For many Star Wars fans just the mention of the word ‘prequel’ is enough to send them running in the opposite direction. For this reason, it was wise to not describe Rogue One (the first standalone ‘Star Wars story’) as such, but unfortunately this rugged women/men-on-a-mission war pic is not nearly enough of its own, distinctive, beast. Instead, it’s riddled with callbacks and overt references from its predecessors – lines of dialogue, recreated shots, and, most annoyingly, too many characters cameo-ing, some resurrected from the grave or the past with very good, but still lifeless, uncanny valley CGI.
Yes, The Force Awakens was a huge exercise in repetition, but in service of specific purposes – conjuring emotive nostalgia and putting audiences young and old all on the same page for upcoming sequels. In contrast, Rogue One seems to feel the need to incessantly remind us we are watching a Star Wars movie with constant references often falling flat or worse, getting unintended laughs. Sometimes, they’re deliberately played as gags, some of which are knowingly meta in nature, this winking at the audience something that rubbed me up the wrong way, as does a tone that sometimes skews towards deliberately (and therefore unsuccessfully) camp.
That these moments rear their heads once every few minutes is a colossal bummer as it distracts from the many excellent aspects of the film – the impact of its opening and closing sequences, the spectacular battles of its third act, and Star Wars’ latest great droid, K-2SO, who’s one part C3-PO, one part The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy’s Marvin, the Paranoid Android.
Elsewhere you’ll find Ben Mendelsohn villain-ing up a storm in a role he was born to play, and Donnie Yen’s mystical calm enlivening many a fight scene. Sadly, that Felicity Jones isn’t a standout as Rogue One‘s lead – though she’s convincing and competent – speaks to how more effort seems to have been spent on fan service than character development or really getting stuck in to telling the tragic story of a new band of brothers and sisters that I was hoping for.