If nothing else, 2016 has given us a new Star Trek and Star Wars film. The only other year this has happened was 2002, fact fans. So it’s been a great year for people who like films with ‘Star’ in the title – though if Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping‘s box office returns are anything to go by, even they didn’t escape unpunished.
The first of the interim Star Wars movies, Rogue One sets up the original trilogy and stars Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso: a kid living on a farm (Star Wars trope: check) whose scientist father (Mads Mikkelsen) is abducted by Imperial bastard Krennick (Ben Mendelsohn) to complete the design of the Death Star. Years later, Jyn joins a band of rebels and a comedy droid (Star Wars trope: check) on a resistance mission to steal the Death Star plans from the Empire.
Whether this is the most interesting story Disney could have told is debatable, not least because we know exactly how it’s going to end – with Star Wars happening. But the saga is content to traverse familiar space, for the time being at least. This is a franchise built on ritual, a bit like the Bond series but featuring robots with funny personalities instead of women with robotic personalities. And even the ‘new’ material is recognisable, with these numerous tropes and repeated plot points, character types and lines of dialogue; certainly comforting, but a little repetitive. After all, there’ll be a new film every year until we’re all dead.
So we don’t learn much new information, other than how the Death Star came to have such a glaring design flaw (the first time round). Nor do we get to love many new characters, lacking the sparky chemistry of The Force Awakens (though this could be done deliberately). What we do get is a thrillingly action-packed Star Wars movie, full of space battles and chicken walkers – and I don’t mean the crisps. Whereas Episode VII was more or less a remake of A New Hope, Gareth Edwards captures the look and feel of the original film. The beach landings and dogfights echo Star Wars’ WWII movie roots, with a tangible human story at its centre. You know, like a Star Wars film looks to everyone except George Lucas.
In fact the only people who won’t enjoy it are Trump supporters who’ve urged a boycott of the movie, either because they’ve chosen to see Trump as Darth Vader or got Rogue One confused with Teen Vogue. There were similar backlashes (or ‘whitelashes’) against The Force Awakens and Mad Max: Fury Road, not to mention Fox News denouncing The Lego Movie and The Muppets. So if you want to know if a film’s any good, check what the American right think of it and assume the opposite.
Although the plot has its flaws (Star Wars trope: check), the force really starts to awaken in the combat sequences. Brilliantly staged on colourful terrain, these have the pulse-racing gameplay quality of Star Wars Battlefront, Jedi Outcast or even Halo. With impressive SFX-enabled surprises, strong performances from the likes of Forest Whitaker and a Williams-tribute score by Michael Giacchino, this is how to do a prequel; fitting perfectly into the Star Wars universe while Yavin lots of fun.