Film of the Week: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

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Gareth Edwards directs Felicity Jones, Ben Mendelsohn and Donnie Yen in a riproaring space espionage thriller set in the Jedi-centric universe. 

I’m going to lay my cards right out on the table. After three blissful viewings I think Rogue One is the best Star Wars movie ever made. No qualification… BEST EVER. Yep, better than that one… and that one… honestly, even that one. A World War II style men on a mission afternoon killer with all the technological wonder and comforting mysticism of the franchise that defined a generation. Emotionally engaging, with a propulsive narrative and a top to bottom excellent new cast. Jones’ tough Jyn Erso is a genuine surprise (all grit and unwavering stiff upper lip), Mendelsohn adds another awfully seductive villian to his tally (this time with a cape), Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO is a paranoid android laugh grabbing treat, but it is the double act of Yen and Jiang Wen that steal the show. The Guardians of the Whills kick ass, take names and add a touch of human sparkle while all the war children are booting up and signing off. Human sparkle is what Ford, Fisher and Dee Williams always brought to the otherwise often po faced spacemonk or droid-centric franchise, and in this, the most self consciously serious episode, the little magic our loveable Kung Fu odd couple sprinkle with every interaction goes a long way.  Actionwise we get mere smatterings until the main event; a 45 minute, three different arena, battle around Scarif. I won’t spoil the pleasures and shocks here just yet but suffice to say it is unlike anything you have seen before in a family film owned by Disney. And while you witness these brave new things you also literally see the series mature from kid’s play to adult endeavour before your very eyes. And also a Space Monkey firing a laser milligun out the side of a galactic gunship (“Just like fuckin’ Saigon, hey slick?”)! AND THEN we get bonus Darth Vader, in a blistering sequence that even the most casual fan of the Force will sit bolt upright in their seat to fully enjoy. A Star Wars film that finally delivers on both those words, a crowd pleaser that rarely feels like it is making any compromises for popularity, a full-on eyepopping, heart wrenching big screen delight. 2016? The worst year ever? Only if you live in the past. I ended it saving the dream. Saving the rebellion. An amazing prequel, not living in 1977’s long shadow but still giving us A New Hope. Not just the next step to those familiar pleasures of Episode IV but the potential that Star Wars doesn’t just boil down to past talents looking for a last paycheck. We don’t need Skywalkers, Solos or Kenobis for Lucas’ franchise to be at its very best. Now that is revolutionary.

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