“I’m one with the Force, the Force is with me” is the repeated mantra of blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), and after this first major Star Wars spin-off movie it’s not just him who’s feeling the Force – you’ll feel it too.
This standalone film (we’ll forgot the two eighties Ewoks movies) is simply breathtaking as it does justice to the franchise that has been reinvigorated (with last year’s The Force Awakens) from Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, and if this is anything to go by then venturing a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away is going to be a truly compelling experience over the coming years – particularly with a Han Solo movie on the horizon to compliment the films that are part of the canon.
To a neutral you could argue the first half of Rogue One is a bit of a slow-burner (and slightly bleak in places) – even though it’s admittedly setting up the plot – but it’s the last half hour that makes this a must-see for any fan of the world’s most famous space opera.
A part of its genius is that it works on its own as a standalone sci-fi war flick, but also works as a commendable link between Revenge of the Sith (appearances from Jimmy Smits’ Bail Organa and references to Obi-Wan) and the original blockbuster A New Hope, with enough fist-pumping nods (without over-cooking it) that will put a smile on any fanboy’s face. And it also closes some glaring loopholes from previous films, like ‘how did the Empire not notice how the Death Star could be destroyed?’
The Rebellion’s Yavin 4 moon base, appearances by Red and Gold Squadron leaders, Luke’s assailants from the Cantina bar, a truly sensational computer-generated Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, and of course the hyped appearance from Vader (voiced again by James Earl Jones) – used in a minimalistic but effective way to make sure the film isn’t about HIM – all pay homage to the 1977 film that will have you grinning from ear-to-ear.
Particularly the final act, that ends literally before A New Hope starts.
And all that’s before talking about this well-conceived story which sees reluctant hero Jyn Erso (The Theory of Everything’s Oscar nominee Felicity Jones) – after the first hour covers her back story of her forced-to-work-for-the-Empire father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) and Forest Whitaker’s separatist Saw Gerrera (where the film is at its weakest) – lead a group of brave soldiers on a suicide mission to attain the plans for the Empire’s iconic super weapon the Death Star.
This rag-tag band of fighters include an eclectic mix of new characters – with a tough act to follow after the likes of Harrison Ford etc – who all distinctively bring something intriguing to the party.
Diego Luna’s rebel spy Cassian Andor, Riz Ahmed’s defected Imperial pilot Bodhi and Wen Jiang’s lethally heavy-weaponed Baze Malbus all shine, but it’s Yen’s Chirrut and the Alan Tudyk-voiced reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO – who brings the main strand of humour with his movie-stealing one-liners – who are the really stand-out protagonists, along with an excellent turn by the sniffling villain of the piece, Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Krennic.
It will definitely split audiences on whether it’s better than The Force Awakens – it’s about on a par, maybe even a shade superior – depending on whether they prefer the slightly lighter tone of JJ Abrams blockbuster, or this darker noteworthy turn, more akin to The Empire Strikes Back, from Godzilla director Gareth Edwards (who admittedly had a bit of late help from Bourne scribe Tony Gilroy).
The finale and the climactic battle on the palm-treed planet of Scarif – which sees AT-AT’s return and a deadlier Stormtrooper, known as Chrome Troopers, make their significant bow – undoubtedly make it worth the admission price alone, and needs to be seen if you’re a fan in any way shape or form.
This all makes Rogue One – now arguably my favourite movie of the year (with a gleeful touch of bias) – a truly sensational addition to franchise lore, which can easily be watched between ROTS and ANH to earn the worthy tag of Star Wars 3.5.
Gavin Miller [youtube id=”sC9abcLLQpI” width=”600″ height=”350″]
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Jimmy Smits, Alistair Petrie, Genevieve O’reilly, Valene Kane, Beau Gadson, Ben Daniels, Duncan Pow, Warwick Davis & The Voices Of Alan Tudyk, Stephen Stanton, Anthony Daniels & James Earl Jones
Running Time: 2 Hrs 14 Mins
Director: Gareth Edwards
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