The tenth Star Wars movie (if you count those two dire Ewok outings and leave out the animated efforts and the notorious The Star Wars Holiday Special), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story comes a year after the series-resurrecting seventh part, The Force Awakens.
It somewhat weirdly operates as a sort of spin-off and, effectively, Star Wars: Episode 3.9 Or So (because it falls well after the events of The Revenge Of The Sith, and shortly before A New Hope, which was originally just called plain old Star Wars back in 1977).
Warwickshire-born director Gareth Edwards (who leapt into this right after his successful shot at Americanising Godzilla) seemed a good choice to handle the material too, as he knows that all that CG spectacle also needs heart, wit, an actual script and credible actors. But the screenplay by prestige types Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy can’t quite get over the fact that there isn’t a lot of nail-biting suspense here. Because, well (no spoilers necessary), Episode IV wouldn’t happen if… well, you know.
Felicity Jones is more Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley (in the Alien films) than Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia as Jyn Erso, a fugitive rebel whose childhood trauma opens the film, as her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen, all spiritually-wracked) is taken away by the Empire’s nasty, uptight-looking Orson Krennic, as portrayed by Ben Mendelsohn, who realised a childhood dream by appearing. Galen is a sort of Oppenheimer figure who then plans the creation of the Death Star, which still has an ominous charge whenever we see it later on, even after all these years and despite the fact that we all know what happens to it (oops!).
Jyn, however, has spent her life on the run, and when she winds up in a prison that’s on the verge of destruction in a very striking scene, she must exploit the Death Star’s weakness by uniting with fellow insurgent (and Han Solo wannabe) Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), tactless Imperial droid K-2SO (amusingly voiced by Alan Tudyk), Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen doing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Jedi) and a coolly multicultural gang of rebels who’d surely upset Trump supporters.
Forest Whitaker also stomps about, overacting away, as falling-apart cyborg extremist Saw Gerrera, and several figures from the first run of films turn up in bits, including Darth Vader in a few scenes (still voiced by James Earl Jones) and one character unseen since A New Hope, who turns up several times, despite the actor who originally played him having died 22 years ago.
With strong work from Jones, Luna, Mikkelsen and Mendelsohn, a handful of exciting set-pieces, variations on John Williams’ legendary original musical score (but nothing new by him), script nods and winks to Star Wars continuity that’ll have fans in raptures, and plenty of expensive CG (surprise, surprise), this still doesn’t quite work as the epic it so wants to be, and ultimately winds up something of a disappointment that rather lacks, ahem, Force.
And if the Disney-fied Star Wars universe can keep chugging along with a supposedly forthcoming ‘young Han Solo’ outing (or even a potential ‘Chewbacca Origins’ tale) then why not a movie about Kylo Ren’s college days? A heart-warming, family-friendly study of a close-knit Jawa family? A Jabba the Hutt romantic comedy? The possibilities are endless!
Rated M. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in cinemas now.