Just when you thought the Star Wars franchise was well and truly done with prequels after the last three got so retroactively panned, here we have Rogue One: A Star Wars Story which takes place directly before Episode IV with a Han Solo prequel already in the works.
Felicity Jones is Jyn, the daughter of research scientist Galen Orso (Mads Mikkelsen) who is one day taken by the Empire. Not sure whether her father is alive or dead, Jyn is rescued by a man called Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and she eventually becomes a Rebel. When the Rebels find a message from Orso to Gerrera, they take Jyn to help deliver it but, with the Death Star being finally built and Imperial douchebag Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) on the Rebels' tail, this proves more difficult than anticipated. Soon enough, an unlikely team is assembled, their rogue mission being to steal the Death Star plans and deliver them to the right people. The team includes blind swordsman Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and his protector, Rebel Alliance Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), ex-Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), re-wired droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) and Jyn. This is a fun new group of characters but there are also some familiar face throughout the film.
In a questionable move, Grand Moff Tarkin as played in A New Hope by veteran actor Peter Cushing is brought back to life using CGI and the effect, while well crafted, is nevertheless distracting. The same is attempted later on to recreate a young Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) but it is also not entirely convincing. Having said that, all of Rogue One's other special effects are impressive and the action sequences are particularly creative and exciting, far more so than the ones in The Force Awakens. Some have called the characters in this film bland but one would argue that just because they're serious and don't crack forced jokes every two seconds doesn't mean they're bland, quite the opposite. This is more of a war movie than many of the other films so it makes sense that the tone would be less light-hearted and cartoonish. The characters therefore come off as more genuine than Rey and Finn in the last movie, who were soon joking around despite the chaos around them.
Rogue One is a slow-burn and although that's also been a criticism from audiences, it's surprising that taking the time to tell a story and introduce new characters properly would be a negative point especially since A New Hope's first half-hour wasn't exactly a thrill-ride. The most surprising thing about this prequel is how well it handles previously unknown characters compared to how poorly The Force Awakens handled characters we all know and love. In fact, Rogue One is a far more competent movie in nearly every way and one hopes that the rest of the prequels are at least half as good. Even though we know what happens to the Death Star after this story takes place, the drama and heroism on display here are still valid and the fact it's such a bittersweet adventure is refreshing. Add to that an excellent third act in which we see a certain Darth Vader at his most intimidating and you've got yourself one superior blockbuster that's well worth checking out.
Rogue One was always going to be a gamble with it being a prequel and it introducing so many new faces to that universe. After the somewhat underwhelming sequel we got last year, this is a stylish, exciting war movie which takes itself seriously yet still has that unique Star Wars charm. Some dodgy brief use of CGI aside, this is easily one of the best films in the franchise.
Great stuff, this is.