Between 1999 and 2005, George Lucas attempted to give us a trilogy of prequels (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith) that were tied into the main saga of Star Wars that he originally created. The end results were nothing short of disasters on arrival, tarnishing the franchise’s timeless legacy and giving it a bad name in the process. With Lucas out of the picture and Disney stepping in, they reignited the franchise with last year’s outstanding The Force Awakens, the first of a sequel trilogy with the next instalment arriving next year. Disney also announced that an Anthology Saga would also be coming soon, which would attempt to fill in the backstory of the originals and expand the world of Star Wars, with Rogue One the first of those projects. This was a bold, risky move on Disney’s part, and the end result is something truly special. In fact, this is everything the prequel trilogy should’ve been and so much more.

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This is perhaps the riskiest, bravest and most daring Star Wars has been yet, being incredibly grounded and playing out like a war movie. Despite the fact that it is relatively small-scale, as it involves this rebel team going after the plans for the Death Star, it still feels like the stakes are incredibly high. You might find yourself tensing up during the most intense of action sequences, yet you’ll no doubt squeal in delight when certain sequences and characters come into play. After tackling films that ranged from low budgets to big budgets with movies like Monsters and Godzilla, Gareth Edwards does a great job of pulling off what was an ambitious feat, especially considering the fact that this movie faced reshoots a few months prior to its release. We’ve had movies like Fantastic Four and Suicide Squad that faced somewhat troubled production involving reshoots and it’s true the results were questionable at best, but here those initial doubts are put to rest as you can see no signs that this movie was scarred or meddled with in anyway.

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The action sequences in this film are astonishing, continuously escalating until it reaches its crescendo in the final act, which involves one of the best battles seen in cinema history. The special effects in this movie are some of the best CGI seen on film, whether it’s the outer space vistas, the realisation of certain planets or the recreation of certain iconic characters. With John Williams absent, the task of composing the music was originally supposed to be handled by Alexandre Desplat, but as a result of the reshoots messing up scheduling, Desplat left the project. Michael Giacchino would eventually take his place, and considering he had only four and a half weeks, he did end up creating a solid score that went well with the action and drama. True, he’s no John Williams, but he does a superb job of paying homage to what’s come before while also delivering his own take on it that makes it feel like its own beast.

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As far as performances go, the cast is almost pitch perfect with some real standouts. Felicity Jones is simply phenomenal as Jyn Erso, displaying the right combination of strength and vulnerability, as well as having that same level of gravitas Daisy Ridley brought to the role of Rey. Diego Luna is brilliant as the enigmatic Cassian Andor, Riz Ahmed is solid as the troubled Bodhi Rook, and both Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen are great fun together as the compelling duo of Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus. Yet, it’s Alan Tudyk who is simply sublime as the cynical, yet lovable android K-2SO, giving a wry, deadpan vocal performance that’s also full of confidence and wit. Ben Mendelsohn is scenery-chewing as chief-baddie Orson Krennic, and, despite being reduced to a glorified cameo role, Mads Mikkelsen is incredibly efficient as Jyn’s father, Galen. However, making his big return to the franchise is big bad Darth Vader, who appears in two major crucial scenes in the film lasting five minutes in total, which sounds very short, but what we get is effective. The way Darth Vader is utilised in the film was spine-chilling, menacing and made him a serious threat again, which was also helped by Vader voice actor James Earl Jones who returns for a few lines.

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As far as negatives go, there aren’t that many, but they are sort of noticeable. Forest Whittaker as Saw Gerrera is a mixed bag; while it is exciting for the character to return after the Star Wars: Rebels TV show, but Whittaker’s portrayal is somewhat unusual (at least in this reviewer’s eyes). Also, while the characters are compelling and great fun to be around, we don’t know that much about them, where they come from and what drives them with the only exception being Jyn. Speaking of which, it would’ve been nice to actually HAVE an opening scrawl that would’ve filled in the backstory for those who haven’t read the tie-in book Catalyst, which was a great book that makes the events of the film more impactful.

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Overall, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an exciting experience that brilliantly expands on Star Wars’ rich and deep mythology, whilst also being brave and daring with some risky creative choices. The cast is strong for the most part, the effects are great, the music is solid, and the war story is visceral and heart-thumping. While it isn’t as surprising as The Force Awakens, it nevertheless managed to surpass all expectations, and here’s hoping that the other two Anthology movies can match this film’s exceeding quality.

4.5/5

Dir: Gareth Edwards
Scr: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whittaker
Prd: Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanuel
DOP: Greig Fraser
Music: Michael Giacchino
Country: US
Year: 2016
Run time: 133 mins

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is out in cinemas now.