After forking out over $4 billion for Lucasfilm in 2012, Disney is determined to gets its money’s worth. Rogue One isn’t a sequel to last year’s Star Wars: A Force Awakens, but a standalone spin-off set directly before the events of George Lucas’s iconic 1977 original, Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. It’s also a far more interesting film than JJ Abrams’ sweetly nostalgic 2015 reboot.
The initially convoluted plot follows tough loner Jyn Erso (The Theory Of Everything‘s Felicity Jones) as she embarks on a treacherous intel expedition with a charismatic Rebel Captain, Cassion Andor (Y tu mamá también‘s Diego Luna), and a motley crew of Rebel Alliance soldiers. Jyn’s estranged father Galen Erso (Hannibal‘s Mads Mikkelsen) has designed an epic weapon called the Death Star for the Rebel Alliance’s archenemies, the Empire, but she’s convinced he deliberately included a fatal flaw. If she can track down its design spec, the Rebel Alliance stand a chance of denting the Empire’s dominance.
Although there are neat nods to other films in the franchise, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story quickly establishes its own distinctive tone. In June it was reported that Disney had ordered reshoots to “lighten the mood”, but if so, the memo doesn’t seem to have reached director Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla). A dry-witted droid called K-2SO (voiced by Firefly‘s Alan Tudyk) offers flashes of light relief, but this a surprisingly grey and gritty film where key characters are constantly under threat and sometimes die. As producer and Lucasfilm boss Kathleen Kennedy has suggested, it’s essentially a war movie set in space.
The first half is somewhat bogged down by scene-setting but the second half offers an exhilarating rush of dazzling CGI action and high-stakes drama. Jones is terrific as Jyn, a convincing heroine whose gender is never an issue, but she’s flanked by an impressive supporting cast including Riz Ahmed’s endearing pilot, Bodhi Rook, and Donnie Yen’s self-possessed soldier, Chirrut Îmwe. Rogue One has its flaws, but it’s still a thrilling and ultimately emotional addition to the Star Wars canon.