Last year JJ Abrams gave us the soft reboot to the Star Wars universe. It got the ball rolling for Disney and now we get the first of the spin-off movies. It comes in the form of Rogue One, a true prequel to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, as it tells the story of how the Death Star plans ended up in the hands of the rebels.
Felicity Jones plays Jyn (picture a diluted Rey). She isn’t force sensitive and has daddy issues like Luke Skywalker. A lot like Luke. It seems, to her, for some unknown reason, daddy has turned to the bad side. But we see at the start of the movie, he is reluctantly dragged away by the Empire to finish his work on the Death Star.
She has to go rogue (excuse the pun) as a kid, and is saved by an extreme rebel, Saw Gerrera. This character is played by the usually excellent Forest Whitaker. He isn’t so great here, it’s as if he took his (good) eye off the ball. The performance is somewhere between campy, empty, exaggerated.
Her father (like Luke’s, remember) is on a path to redemption and she’s the tool. TV’s Hannibal Mads Mikkelsen plays the role, he leaks a way for the rebels to get the blueprints to the Death Star and points them in the right direction when it comes to faults.
You know that major gripe about a super-space station being so vulnerable to what looks like a stupid oversight? Well, that is explained away: the designer put it there on purpose.
Mads as Galen Erso comes with only one complaint – we don’t get to see enough of him.
What begins as a darker Star Wars film, can’t help slip into a lighter version. In the final moments, I had to remind myself I wasn’t watching Star Trek Beyond. That’s right, the adult Star Wars film turns into the friendliest sci-fi of the summer.
It still manages to feel like it belongs with the original trilogy (blue milk, anyone?) and we do get some throwbacks. Peter Cushing is raised from the dead via CGI to resume his role as Grand Moff Tarkin. It’s a decent effort in terms of effects but he lacks the humanity, and the supreme acting ability, of the long-deceased legend.
He’s not bossing Lord Vader around this time, but Ben Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic, who proves to be a worthy central, if slightly inept, villain.
Darth is back, in a few fleeting scenes. Vader now struts around like a catwalk model. Whoever says the fear factor has returned never appreciated seeing him for the first time before Lucas destroyed his mystique.
A hint of force sensitive individuals comes in the form of Chirrut Îmwe. He is a blind man that uses the force to be as effective as any fighter on screen. And fair play to Disney, they could have had him brandishing a light sabre in the final third but resisted. It means the idea that the Jedi are myth in A New Hope still rings true.
NB, George Lucas: This is how you avoid plot holes.
We know the ending, otherwise there’d be no A New Hope. How we get there is engaging. And like Star Trek Beyond, you’ll not think about it a few months from now.
It could be telling that it’s not had quite the same push as The Force Awakens. They’ve let this one out on its own merits, to find momentum under its own steam. A movie of two halves will leave all fans 50% satisfied.
(It’s touching, in light of recent events, that the final shot is a CGI Carrie Fisher as the original Princess Leia. May the Force be with her, always.)