New Star Wars epic takes a turn to the Darker side . . .
Released in cinemas today, 'Rogue One' is directed with more thought and authority than the three originals, believes Paul Whittington
One of my favourite movie set asides was uttered on the set of George Lucas' 'Star Wars: A New Hope', way back in 1977, when an exasperated Harrison Ford looked up from his script to its creator and muttered darkly "you can type this s*** George, but you can't say it".
For all his inventiveness and vision, Lucas had a peculiar talent for producing screenplays with the lightness and subtlety of porridge, containing reams of lumpy exposition and dialogue so leaden the actors looked sheepish saying it.
One of the advantages enjoyed by these new films is that they're free from the Lucas pen, and also from his understandingly protective attitude to his creations: instead they're directed by young admirers who revere his work but aren't overly precious about the Star Wars universe.
Last year JJ Abrams did a superb job of reviving the franchise with 'The Force Awakens', and now British director Gareth Edwards takes up the mantle with 'Rogue One'.
Its lineage is rather complicated, because 'Rogue One' is both a sequel, to the second trilogy of Star Wars films undertaken by Lucas a decade and a half ago, and a prequel to the original trilogy. As the more attentive among you will recall, the Rebellion's success in destroying the Empire's Death Star in the first 'Star Wars' film was dependant on a detailed map that allowed them to discover and exploit a weakness.
'Rogue One' tells the story of how they got their hands on it.
A little girl called Jyn is playing in her room on a dusty planet when a spaceship approaches.
Imperial troops emerge, led by a thin-lipped military scientist called Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn): he wants Jyn's father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to come and work with him on an important project, and when he refuses Krennic shoots Jyn's mother and takes Galen away at gunpoint.
Jyn is left behind, and subsequently raised by a rebel outlaw called Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). When she grows up Jyn (Felicity Jones) is all alone, and ends up working in a penal colony.
But rebel forces stage a breakout, and Jyn is brought before the rebel council. Information about a deadly new, planet-eating weapon has emerged from an imperial research facility where Galen Erso is working. It's the Death Star, and the rebels want Jyn to find her father and persuade him to give them detailed plans.
She's reluctant, but is given little choice, and sets out for his last known whereabouts accompanied by a rebel pilot called Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), and a witheringly sarcastic imperial android
They pick up other allies along the way, but in the wings wait very powerful enemies.
They naturally include one Darth Vader, who makes a grand entrance midway through voiced as ever by the magnificent James Earl Jones.
More unsettlingly, Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, reprises his role as the Grand Moff Tarkin thanks to some remarkably convincing CGI, but overall 'Rogue One' is not in the business of cheap pyrotechnics, and proceeds with down-to-earth efficiency.
It is in fact the darkest and least sentimental of the Star Wars series to date, a gritty, grown-up action drama that feels more like a war film than a space opera. Felicity Jones, whose previous work has rarely included fight scenes, is terrifically good as the taciturn protagonist, a young woman determined to prove she's every bit as tough as the battle-hardened rebels around her.
Ben Mendelsohn is satisfyingly nasty as the film's principal villain, and while I'd like to have seen a little more of Mads Mikkelsen, an ensemble cast of proper actors gives the film authenticity, and grit.
Some of the effects are marvellous, particularly a novel new way of depicting the jump to light-speed, but more importantly Gareth Edwards has a fine eye for composition, and 'Rogue One' is directed with more thought and authority than any of the original three Lucas films.
Those films, of course, had a bold originality that all subsequent Star Wars films have traded on, but at least this one does that job extremely well.