Loveable Rogue is a five-star Star Wars: BRIAN VINER gives his verdict on one of the most hotly anticipated blockbusters of the year
Felicity Jones at the London premiere of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (12A)
The Force is not only well and truly with us again, it seems as if it’s never been gone. This time last year the first Star Wars film for a decade hit the silver screen with all the impetus you would expect of something arriving from a galaxy far, far away.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens duly became the third-highest grossing movie of all time. And this time next year the sequel comes out, so we can expect a further eruption of excitement, triggering another tsunami of Darth Vader shampoo and other ‘must-have’ merchandise.
That will be episode eight in the story. But in the meantime, here’s some jam in the sandwich, the very first Star Wars spin-off, a stand-alone tale outside the main narrative, but nonetheless acting as a kind of prequel to the original 1977 film.
A personal concern was that this might be a commercial ruse too far, but the good news is that Rogue One is absolutely terrific. British director Gareth Edwards, as befits the namesake of one of the greatest of all rugby players, has not dropped the ball.
Indeed, much as I enjoyed The Force Awakens, this is even more exhilarating, a thrilling yarn propelled by a top-notch cast operating on all cylinders.
The last film rocket-fuelled the career of Daisy Ridley, the Keira Knightley-lookalike whose eager performance rather evoked a thigh-slapping pantomime principal boy. This time, with the franchise again conspicuously making a woman the real star of the show, the lead is Felicity Jones, a more substantial actress already with an Oscar nomination behind her (for The Theory Of Everything).
She is tremendously sexy and plausibly feisty as Jyn Erso, separated as a child from her scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), who is forced to work for the Empire to develop ‘a super weapon’.
In the US, some Donald Trump loyalists are calling for a boycott of the film, suggesting that it packs an anti-Trump message. But if Rogue One shames or embarrasses anyone, it’s Tony Blair.
When you think your enemies have weapons of mass destruction, this film implies, it’s really not that hard to find out for sure.
The Armageddon option constructed here, as all Star Wars devotees will know, is the fearsome Death Star. But Galen has planted a fatal flaw deep within it, which Jyn and her fellow rebels – having commandeered their own ship, the titular Rogue One – must activate before it is uncovered by lead baddie Orson Krennic (a memorably sinister turn by Ben Mendelsohn).
Feisty: Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso with K-250 in the movie released on Friday
Beyond all this, a pleasingly old-fashioned action movie unfolds, which for all its sci-fi excesses owes something to Bond and even to classic Second World War films. Yet Star Wars nerds will hardly be able to stop themselves cheering.
There are nods aplenty to the other films, and rather more than a nod in the clever digital resurrection of Peter Cushing’s gauntly intimidating Grand Moff Tarkin, furiously crossing swords with his imperial colleague, Krennic.
Never mind swords, though, what about lightsabers? Yes, they’re back too, or at least one is, wielded briefly but mercilessly by none other than Darth Vader (Spencer Wilding).
Rogue One yields some splendid new characters, including Jyn’s notional ally Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), her galaxy-weary former mentor Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker) and Riz Ahmed’s imperial pilot Bodhi Rook, who nervously switches teams. There’s also a blind martial arts expert, Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), not-so-subtly programmed to appeal to audiences in the booming Chinese market.
But the venerable franchise didn’t get where it is today – almost $4.5 billion and counting – without feeding fans with the familiarity they crave.
So we get a delightfully sardonic droid, K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). And, right at the end, a one-liner from a youthful Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), cueing up, in that time-bending way, all the adventures of the George Lucas original.
A five-star treat.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opens across the UK on Friday.
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