Review: The force is strong with thrilling Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Felicity Jones stars in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Picture: Film Frame..� 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Felicity Jones stars in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Picture: Film Frame..� 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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Put any fears you may have of Phantom Menace-style disappointment to rest. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a genuinely thrilling addition to the franchise.

With the rumours of extensive reshoots on Gareth Edwards’ Star Wars spin-off, you could be forgiven for a harbouring a certain amount of trepidation towards Rogue One.

Fear not, though, as, like J.J. Abrams before him, Edwards has perfectly captured the spirit of the original trilogy. It’s effectively the movie the prequels should have been.

In fact, the film works as a direct prologue to Episode IV: A New Hope, connecting the dots in satisfying fashion, while also functioning on its own terms as a stand-alone war movie-slash-heist thriller.

The plot revolves around disillusioned 20-something Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), whose engineer father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) has been forced to work on the construction of the Death Star by sneering Empire baddie Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn, rocking a billowing white cape).

When Jyn agrees to steal the Death Star plans for the Rebel alliance, she joins forces with a rag-tag group of freedom fighters that includes Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), reprogrammed Empire droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), blind Zatoichi-like warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and his burly bodyguard Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), as well as former Empire pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed).

The production design is both impeccable and reassuring, recapturing the lived-in universe feel of the original film so perfectly that you half expect to glimpse a young Luke Skywalker wandering through the background of a shot.

That doesn’t happen, although there are a number of crowd-pleasing appearances from familiar faces, thanks to some jaw-dropping CGI work.

The performances are superb across the board. Jones is particularly good, delivering a spirited performance that’s notably different from her previous film roles, while Luna brings an appealing, battle-weary charisma to Cassian and Tudyk is hilarious as the easily-affronted robot.

Similarly, the presence of Chirrut and Baze adds a striking new element to the franchise while also serving as a clever nod to the original Star Wars, which drew on Japanese classic The Hidden Fortress for character inspiration.

Needless to say, Rogue One, like The Force Awakens, also gets full marks for representation with its female lead and rounded, ethnically diverse cast.

No stranger to big budget spectacle after helming the Godzilla reboot, Gareth Edwards handles the epic action sequences with aplomb, whether its spaceship battles or on-the-ground combat.

In addition, he orchestrates a terrifically exciting third act, shot through with pulse-pounding suspense and powerful emotion.

However, Edwards’ biggest achievement is in nailing the tone of the film, which is just ever-so-slightly more adult and serious than the previous instalments (there are no child-friendly cute characters, for example), while still maintaining all the elements that have made the franchise such a success.

It’s also significantly less in thrall to nostalgia than The Force Awakens, though there are still a number of crowd-pleasing nods in that direction, all of which it would be churlish to spoil here.

In short, the force is strong with Rogue One, resulting in a properly thrilling, old-school space adventure.