The anticipation hasn't quite been on the same level as Force Awakens, so Rogue One was always going to be on the back foot. The decision to make it a standalone movie, free from the traditional constraints of the space opera franchise, seemed bold. But there's only one thing people care about: does Rogue One live up to, or trump, Force Awakens? Unfortunately it's not quite a black or white answer.
Jyn Erso (Jones) has been through a lot - the death of her mother and abduction of her father Galen (Mikkelsen) being a slight niggle in her colourful backstory. As it transpires, Galen has been forced to work on a little something called the Death Star, and the Rebels aren't happy about that. Jyn reluctantly works with the Rebels to find the plans, but only to prove her father's innocence.
The cast list is, frankly, spectacular and it pays off - each does enough to let their character shine. Whilst Felicity Jones was great as per usual, Donnie Yen (of Ip Man fame) was the standout - eminently quotable and a quality martial artsman, this was the perfect English speaking blockbuster debut he could have asked for. Alan Tudyk is also reliably hilarious as sarky droid K-2SO.
At the other end of the scale, some of the cast seem flat-footed or are failed by one-dimensional characters. Forest Whitaker gets a little too comfortable with the whole 'stark-raving mad' persona of Saw Gerrera (I'm thinking Nick Cage territory) and baddie Ben Mendelsohn just didn't convince as Director Krennic - compare him to Peter 'back from the dead' Cushing or Darth Vader, it's a different league of villainy. Speaking of Vader, although he doesn't feature prominently the little footage we get is ominous and, when the fighting kicks off, frightening. You'll never see him more devastating than in Rogue One.
Now for the lowdown. Personally, Force Awakens was consistently above average - there was never a dull moment, but the action wasn't as exhilarating as it could have been. Meanwhile, Rogue One was content with being a beautiful mess - one moment a Star Wars love letter, the next an anti-climatic dead end. The winning card, however, is the action, perhaps improved by the work of Yen but also by the CGI work for the space dogfights, which are choreographed to perfection. Full marks to CGI whizzkid/director Gareth Edwards.
There are a couple of shortcomings with regards to the plot, namely the fact that both the beginning and end of the film are God awful. The opening 45 minutes is a loveless montage that slowly draws the characters together. It makes me wonder whether this mess could have been saved with the legendary opening crawl? Then the end... without giving too much away, I'll say 'it's not graceful'. Undignified deaths, a lack of closure - it's very muddled about what it wants and comes off as rushed. The news that the reshoots earlier this year drastically altered the ending makes it more contentious. However, the nods to previous instalments in the franchise were well timed nostalgia-bombs, enough to make any fan giddy with excitement.
Film as a Film - 3 / Target Audience - 4 / General Audience - 3
Rogue One is in cinemas now
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