and it details how the Rebels ended up with the plans to the Death Star. What's that, you say? You haven't watched any of the previous Star Wars movies, and everything I've just written is just nonsense. Well, let's amend that.
The movie starts off with Mads Mikkelsen playing a farmer (Galen Urso), who's visited by representatives of the Empire. They want him to work on a weapon of mass destruction for them. Apparently he's a super-smart scientist, and has been in hiding. He sends his family off to safety, so the Empire can't use them as leverage against him. It doesn't go well. Fast-forward 15 years, and Galen's daughter, Jyn (as played by Felicity Jones), is forcibly recruited by the Rebels to find her father, and get information on the Death Star (that weapon of mass destruction). All of this leads her to become inspiration for a small group of followers who believe in her mission to help fight the tyranny of the Empire. And here's where the movie really shines.
Earlier in the year, there was a forgettable remake of The Magnificent Seven. This movie appropriates a lot of the same plot, but it does so in a way that succeeds where the Seven remake failed. It introduces characters slowly and deliberately. Each character becomes fully formed throughout the film (even the main bad guy). You have Jyn, who is on a quest to follow in her father's footsteps, but also trying to find him, so she can get some much needed closure. Then there's Diego Luna's Cassian - a daring rebel fighter who still has moments of humanity, even amidst the terrible decisions he has to make. And I can't forget about the reprogrammed Imperial Droid K-2SO. In, what could have been a very dark and dour film, K-2SO provides the much needed comic relief. And it all stems from his character. It's never forced, and that's an accomplishment. Riz Ahmed does a great job of taking what could have been a throwaway role of defecting Imperial pilot Bohdi Rook, and turning him into a character that you have real empathy for. And finally, there's the fantastic duo of Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang, as they portray a blind man (Jedi?), and his best friend/protector. This magnificent six are given so much room to grow as characters, that when all the action really starts to come, we have become fully invested in them.
And that action. For me, the last forty minutes were so involving and breathtaking, that I barely breathed. We all know what's going to happen. But we don't know how. I still remember watching Return of the Jedi and being stunned by all the space ships doing battle. This movie takes all of that and leaves it in the dust. When a squadron of tie fighters fly out of a hanger, you can do nothing but be both amazed and terrified for the Rebels that have to face them.
This reminds me of an older style of movie, because of all the emphasis on the characters. And also, because of its reliance on practical effects. Don't get me wrong, there's a ton of digital effects (especially during scenes that I don't want to talk about), but when the movie creates alien creatures that are people in costume, it just feels comforting. And it makes things seem more real. Like real characters are sacrificing themselves for the greater good.
So, yeah, I liked it. It has heart, great characterization, and treats aplenty for those of you who have actually seen any of the six movies that have come before. It's worth avoiding the spoilers and seeing it as soon as possible.
***1/2 (maybe even ****)