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Forest Whitaker brings creepy intensity to ‘Star Wars’ spinoff

December 16, 2016

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” has brought some new faces into the mix in what is billed as the first spinoff movie for a franchise that began in 1977 and is a welcomed but awkward break from the formula.

The most noticeable newbie is veteran actor Forest Whitaker, whose most recent science-fiction role was as Colonel Weber in “Arrival.” In his “Star Wars” outing, Whitaker plays Saw Gerrera, a leading member of the Onderon rebels.

But beware, this film, which opens at theaters nationwide on Friday, is top-heavy with characters, so it may be challenging for the casual viewer to sort them all out.

The action begins with young Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her parents, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) and Lyra Erso (Valene Kane) suddenly in a panic.

“Gather your things! It’s time!” her mother says.

The family attempts to escape, but ultimately, Jyn sees her mother shot dead before her eyes and and her father taken captive. The little girl hides in an underground bunker and is eventually rescued by Saw Gerrera.

“My child, come! We have a long road ahead of us,” the Whitaker’s character says.

Years later, Jyn, now a tough Rebellion soldier and criminal, ends up in a labor camp guarded by Storm Troopers, but once again, is rescued.

Now an Imperial collaborator of weapons development, Jyn receives her biggest challenge when the powerful Sen. Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly) sends her out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star, the Empire’s ultimate weapon of destruction.

Armed with some crucial information, she gathers an unlikely band of rebels along the way, including the clever Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), his gargantuan co-pilot, a droid named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) as well as Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), who can best be described as a blind ninja. With a host of unlikely heroes, who are willing to die for the cause, Jyn fearlessly faces a seemingly impossible task.

As Jyn, Felicity Jones shows a lot of grit, if not much charisma in this dark installment of the “Star Wars” saga. She has a complicated relationship with Gerrera, to whom she owes her life, yet harbors some resentment.

Whitaker, who can be a wonderful character actor when called upon, brings a creepy intensity to his role. Donnie Yen also gives a standout performance as the dangerous, yet spiritual warrior Chirrut Imwe.

In the true “Star Wars” tradition, this action-packed film, with cinematography by Greg Fraser, is visually stunning, and while I’m sure that hardcore fans of the franchise will come out in force (excuse the pun) for “Rogue One,” as a casual viewer, I found that George Lucas’ wit, whimsy and sense of humanity were missing from the movie.

The sarcastic K-2SO did have a few one-line zingers reminiscent of C3PO, who made a quick cameo appearance along with his sidekick, R2D2.

This spinoff to the “Star Wars” saga is directed by Gareth Edwards with a screenplay written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. The “all-new adventure” is based on characters created by Lucas.

While a bit complex, “Rogue One” is a fascinating family adventure for the holiday season. It will intrigue “Star Wars” purists while entertaining the masses. (Rated PG-13)

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