Empire (UK) - - CONTENTS - James dyer

Would a Di­rec­tor Kren­nic stand­alone be called ‘Cape Fear’?

PLOT Ru­mours abound of a new Im­pe­rial su­per­weapon, pow­er­ful enough to crush the Re­bel­lion. Will a ram­shackle pla­toon led by ex-con Jyn Erso (Jones), the daugh­ter of the de­vice’s cre­ator, be able to find its schemat­ics and save count­less lives?

IT TAKES A pair of Death Star-sized balls to re­lease a Star Wars pre­quel at this point. As Ge­orge Lu­cas learned back in 1999, hit­ting fans’ nos­tal­gia cir­cuits will only get you so far: you also have to de­liver an ex­pe­ri­ence that feels fresh. (The ab­sence of Gun­gans helps too. ) Gareth Ed­wards’ Rogue One walks this tightrope with very lit­tle wob­bling. There are plenty of se­ries call­backs to please devo­tees, but also a slew of off­beat new char­ac­ters, first-rate vi­su­als and a truly ballsy third act.

The pitch, cour­tesy of VFX leg­end John Knoll, ILM’S very own Obi-wan, is beau­ti­fully sim­ple: a World War II men-on-a-mis­sion movie, re­jig­gered for the Star Wars uni­verse. In­stead of the guns of Navarone or V-1 rock­ets, the tar­get is that mother of all gi­ant or­bic­u­lar firearms, the Death Star. And in­stead of a pack of army grunts, the he­roes that com­prise this scrag­gly sui­cide squad are a bunch of as­sorted un­der­dogs from through­out the galaxy. Fu­ture Star Wars ‘sto­ries’, such as the forth­com­ing Han Solo spin-off, will doubt­less be lighter than the main Episodes, but di­rec­tor Gareth Ed­wards here ramps up the stresslevels. Gone are the se­ries’ trade­mark wipes and other retro edit­ing tricks. There is a com­edy robot, lum­ber­ing tin­head K-2S0 (Tudyk), but his wise­cracks are sub­dued, fu­elled by cyn­i­cal sar­casm, rather than slap­stick. Rogue One is dark and earnest: for the first time in the fran­chise, it feels like any­one, and any­droid, is ex­pend­able.

At points the gloom threat­ens to eclipse the fun. Like Luke Sky­walker and Rey, hero­ine Jyn Erso (Jones) has a tragic back­story, mean­ing she’s had to grow up alone. But un­like them she’s a fairly dour screen pres­ence, al­ready bat­tle-hard­ened when we meet her. Jones brings im­pres­sive in­ten­sity, as does Luna as a Rebel in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer with a se­cret mis­sion, but it’s hard not to pine for the pres­ence of

a Solo, or even a Dameron. In this crit­i­cal phase of the con­flict, quips are in as short sup­ply as ky­ber crys­tals. On the plus side, for the first time in Star Wars his­tory an in­stal­ment am­pli­fies its Eastern roots. The orig­i­nal was in­flu­enced by Kuro­sawa clas­sic The Hidden Fortress, and here Don­nie Yen and Jiang Wen play riffs on the same Fortress char­ac­ters that in­spired R2-D2 and C-3PO in the ’70s. Yen in par­tic­u­lar is riproar­ingly badass as the blind Chirrut Îmwe, a kind of space-za­to­ichi who em­ploys what can only be de­scribed as ‘Force-fu’. It’s a new di­rec­tion for the saga; it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see if it’s one that gets ex­panded in Episodes to come.

The most crowd­pleas­ing stuff, how­ever, comes cour­tesy of the vil­lains. Men­del­sohn is glo­ri­ously hiss­able as white-caped, per­ma­nently fu­ri­ous Im­pe­rial slime­ball Di­rec­tor Or­son Kren­nic: when some­one pleads with him, “You’re con­fus­ing peace with ter­ror,” he sneers back, “Well, you have to start some­where.” But post-view­ing chat­ter will be all about the re­turn of two char­ac­ters: Darth Vader (who gets to fin­ger-point and Force-choke his way through sev­eral scenes) and an­other iconic orig­inal­tril­ogy bad­die, res­ur­rected via CGI. The lat­ter is very close to es­cap­ing the Un­canny Val­ley and shows just how far dig­i­tal artistry has come in the past decade. The Dark Lord of the Sith’s ap­pear­ance is the more im­pact­ful, though, un­doubt­edly con­tribut­ing a cou­ple of en­tries to fu­ture Best Vader Mo­ments lists, and fi­nally an­swer­ing the ques­tion, “Who would choose to live in a fortress with a lava wa­ter­fall?” At points Rogue One does re­sem­ble Star

Wars bingo: here’s a glass of blue milk, there’s a mouse-robot sound ef­fect, there’s that char­ac­ter you like do­ing that line he’s fa­mous for. Some of it’s clumsy, some of it’s great (watch out for some in­ge­niously re­pur­posed archive footage from

A New Hope). But like The Force Awak­ens be­fore it, the movie gets bet­ter the more it de­vi­ates from past tri­umphs. Un­like Awak­ens, which slid into Star Wars cliché as it went, this stand­alone story strug­gles through a slightly un­even mid­dle sec­tion but ends on a high, with a tri­umphant third act set on the trop­i­cal planet of Scarif. Tak­ing its cue from Churchill — “We shall fight them on the beaches” — it’s part heist, part bat­tle, a thun­der­ing ac­tion spec­ta­cle with AT-ATS stomp­ing down palm trees, death troop­ers splash­ing in azure wa­ters and some truly sur­pris­ing twists. It’s here, when Rogue One shakes off for­mula and goes rogue it­self, that it fi­nally ful­fills its prom­ise.

Ver­dict the ul­ti­mate Star Wars fan film, it’s short on whimsy but when it gets go­ing there’s enough risk-tak­ing and spec­ta­cle to bode well for fu­ture stan­dalones.

Clock­wise from left: Life’s a beach and then you die; Cas­sian An­dor and Jyn Erso de­lay com­bat for the last West­world; The Death Star takes sin­is­ter shape; Who’s this joker?; Ben Men­del­sohn’s Or­son Kren­nic. Not to be trusted.

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