Star Wars fans who’ve been following the rumours about Rogue One’s allegedly troubled production can breathe a sigh of relief. This stand-alone entry in the rapidly expanding saga, set immediately before the events of A New Hope, is immeasurably better than any of George Lucas’ (admittedly risible) prequels, and is easily the best action blockbuster of 2016. Felicity Jones stars as plucky heroine Jyn Erso, who leads a rag-tag bunch of rebels to steal the plans for the Galactic Empire’s Death Star. We all know that said plans will ultimately fall into the hands of Carrie Fisher’s cinnamon bun-haired Princess Leia, but from the outset it’s clear that this is a mission likely to necessitate a hefty body count, so the stakes remain high. Rogue One’s ominous tone is sure to go down a storm with the legions of fans who rank The Empire Strikes Back as their favourite instalment. Meanwhile director Gareth Edwards has done a commendable job of crafting a visual landscape that feels completely of a piece with the 1977 original, yet which also provides enough state-of-the-art spectacle to satiate modern audiences raised on a more hyperactive brand of blockbuster. Credit is also due for the restrained use of callbacks to earlier films. Whereas last year’s The Force Awakens was an exercise in pure nostalgia, this stands more confidently on its own merits, and the small amount of shameless fan service we do get is more likely to provoke fist pumps of joy rather than cynical groans.
And yet, for all it does right, I’ve barely given it a second thought in days since I watched it. Like the majority of Disney’s Marvel output, it offers two hours of expertly-crafted popcorn entertainment, but remains a strangely hollow and forgettable experience. While A Force Awakens played it too safe in narrative terms, its colourful cast of characters, both old and new, gave you plenty to root for. Here, a laudably diverse ensemble of established and rising stars, including Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed and Donnie Yen, simply aren’t given a chance to make their mark – everything here is in service to the action. And then there’s the slight sinking feeling that accompanies the realisation that we’ll be getting another of these films every year until they stop making money, and that isn’t likely to happen any time soon. But temper your expectations accordingly, and you’ll find more than enough fleeting excitement to tide you over until next December’s Episode VIII.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story | Director Gareth Edwards (USA 2016) with Felicity Jones, Diego Luna. Starts December 15
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