Review – May the Force, Yadda-Yadda-Yadda (“Rogue One”)

Star Wars. There isn’t a man, woman, or child on this great big blue marble that doesn’t know the story or the characters. BUT, what about the backstory of how the Death Star was blown up or where the plans came from to do it? Hmmmm? Ever wonder about that? Well, Disney is banking on that simple question and your love of the genre to answer it.

We start with the tragic story of former Imperial research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) and his family who are in hiding from the Imperial bad guys. Galen really doesn’t want to work on the Death Star’s completion, but Imperial Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) kills Galen’s wife and takes the scientist by force. Secretly leaving behind his little daughter, Jyn, she is taken to safety by Rebel Clone Leader, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Thirteen years later, Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) smuggles a holographic message from Galen for the Rebel Alliance to Gerrera on the planet Jedha. An adult and criminal Jyn (Felicity Jones) is brought to Gerrera by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Rebel Alliance intelligence officer, with plans on tracking down and killing her father. At Gerrera’s hideaway, she also meets Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) a blind Chinese monk and follower in the Force and his buddy, Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a trigger-happy mercenary with a lazer Gatling gun. There’s also K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), Andor’s reconditioned sarcastic Imperial droid who delivers the best lines.

But there’s some BIG troubles on the way! Just as Jyn learns (via hologram) that the Death Star has a weakness and that the plans are the key to its destruction, Krennic decides to test the Death Star on Jedha to impress Grand Moff Tarkin (an awesome CGI’d Peter Cushing, who passed away in 1994). Escaping with the info, they all rush to Yavin, the Rebel Alliance home planet to bring the good news, but their efforts are met with great opposition. In order to get the Death Star plans, a suicide mission to the Imperial home planet of Scarif is needed; but who’s crazy enough to go? Yup! Jyn and her cronies plus a handful of other loonies.

The ‘storming-the-beaches-at-Normandy’ style action in the third act is all nail-biting action, with the ground troops trying to buy Jyn and friends enough time to find the plans and get away to safety. The rest of the story… well… just watch the original 1977 Star Wars for that! (Hint: yeah, they get away with it). With director Gareth Edwards at the helm, many of your old Star Wars universe friends are back in either delicious little cameos or have been recreated through the miracle of CGI. And Edwards (who gave us the terrific 2014 Godzilla reboot) stuck to the J.J. Abrams playbook of old-school film-making: practical effects and very little CG SPFX! Bravo!

Screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy are also old-hats at screenwriting and also  went old-school, weaving a WW2 spin with the Rebellion/Imperial world. The plot is very much a gritty spy story, giving it more gravitas than The Force Awakens and more The Dirty Dozen, The Magnificent Seven, or Where Eagles Dare. Acting is strong all around, with Jones nicely carrying the movie as the reluctant hero, surrounded by her diverse crew. French, Chinese, Spanish, Pakistani, and more, this is a smorgasbord of cultural actors and each brings their unique talents to the screen. Watch for Yen’s outstanding martial arts; they’re amazing against the Stormtroopers.

Tricky as it was to come up with a back-story to one of the most iconic tales out there, this movie does it with a great deal of humor, a plot that isn’t condescending or silly, and several call-backs to the original movie, filling in the gaps and making this movie richly satisfying for Star Wars fans.

Which Way To The Front? (1970)

A rag-tag group of misfits trying to end a war on their own by blowing something (or someone) up at the end? Sure, but why not have funnyman Jerry Lewis take a crack at it? One of the very last movies that Lewis ever made that was this pure disaster wannabe comedy that tried SO hard to be funny and only occasionally met that criteria.Lewis stars, directs, and co-wrote this ridiculously outrageous dumb movie about millionaire industrialist Brendan Byers III (Lewis) who desperately wants to help with the war effort (it’s supposed to be circa WW2, but you’d swear it looks just like the swingin’ 60’s), but is rejected because he’s 4-F. Upset, he commiserates with other 4-F’s like him: washed-up stand-up comedian Sid Hackle (Jan Murray), who owes big $$ to the mob, Peter Bland (Steve Franken) who is a timid little hen-pecked man, and Terry Love (Dack Rambo) who has a wife AND a pregnant girlfriend!

Undaunted, Byers and his lanky English butler Finkel (John Wood), decide they will form a group of their own and go to Italy where the U.S. and Germany has reached a stalemate blockade. They recruit a former Japanese general (Trek‘s George Takei) and mob boss (Robert Middleton) to train them; they also have their own uniforms… blue and orange jumpsuits that look like rejects from the old Thunderbirds Are Go! TV puppet show. They hop on Byers’ yacht and infiltrate the Army brass with sheer B.S. and double-talk, outsmarting General Buck (Harold J. Stone).

Anyway, they learn the main German officer they need to kidnap and replace is Field Marshal Erik Kessilring who, by a wonderful coincidence, looks exactly like Byers, except for a weird walk and a high-pitched, loud, and grating-on-your-nerves voice! How about that! After the guys pull the ol’ switcheroo, Byers impersonates Kessilring and manages to get the Germans to retreat from their blockade, causing the U.S. to sweep in and win. BUT! Kessling’s trusted aid, Schroeder (famous ventriloquist Paul Winchell) tells him that he has a meeting with Hitler (Sidney Miller).

It turns out that Kesselring is part of a secret plan to kill Hitler (who’s about as goofy as they come) and Byers is successful, but he and his team are captured and (here’s where the movie gets very odd) they escape (??) and go to Japan to thwart their plans on Pearl Harbor, in the movies most racist scene ever. Good thing it’s the last scene, too! In the history of Jerry Lewis films, this was quite possibly his worst; a terrible script that consisted of individual comedic scenes strung together to form a movie. Even Lewis’ usual brilliant direction is off; almost every scene ends with a “ha-ha” freeze-frame or a swipe to the next scene. It was like he wasn’t even trying.

And all the other actors were just about the same as well; they weren’t really trying either, with some exceptions. This was right before Lewis made THE most controversial film of his career, The Day The Clown Cried, about a circus clown sent to a German concentration camp. It has only been seen a few people, and Lewis himself vows that no one will ever see it! However, you can see clips of it on YouTube.

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