Director Gareth Edwards
Starring Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed
Released 15th December 2016
If it’s Christmas, it must be Star Wars. It started last year with The Force Awakens, Episode VIII is due at the same time next year and Episode IX scheduled for 2019. After that …… well, Disney are bound to have another episode in store. With this franchise, they simply can’t fail.
And they certainly haven’t with Rogue One:A Star Wars Story, a standalone story set in the time just before the very first film. In a galaxy far, far away, the power of The Empire is unstoppable and the planet-crushing Death Star is being developed by scientist Galen (Mads Mikkelsen). He’s doing it under duress, having been captured by the scheming Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). At the same time, after a spell in a prison camp, his daughter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has come looking for him and joins forces with The Rebellion, who are desperately trying to thwart The Empire’s plans. And, when they discover the location of the plans for The Death Star, Jyn leads a breakaway group to find them so they can stop it in its tracks.
You’ll have picked up that the cast has a very international flavour: a Brit, a Dane and an Aussie for starters, and there’s also a Mexican (Diego Luna as Jyn’s right hand man, Cassian Andor), a Chinese (martial arts superstar Donnie Yen, as the human embodiment of The Force, the blind Chirrut Imwe) and an American (Forest Whitaker as the most extreme of The Rebellion leaders, Saw Gerrera). Rumours abound regarding cameos and there are several, but I’m not saying who. Suffice to say, at least one of them caused a few gasps in the audience when I saw the film.
Last year, much of the anticipation surrounding The Force Awakens was to do with how the film would fare after being away from cinemas for ten years. As it was, the fans got the film they wanted and their memories were treated with respect. This time round, stories of extensive re-shoots of Rogue One created anxiety rather than raising expectations. Would this one-off fall flat?
Not on your light sabre! Superlatives have been showered on the film to such an extent that I think they’ve all been used up. Whichever ones I go for have inevitably been used elsewhere. But some of the action sequences – correction, the final battle sequence, which lasts for most of the second half of the film – are genuinely eye popping. But what makes them memorable is that they’re not all about shooting Stormtroopers and destroying aircraft. There’s an emotional pull that goes with the David and Goliath nature of the battle and our investment in the main characters from The Rebellion. So you’re not just getting stuck into some superior, full throttle action, you’re also hoping against hope that the underdog heroes come through.
The Force Awakens had a female lead in the feisty Rey (Daisy Ridley). Rogue One has Jyn, who’s not just spirited but a born survivor and leader, a strong, inspirational figure and Felicity Jones is a great choice in the role, combining strength with vulnerability. It’s impossible not to buy into her character. Her opposite number, the Machiavellian Orson Krennic, is played with relish by Ben Mendelsohn, enjoying from on high the destruction of planets on his orders. He pronounces them “beautiful” and he’s right – but his interpretation of the word is different to ours.
And Star Wars wouldn’t be Star Wars without a droid. This time it’s the lanky K-2S0 (voiced by Alan Tudyk, who also provides the squawking tones of HeiHei in Moana), who towers over everybody but is constructed in such a way that he looks decidedly round shouldered. Prickly, pessimistic and with a nice line in irony , he could easily be the first cousin of Marvin, The Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, although he probably doesn’t have a brain the size of a planet. But, despite being a robot, he has character and loyalty, and you’d want him on your side when the chips are down.
In its new Disney incarnation, the Star Wars franchise is going from strength to strength. While previous episodes were more like space westerns, this is a good, old fashioned war film in outer space and has everything you would expect – the spectacle, the action and the emotion. As for the ending …… well, you wouldn’t expect me to tell you, would you? But the film itself is definitely a blast!
Rogue One:A Star Wars Story is released in cinemas on Thursday, 15 December and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 15 December.