A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there was a little girl called Jyn Erso, and she lived with her farmer father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) and her mother until one day a spaceship arrived, carrying Imperial Commander Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) who they were not best pleased to see. This is because Galen had been keeping his family secret from the Empire, and the appearance of this officer meant they had been found. What did they want Galen for? He was not originally a farmer, he was a scientist, and he could engineer an innovative new weapon for the Empire if they forced him to; his wife was shot by the stormtroopers, and Jyn hid away as her father was escorted onto the ship. Fifteen years later, and Jyn (Felicity Jones) still nurses a huge grudge...
And that weapon is being put into effect, known by its name The Death Star, which surely almost everyone who had ever watched a few movies would know. Rogue One was the first so-called standalone movie from the Star Wars franchise, after the enormous success of its return to cinema screens with The Force Awakens in 2015, and proved another megahit, audiences across the world acting like Pavlov's dog hearing the dinner bell when it came to producing these movies, running to see them and, if you were a big enough fan, lapping up every last detail with multiple viewings. That was crucial to the enjoyment of this instalment, which naturally was not standalone at all, as it led straight up to the beginning of the first Star Wars chapter created in 1977.
Indeed, there was a definite feeling of this being wise after the fact, chief among those reasons being that stand-up comedian's favourite, why make a super space station with planet-destroying capabilities then put a little hole in it that would set off a chain reaction when a missile was fired at it, blowing the bloody thing to kingdom come? There was a lot of the filling in of gaps about the plot that you could argue did not really need that degree of minutiae, bolstering George Lucas' original vision with various plot-based buttresses which may have explained plenty, but was also standing still as a narrative. One element this tried to make up for, for instance, was that aside from Princess Leia, women did not feature much in the takedown of the Empire, therefore Jyn represented the sisterhood.
But she was more or less the only significant character who did, leaving the "Rogue One" band of rebels, who were represented by a variety of races, looking as if the writer treated female as a race as well, therefore only needed one representative. The vow that director Gareth Edwards was making a Star Wars movie with the emphasis on the war likely excused that, as traditionally the casts in war fiction were dominated by males for it was they who did the fighting, but Jones too often looked as if she were gatecrashing a sausage party instead of an integrated member of the Alliance's team. You could argue Jyn was already discomfited with the notion of turning heroine to make up for her father's mistakes (the series' dysfunctional family motif rearing its head once again), so it made sense that she would be more fish out of water than fully paid up member, but it was indicative of a film that was assuredly leaving the fun out of space opera this time around.
Aside from two characters, that was, one a reprogrammed Imperial droid played by Alan Tudyk who got in some improvised snark to allow a little personality into the relentless dourness, and the other the scene-stealing Donnie Yen as the blind Jedi who was quirky in an entertaining way, yet also delivered the spiritual side of the Force that was lacking elsewhere, this being a very nuts and bolts affair apart from him. Watching Yen take down the stormtroopers with his martial arts moves was an undeniable highlight in a film that took itself heavily seriously, at the risk of alienating the kids who had always been its most important fanbase, from the first generation who embraced it as seventies and eighties under-tens. Though it was well-designed, as you would expect with that budget behind it, it slipped occasionally, such as the CGI Peter Cushing which never convinced as a real person rather than an animation; the return of Darth Vader in a couple of brief sequences was better applied, but over too fast. Star Wars was naturally preaching to the choir here, if you loved the franchise you would have no issue with Rogue One, but everyone else may be preferring other entries in the biggest blockbusting series of all time. Music by Michael Giacchino (not a bad John Williams facsimile).