Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whittaker.
by Michael Upton
AFTER The Force Awakens raised the bar last Christmas, the latest instalment in the Star Wars saga represents a welcome but ultimately less satisfying addition to the series.
Pitched between parts III and IV (respectively the last of the prequels and the first of the films to be released), Rogue One sets up the scenario facing the Rebel Alliance at the start of Episode IV: A New Hope - ie the development of the heinous Death Star and the Alliance’s pursuit of vital intelligence about the mega-weapon's Achilles Heel.
If none of this makes any sense, either prepare to be confused or go back and watch the previous episodes (on second thoughts, don’t bother with Eps I and II).
At the heart of what is effectively Ep III.ii is Jyn Erso, a petty criminal (or rogue, if you like) whose chequered back-story owes much to her long-unseen father’s employment as an albeit-reluctant Imperial weapons engineer and her mother’s execution by the Empire when young Jyn was a little girl.
Busted out of prison by the rebels, the steely-eyed, morally ambivalent Jyn (Felicity Jones) is offered a deal - her freedom in return for helping the Alliance, in the form of pragmatic rebel agent Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and wisecracking droid K2SO, get close to reclusive rebel veteran Saw Gerrera (a scraggly-bearded Forest Whittaker) in the hope of uncovering the key to unlocking the Death Star’s weakness.
Off we go on a classic Odyssey which takes in some beautifully-constructed locations, a clutch of awe-inspiring set pieces — not least when the Death Star is at its most fiendishly, genocidally, destructive — appearances by a few old Star Wars favourites and a relentless, extended showdown between the Imperial garrison and a rag-tag band of rebels.
It’s all slickly produced and sharply directed, not to mention featuring some jaw-dropping sequences, but Jyn — perhaps due to her more ambivalent, complex character — is a less charismatic and purposeful figure than The Force Awakens’ Rey and hence not so easy to root for.
That’s no slur on Jones, though, who gives girls (and boys) another welcome action heroine to inspire them and throws herself (at times literally) into a thornier role than the likeable English roses who have gone before.
It’s a solid turn, if not a star-making one, but she is let down by a script which gives Jyn little chance to shine or inspire, the action highlights and heroic moments being largely shared with other figures.
And neither Jyn or Luna’s Andor, the closest this episode comes to a Han Solo, bring the humour or screen presence of Harrison Ford’s so-beloved pilot.
The film in general is darker in tone and shorter on smiles than is typical of the series — as it is, the best lines go to the third member of their crew, K2SO.
Charismatic blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) make an impression, but it’s hard to see either of the two – or their brothers and sister in arms inspiring devotion comparable to a Han, Luke or Leia.
The Empire, meanwhile, is on good scenery-chewing form, Ben Mendelsohn’s weapons director Orson Krennic filling the pantomime villain role and Guy Henry bringing a ghoulish menace to his boss, Grand Moff Tarkin.
A cynic would say Rogue One is a space-filler to keep the fans happy while we all wait for Episode VIII, but it’s not without its merits, putting on screen plenty of flash and bang if not the emotional wallop of Episodes IV to VII.
Not quite a festive feast perhaps, but it’s a decent between-meals snack to hold hunger for Star Wars thrills at bay until the saga returns next year.
And the final sequence featuring cinema’s best lightsaber-wielding baddie keeps the thrills coming right up to the final shot.