Star Wars: Rogue One review

If the Force Awakens was a brilliant tribute to, and continuation of, the original Star Wars trilogy, Rogue One is instead a chance to take the sci-fi series in a new direction. The first of a new series of stand-alone films, dubbed ‘A Star Wars Story’, Rogue One is the one-off tale of a rag-tag group of rebels on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star - with nary a Jedi in sight. So, is it really Star Wars without a Skywalker? Can K-2SO possibly steal our affections from BB-8? And just how many times is someone going to have a bad feeling about this? Read on to find out.

Also read: Best upcoming Star Wars games

Note: We’ll keep things as spoiler-free as we can in this review, but if you want to avoid hearing anything about Rogue One before you see the film for yourself, check out our guide to blocking Star Wars spoilers online.

Star Wars: Rogue One review | Rogue One release date | How to buy Rogue One tickets

Following almost exactly a year on from the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rogue One arrives in UK cinemas on 15 December 2016.

If you want to be among the first people to see Rogue One, you’ll have to act fast to book seats in one of the midnight screenings. They’re taking place tonight (late night 14 December/early morning 15 December) at participating cinemas, and will guarantee you get to see the film before anyone else at the office water cooler.

Head to your preferred cinema site to book tickets to any midnight openings or other screenings of Star Wars: Rogue One:

•    Buy Rogue One tickets from Cineworld
•    Buy Rogue One tickets from Odeon
•    Buy Rogue One tickets from Vue
•    Buy Rogue One tickets from Picturehouse
•    Buy Rogue One tickets from IMAX

And if you want to revisit JJ Abrams’ resurrection of the franchise from last year (or missed it the first time around), you can always grab The Force Awakens on DVD or Blu-ray. The DVD is just £10 from Tesco right now, while Amazon still has its limited edition Dark Side Blu-ray for £15, and Collector’s Edition at £19 for those want to watch the film in 3D at home.

Also read: Best Star Wars gifts and toys for Christmas 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One review | Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (to give it its official title) is the first entry in the space saga to not be one of the main ‘Episodes’, which is an effort on Disney’s part to reflect the fact that the film is a stand-alone story, set slightly apart from the ongoing Jedi/Sith feud and the Skywalker family squabbles. That means you shouldn’t expect to see any Jedi front and centre or see any more of Han Solo - though a few familiar faces do pop up along the way. It’s also worth noting that Rogue One is a prequel to the original trilogy of films (though ‘prequel’ is a bit of a dirty word among Star Wars fans) and is set well before The Force Awakens - so you won’t see Rey, Finn, or Kylo Ren popping up at any point.

Instead, the film follows a character brand-new to the Star Wars universe: Jyn Erso, played confidently by Felicity Jones. She’s a criminal and a bit of a scoundrel in Star Wars terms, but more importantly for the narrative, her dad (Mads Mikkelsen) just happens to be the lead scientist on a certain moon-sized, laser-wielding space station the Empire has been secretly building. That family connection sees her recruited by the Rebel Alliance to go on a mission to extract her father from the Empire’s clutches and find a way to destroy the Death Star.

Setting the film immediately before Episode IV obviously opens up a lot of potential for references and throwbacks to the original films, and there are plenty of nods for fans to appreciate. This is a less slavish tribute than The Force Awakens though, keeping its inspirations better hidden, and it never strays into feeling like a remake.

Star Wars: Rogue One review | Cast

Jyn isn’t alone in her fight against the Empire, of course. She’s joined by the rather gruff Diego Luna as Rebel captain Cassian, and Riz Ahmed as a defecting Imperial pilot named Bodhi. Ahmed in particular is great, bubbling with nervous energy that subtly betrays just how fearful of the Empire’s retaliation Bodhi is. The crew is rounded out by Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang as a pair of former Jedi Temple guards with rather different approaches to the ancient religion. Yen’s character embodies the classic ‘blind warrior’ trope, trusting in the Force to guide him - and judging by Yen’s martial arts chops, his faith is rewarded - while Jiang’s gruff sceptic prefers to put his faith in something more concrete: an absolutely huge laser rifle.

Despite the able human cast, the star of the show is instead the latest addition to the Star Wars droid lineup: K-2SO. Voiced by Alan Tudyk (familiar to any Firefly fans), he’s caustic, bitter, and sarcastic, ready at any moment to deliver a reminder of the team’s low odds of success or impetuously ignore their orders. In a film that veers into the darker edges of the Star Wars universe, his black sense of humour is a welcome addition, and he’s left with the film’s most quotable lines.

Repping the dark side this time around we have Ben Mendelsohn’s Director Krennic, the Imperial officer in charge of making sure the Death Star is fully operational. He’s cold and calculating, in fine Imperial tradition, but Mendelsohn brings a brilliantly slimy, ambitious quality to the part that we haven’t seen much of before. Krennic is out for himself, not the Empire, and his best scenes show his various power plays, showcasing all the infighting and squabbling that must cause no end of headaches for the Empire’s HR department.

Unfortunately for him, he’s up against some rather hefty competition, as Rogue One brings with it two major returning villains: Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader. Vader’s much-teased appearance is carefully limited for maximum impact, and the iconic villain takes on a role akin to a horror monster: unstoppable and terrifying. Tarkin is given more screen time though, and instead of recasting the sadly deceased Peter Cushing he’s brought back to life through CGI. It’s the best and most ambitious use of the tech yet, and the digital performance is only occasionally distracting in that uncanny valley sort of way - though his presence does sadly serve to slightly undermine Krennic’s impact as a villain.

Star Wars: Rogue One review | Spectacle

It wouldn’t be a Star Wars film without some big-budget sci-fi spectacle, and Rogue One really delivers here. While the film’s opening segment is slightly choppy, as it darts around introducing its disparate cast of characters, once they’re all brought together on the moon of Jedha Rogue One really kicks off. From there, the film is split mostly into three main sections, each on a different world new to the films, each climaxing in a spectacular set-piece of one sort or another.

The action through most of the film is impressive enough, especially an early ground fight in Jedha city between local rebels and a Stormtrooper patrol, but it’s nothing compared to the film’s final half-hour. For perhaps the first time, Rogue One earns the ‘Wars’ in ‘Star Wars’, with huge, linked battles both in space and on the ground. There are multiple ‘oh my god’ moments, from AT-ATs emerging out of the mist to a particularly creative use of a Star Destroyer, and director Gareth Edwards continually finds ways to surprise and impress. The film’s ending puts the (otherwise very impressive) action in The Force Awakens to shame, and feels like the perfect realisation of the potential of modern digital effects Star Wars’ space fights.

There’s also a real sense of weight to the conflict. This is no Saving Private Ryan, but it’s unafraid to show that war generally isn’t all that pleasant for the people caught up in the middle of it. Without giving away specifics, not everyone gets to make it home in one piece, and Rogue One is a potent reminder that for every Jedi that gets to be a hero, countless foot soldiers have to give their lives along the way. Don’t worry though - this is still Star Wars, and it still knows how to have some fun along the way to the sobering message about the crushing weight of war.

SHOULD I BUY ROGUE ONE?

Rogue One takes a little bit of time to really get going, and its darker tone loses some of that indefinable magic that made The Force Awakens so special. But the cast is great, the action is spectacular, and it feels undeniably like a Star Wars film, while still carving out the space to do its own thing within the larger franchise. It may not quite live up to the impossibly high bar that JJ Abrams set last year, but for the first time we can finally something a little bit controversial: we love one of the Star Wars prequels.