There comes a point, when watching Rogue One, the latest money-spinner in the cultural juggernaut that is Disney’s resuscitated Star Wars universe, when you can’t help but get on board with its charms. To love this film requires an acceptance of one straight fact: Rogue One is goofy. Far, far goofier in fact than it ever wants to be, or seems to think it is. Nevertheless, once you lie back and embrace the silliness, Rogue One is a worthy spinoff, a fun, spirited ret-conning of one of cinema’s most beloved stories.
The plot is loose, stringy but essentially simple: drawn together from all corners of the galaxy, an eclectic band of rebels try and steal the plans necessary to sabotage the evil Empire’s Death Star. It really is that simple. Rogue One is essentially the prequel the original Star Wars (A New Hope) never asked for. But, now that it’s here, it fits in smoothly enough.
Free from the more ambitious plotlines of episodes VI to VIII (and the dysfunctionally chaotic prequels), Rogue One instead tries to enliven its narrative with an overabundance of character back stories. Every one of the film’s characters seems to come with their own dark, complicated history which is always just vague enough to keep your focus on the bigger picture.
“Rogue One is essentially the prequel A New Hope never asked for. But, now that it’s here, it fits in smoothly enough”
As the film’s lead, we have Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, a tough but damaged woman who was groomed as a fighter after her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) was kidnapped by the Empire. Jones does well as a character who is written pretty functionally, Mikkelsen likewise. Their best scene involves a hologram transmission that makes the task of patching up a long-standing series plot-hole disarmingly moving.
There are many more recognisable names. Y Tu Mamá También’s Diego Luna plays the morally compromised Cassien Andor, taking over from Oscar Isaac as Star Wars’ newly traditional ‘sexy Latino man’. Riz Ahmed is a good sport as the spluttering Bodhi Rook, a defected Imperial pilot. Alan Tudyk lends his voice to K-2SO, the robotic comic relief who skirts a fine line between amusement and irritation.
Faring worse is Ben Mendelsohn’s villainous Orson Krennic, an imperial officer with ambition but no scruples. Mendelsohn hams up the role, but is made to look the picture of subtlety when compared to Forest Whitaker, who wheezes his way into character as Saw Gerrera, a ravaged war veteran with links to the force. I am a big fan of Whitaker – I’ve said before I consider his work on season 5 of The Shield to be among the finest acting television has ever produced – but his performance here is dreadful.
“A far cry from the alienating failures of the prequels, this is space opera as pure world-building entertainment”
There are countless nods to the previous films. Some are fine, even charming; some are not. Particularly egregious is the inclusion of computer-animated Peter Cushing, whose lesser-than-life artifice lends his every scene a slight Polar Express vibe. The same can be said of Carrie Fisher’s Leia, but her appearance, while naff as all hell, is mercifully short. Darth Vader gets a mixed bag – one great scene, one poor (with a saddeningly bad pun to cap it off).
But none of the specifics really matter. Yes, there are some dodgy performances. Yes, the characters are too many and none of them really have any staying power. Yes, the easter eggs and cameos make the whole thing goofy and, at times, laugh-out-loud stupid. Yes, the music cannot help but pale in comparison to John Williams’ genius. But this is still Star Wars. A far cry from the alienating failures of the prequels, this is space opera as pure world-building entertainment. Its biggest objective was not to disappoint, to prove to the world that the franchise could sustain so many new branches. For the majority of its audience, it represents a complete success.