What’s it about?
Back before Luke Skywalker ever picked up a lightsaber, young Jyn Erso sees her mother gunned down by the evil Empire.
Some 15 years later, she’s recruited by the Rebel Alliance to help rescue her scientist father, who has been designing a new super weapon — the Death Star.
Who’s in it?
Felicity Jones is our heroine Jyn, convincingly fearless but still recognisably human.
Her ragtag crew includes Diego Luna as hard-bitten rebel Cassian, Forest Whitaker as hard-bitten rebel Saw Gerrara and Jiang Wen as hard-bitten rebel Baze.
Offering some relief from all this grit is Donnie Yen as sort-of Jedi Chirrut and Alan Tudyk’s voice as smartarse droid K-2SO who, thank god, cracks a joke or three.
Mads Mikkelsen brings some Danish gravitas to his role as Jyn’s dad, but the real star here is Ben Mendelsohn, who relishes in his role as Ocker Empire baddy Krennic.
Why should I see it?
You were always going to see this film. It’s Star Wars.
More importantly, it’s Star Wars as the hardcore fans imagine it always was – dark, serious and gritty. What’s most remarkable about Rogue One is that it makes a significant genre shift, leaving behind the sword and sorcery of the previous films in favour of dour science fiction.
Director Gareth Edwards set out to make a war movie and he’s pretty much succeeded. The fight scenes are unusually brutal, with Stormtroopers being smashed into plastic shards or dismembered by dirty explosions. In terms of tone, it’s more The Dam Busters than Black Hawk Down, but the consequences of the franchise’s fierce battles have never been so acutely felt. Even the end, which we won’t discuss here, is surprisingly downbeat.
There’s a sense here that good guys and bad guys are far less defined that previously. For the first time, we’re led to the conclusion that maybe we (the audience) have more in common with the Empire than we’d like to admit.
At times, this genre shift risks losing whatever charisma Star Wars possesses. Certainly, it’s not until K-2SO enters the picture with its very first joke (about 20 minutes in) that it starts to feel like it really belongs to the same universe. But these bleak touches are softened by the warm glow of nostalgia.
Alongside some surprising familiar faces, the lovingly recreated sets and costumes of the 1977 film prove delightful. It’s good to see Disney take risks with the franchise, considering how slavishly last year’s revival clung to the original trilogy. On the evidence here, the universe feels sturdy enough to tell some very different types of stories. Which is just as well, since there are plenty to come in the years ahead.
On the other hand …
The characterisation is broad enough to sail a Death Star through the middle.
This is no real shift for the series, which has long traded on the starry charisma of leads such as Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, but we’re given very little reason to engage with these new characters.
The best war films manage to quickly distinguish their uniformed characters in a few script beats, but the writing here seems to mistake muddiness for complexity. By virtue of being pretty much the only woman in the film, Jyn stands out, but even some diverse casting can’t help the audience really nail down any of the characters on show.
Alan Tudyk does great work, but I’m not sure the droid really should be the most identifiable — and empathetic — character in a Star Wars film.
In five words or less.
More war, fewer stars.
FOUR STARS ★★★★
- Opens December 15
- Rated M
- 134 minutes