Having seen this film in the cinema and thoroughly enjoyed it, I was eager to watch it again after a few months and see if it held up to a repeat viewing. And the answer is, for the most part, yes.
A ragtag group of rebels led by Jyn Erso lead a mission to steal the plans to the Empire’s deadly new weapon, the Death Star, while evading the Empire’s troops led by Director Krennic, played by Ben Mendelsohn in a wonderful lip-curling performance.
Spoilers from here on…..
The story of this film is not in whether or not this mission will be a success, because we already know that it will be. The real story is how it will be a success, and who, if anyone, will survive. And it is done in style, with the final battle in particular being genuinely nail-biting, with a whiff of Saving Private Ryan about it. There are enough familiar elements to remind you that you are watching a Star Wars film, but the tone feels very different to anything that has gone before. The only real problem I had was that there were so many characters in this film that there was no real room for any character development, and therefore it was hard to feel sad when they inevitably met their fate. The only character I really felt bad for was K-2SO, Alan Tudyk’s reprogrammed Imperial droid with no filter between brain and mouth, who provided most of the film’s humour and whose death was the only one that felt like a genuine sacrifice.
It was good to see some old favourites back to bridge the gap between films, some by returning actors, some re-casting and some via the “magic” of CGI. Good points: the re-casting of Mon Mothma was spot on; I found the CG-resurrection of Peter Cushing a bit distracting during his first scene but once you get used to the idea it seems like it was the right choice; nice little cameo from C-3PO and R2-D2, although I think it would have made more sense to see them on the ship at the end; and splicing footage of Red Leader and Gold Leader from Star Wars into the final battle was a stroke of genius. Only one bad point, and you probably know where I’m going: Princess Leia. Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice surprise to see her at the end, and it does give the film a strong, punch-the-air final moment, but you do wonder if the CGI budget was down to its last few dollars when her face was recreated….
However, there was only one returning character that we really wanted to see, and he did not disappoint. Darth Vader made his presence felt in the few scenes he was in, from his introduction (out of his suit..!) to his final scene running amok amongst the rebel soldiers, after all these years it was good to see him being properly evil again. It was also good to hear James Earl Jones’s (older, raspier) voice behind the mask. I’m so glad they didn’t attempt an impersonation.
Billed as the first “standalone” Star Wars film, it sets up quite a lot of stuff in Episode IV that it’s not really a standalone, but it is definitely the best prequel we have seen so far, and, as much as I enjoyed The Force Awakens, the best Star Wars film since 1983.