While it may not feature Jedis doing backflips or the Millennium Falcon tooling about space, Rogue One: A Star Wars story definitely feels like a Star Wars film. It has a heartbreaking family-based plot, a familiar struggle between the Empire (baddies) and the Rebellion (goodies, kind of) and all manner of weirdo aliens. There's even a hilariously sassy robot that puts every other talking droid to shame.
Rogue One is set just before the Luke/Leia/Han sexy-hand-chopping-off times and tees up the events of Episode IV: A New Hope. It’s essentially a heist movie set during a time of intergalactic war with a brand new but strangely familiar ragtag bunch of naughty-but-nice space people, trying to throw a spanner in the works of the sinister Emperor’s plans.
The hopeful, rebellious types are led by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) who’ve both suffered tremendous loss and find comfort in disobeying orders, wearing snazzy flight jackets and smearing their faces with dirt. As good a pairing as they are, they’re outshone by Erso’s troubled Father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) and his best friend turned bigwig bad-guy Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn); the latter is one of the most entertaining Empire employees we’ve ever met to date.
Welsh director Gareth Edwards has a brilliant knack for telling intimate, human stories in the midst of massive, chaotic world events. He did it in his directorial debut Monsters, continued it with his version of Godzilla and has perfected it for Rogue One. There might be a big old space war going on, but Rogue One focuses on just a small part of that and it does it exceptionally well. Edwards knows how to use computer effects sparingly and effectively, making for the most realistic looking Star Wars films yet (one particular scene aside; you’ll know which one when you see it).
The big problem with Rogue One though, is that it’s almost too much like a Star Wars film. When Disney announced it was filming standalone Star Wars stories, my hope was that they'd be exploring other parts of the galaxy, further and further away from the original timeline. But because of its direct link to A New Hope, Rogue One is essentially a prequel rather than a separate anthology-style film. And when viewed as a regular (numbered) Star Wars movie, as opposed to a separate adventure, it’s overshadowed by last year’s far superior Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
It goes without saying that Rogue One is a must-see for anyone with even a sniffling interest in the Star Wars universe, but I can’t help hoping that next time Disney has the bravery to tell a story from a galaxy far, far away from this one.