The first in a planned series of Star Wars anthology films, Rogue One is about Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and the small band of rebels who attempt to steal the plans of the evil Galactic Empire’s new superweapon, the Death Star, leading to the events of A New Hope.

The first two thirds of the film focus on laying the necessary groundwork, introducing the essential characters and while this is all done competently, the film does seem to tread water slightly as the film doesn’t truly hit the ground running until the final act. The characters are given just enough background, though many of them are pretty throwaway and the narrative is pretty thin. Don’t get me wrong, Rogue One is never boring and the 133 minute runtime effortlessly flies by (seriously, I not once wondered how long was left) but the common-or-garden characters, basic plotting and the whole Saw Gerrera element hold the film back and keep it from being truly exceptional.

A much talked about part of Rogue One is it’s final act and this is definitely where the film ups its game and delivers in spades. It is quintessential Star Wars, with impressive battle scenes being fought both on ground level and in space (“Copy that, Gold Leader!”). This familiarity is comforting (if that’s an appropriate word) and the final third of the film is where the main bulk of excitement lies; everyone can have a blast watching it. It is also great to see that Rogue One doesn’t shy away from the darkness and horror that war entails, with its WWII style beach assault, and certain parts of the finale are truly unexpected and bold. And of course, the very last sequence is a rewarding and satisfying payoff.

As a dedicated Star Wars fan, Gareth Edwards definitely understands the aesthetics of the original films and pays homage to them by framing certain shots much in the same way that Lucas/Kershner did. He confidently directs the film with panache, playing a lot with scale by making the Star Destroyers, AT-ATs and the Death Star itself look amazingly gargantuan, and shooting the final beach assault in a grounded, credible way. Plus, he manages to get blue milk in there!

As for the performers and characters, Felicity Jones does well as the central protagonist, carrying the film with a certain amount of confidence, though her character is actually not that interesting and pretty thinly written. Donnie Yen is also great, going all Daredevil in his impressive action scenes and the ensemble cast that includes Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Mads Mikkelsen and Genevieve O’Reilly performs very well. I also have to agree with so many others in that Alan Tudyk completely steals the show from everyone as the reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2S0; he gets all the best lines, essentially delivering 100% of the film’s humour with his cutting remarks (no, wait a minute, Donnie Yen gets some zingers in there. . .) and is certainly the most likable character of the film. Rogue One boasts a racially diverse cast and this is certainly impressive and laudable.

However, Diego Luna does lack a certain amount of charisma and ultimately, Cassian Andor is a pretty forgettable, unappealing character. Also, while admittedly having a couple of standout moments, Ben Mendelsohn is pretty much wasted as Krennic; clearly Mendelsohn is an actor who can play a villain excellently (Animal Kingdom, Slow West) but he sadly doesn’t have a lot to do here, though his costume design is pretty cool.

On that subject, the film’s overall costume design is pretty spot on, immediately calling to mind the character designs of the original films, further allowing us to settle back into this familiar world. Michael Giacchino does alright with the music, bringing us pieces reminiscent of John Williams’ original score, though ultimately it’s not that amazing and will leave most pining for the original trilogy’s tunes.

And as for THAT CG character . . . well, they looked pretty darn good and I struggled to figure out whether they were actually there or not! Though, on a similar subject, the very last shot of the film was all wrong. Those eyes just didn’t look right. Oh, it’s hard to go spoiler free, isn’t it?

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Let down a bit by its characters and narrative, Rogue One ultimately wins out thanks to its impressive battle scenes, sleek design and assured direction.

★ ★ ★ ★

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