After the furor of 2015’s release of The Force Awakens - solidly enjoyable, if wildly over-hyped, frequently playing for borderline-parody laughs, too self-assured that it was far better than it actually was, expectations were decidedly middling for this standalone spin-off, especially with reports of an absence of light-sabres, Jedi, and several re-shoots late into production.
With the recent release of Potter’s own new incarnation Fantastic Beasts, Hollywood’s current tent-pole model - after sequel, prequel, cinematic-universe crossover and origin fairy-tale revisionism - seems to allude to the continuation of existing franchises.
Those fearing a bout of superhero-sequelitus however, are in for an exuberant, elaborate, daring, gleefully rewarding chapter in the saga. In fact, to bill it so overtly as ‘standalone’ or a ‘spin-off’, is doing it a major disservice. Giving absolutely nothing away, it makes a plethora of choices both visual and narratological, that slot perfectly into the main series. It’s far better than Force Awakens; darker, busier, but also far more fun, grounded within a much more traditional Star Wars tone and linear, avuncular structure, while also being strikingly original, too.
British director Gareth Edwards has assembled an eclectic cast, a clutch of our very finest of character actors, particularly Ben Mendelsohn as a terrifically grasping villain, Diego Luna as a morally duplicitous new Han-Solo figure, and an underused Mads Mikkleson who’s always brilliant.
Felicity Jones suffers slightly as Daisy Ridley did before her, from wooden dialogue delivered in a flat monotone that seems entirely unique to Star Wars. In terms of pure fan-boy adrenaline though, this is a return to rich, event-cinema. There are genuinely awe-inducing shocks and surprises, as well as moments of expertly maneuvered cameo trickery, with several important returning characters making startlingly modified appearances.
Aesthetically too, this is visual-effects eye-candy, with stunning aerial space-fights - never looking sharper - especially in 3D!
Composer Micheal Giacchino crafts a fantastic original score, while also riffing off John William’s iconic themes - if you listen carefully!
Rating: * * * *