Star Wars spinoffs are a risky thing.
For every TV show that hits a Wamp Rat dead centre we get servings of excruciating awfulness like the Star Wars Holiday Special and Caravan Of Courage which leave us fleeing quicker than Wedge Antilles with a busted engine.
So massive Marvel Studios levels of risk were expected when Lucasfilm that their second Star Wars release would be set before A New Hope and concern an (almost) entirely new clutch of characters desperately trying to nab the plans to the Death Star.
Questions were asked: is it wise to base a whole film off a throwaway line in a Star Wars crawl? Don’t we know they already succeed? Can a decent Star Wars movie exist without fully concerning themselves with the Skywalkers, a galaxy far far away’s version of the Kardashians (they’re fucking EVERYWHERE!)?
Quick answer: absolutely.
Garth Edwards (he of Monsters and 2014’s Godzilla reboot) has taken almost a fanatical level of detail, a solid plot and character’s you can root for and made an honest to God war movie within the Star Wars sandbox.
The result is probably the most anything-goes movie in the franchise, even more so than Empire Strikes Back as Edwards introduces something strikingly new to this world; the very real possibility that anyone can die at any moment. I’m not talking majestically cut down with a massive fanfare while someone screams “Noooooooooooooooo!”. Nope, I’m talking about getting taken out with minimum pomp and circumstance on a Hellish battlefield at anytime. This adds an incredible edge-of-the-seat tension that only increases as the run time goes on to peak unbearably at The Battle Of Skariff, which as a greatest hits package of the original trilogy’s action set pieces, plays as possibly the best war scene in the entire franchise.
It’s not without it’s wobbles, however. The lack of opening crawl and the introduction of planet title cards may rankle long term fans but the planet hopping, character cramming first 40 minutes are unsure of footing and fairly annoying and the usual elegance of Star Wars introductions are exchanged for something a little more muddled. And while the cast are actually quite fantastic (Felicity Jones is a gutsy, determined lead while Donnie Yen and flinty reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO nab all the best lines) Forrest Whitaker seems weirdly out of place, wheezing and clunking and going on and on about his pet “Bor Gullet” in a funny voice.
At around the half way point, all those complaints just melt away and what is left is top notch stuff. Lashings of Easter Eggs and cameos, new characters coming into their own and entering our hearts (like any good Star Wars character should) and that aforementioned battle that raises stakes despite you already knowing the result. Everything is great and exciting and fantastic… and then Darth Vader turns up and shit goes insane. A scene near the middle sets him back up, chilling in his super-evil bachelor pad, force-choking any sass givers with a wry quip, but it is a scene right near the end that pushes the character in ways you’ve never actually seen him on the big screen before that makes him utterly terrifying and actually brought forth from me tears of emotion.
As The Force Awakens opened up the way forward for the franchise (the over familiarity of Episode VII means that Episode VIII can go ANYWHERE), Rogue One opens up the past in ways the Prequels never quite did and all of a sudden the proposed Han Solo movie seems like quite a fun prospect, as do other upcoming Star Wars Stories.
Just don’t be expecting Rogue One 2: Electric Bor Gullet.