14/12/2016 07:00 GMT | Updated 15/12/2017 05:12 GMT

'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' Review: Spirited Stand-Alone Keeps It In The Family

Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP


Ever since the dark era of the prequels, it is a brave 'Star Wars' fan who heads to the cinema for the next episode, crossing everything that this latest venture into the new does nothing to undermine the old.

They need not fear. Just as JJ Abrams rewarded their faith with his audacious 'The Force Awakens', so director Gareth Edwards - a fanboy who this time only six short years ago was cutting films in his bedroom - has been given the keys to the galaxy, and has steered the ship safely into port.

'Rogue One' is the first in the 'Star Wars Anthology Series', designed to stand-alone, and not cross over with the sequel trilogy. Inevitably, however, it satisfyingly fills (some of) the gap between the last prequel and the very first 'Star Wars'.

Following the enforced departure of her scientist father Galen Erso (a soulful Mads Mikkelsen) to assist the Empire with its plans for the Death Star, his daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to get hold of the design codes, and thereby prevent inter-galactic apocalypse. Straightforward, right?

There is a convincing amount of peril in all this, an inevitable amount of exposition balanced by an absorbing catalogue of battle scenes. If you ever wondered how the Rebel fighters filled their time while Ben Kenobi, Luke and co were thrashing out their family issues, you will feel properly informed.

There is nothing that jars (or worse, jar jars) in this spectacle. On the contrary, there are enough references, both visual and spoken to keep a long time fan very happy, sometimes gasping, occasionally applauding.

For all its special effects - even those surely intended to look like the very best 1977 has to offer? - 'Rogue One' enjoys the same metaphysical themes that have kept 'Star Wars' fans hooked for four decades. Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso - tousled, abandoned, defiant - is as determined as Daisy Ridley's Rey, if a little bit more heartbroken - and her cry of 'Father!' halfway through the film ricochets across the galaxy to glue this story to the central narrative of this universe, and keep millions of fans happy while we wait for the next chapter in the trilogy proper.

'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' goes on nationwide release from Thursday 15 December.