IT’S not until those first words appear across the screen, in blue and black, that its hits you – you are, in fact, watching a second Star Wars movie in as many years.
How time has flown since 2015’s The Force Awakens. Some condemned Disney’s eagerness to release another Star Wars movie so soon (and each consecutive year, from the looks of things), anticipating a rush that would damage the franchise after the critical success of JJ Abram’s Episode VII.
When word of production troubles and reshoots hit the Internet, many fans’ worst fears appeared to be confirmed. Thankfully, any worries about Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Cert 12A, 133 mins) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are entirely unwarranted.
Director Gareth Edwards has produced a spectacular, satisfying and genuinely moving Star Wars experience – its existence justified with a style and tone that is refreshingly different, yet so completely and perfectly Star Wars.
Rogue One’s eagerness to separate itself from the main series is rigidly clear from the very beginning – for the first time, a Star Wars movie starts proceedings without the signature text ‘crawl’, or John Williams’ beloved theme music.
Furthermore, the events of the opening sequence are far darker than any the series has previously offered.
Prior to the events of A New Hope, the newly formed Galactic Empire is working on a space station capable of destroying entire planets – even the most casual viewer should recognise the infamous Death Star.
In response, a group of unlikely heroes, led by the young Jyn Orso (Felicity Jones), work together to steal the plans to the superweapon and deliver them to the Rebel Alliance.
Almost any Star Wars fan will have a rough idea going in to Rogue One of how events are going to transpire – it is a prequel, after all. Consequently, Rogue One has an inherent, inevitable sense of tragedy.
Accordingly, the story’s power lies in its characters and how they develop, rather than the narrative itself.
When we first meet her, Jyn is a different kind of Star Wars hero: brooding, broken and apathetic, she’s a far cry from the wide-eyed optimism of Luke, Finn, Rey or – dare I say it – the young Anakin Skywalker.
Those central themes throughout the franchise – sacrifice and hope – take a while to manifest in this story’s hero, but her arc, when it develops, feels completely natural.
The rest of the courageous team is played with undeniably Star War-sy heartfelt enthusiasm by Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen, with Alan Tudyk as occasional comic relief, droid K-2SO.
Ben Mendelsohn is delightfully nasty as Orson Krennic, the director of the Death Star programme and Rogue One’s key villain.
The cast of characters packs a number of wonderful, fan-targeted surprises, both big and small.
Visually, Rogue One is a special effects masterpiece and throws plenty of nods to the series’ past and future. The spot-on 1970s Sci-Fi aesthetic extends from sets and vehicles to haircuts and facial hair. Watching a real x-wing dogfight, complete with cockpit conversations and call signs, is a wonderful, nostalgic thrill.
To point out Rogue One’s later narrative missteps would be to spoil the film entirely. However, these issues are more so inevitabilities, given the overall storyline, and they are rendered almost insignificant by the film’s spectacular, action-packed climax.
While maintaining an indeterminate, yet thoroughly franchise-perfect sensation, Rogue One sets itself apart from instalments gone by.
Accordingly, in a post-Force Awakens world of entertainment, Rogue One gives us a genuine reason to eagerly anticipate a new Star Wars movie every year.