Wait nearly over for Star Wars fans as 'Rogue One' opens

THE waiting is almost over. Hundreds of thousands of fans will finally get to see the new Star Wars spin-off film Wednesday as it opens in cinemas across Europe.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has already notched up the highest first day pre-sales ever in the US after last year's record-breaking The Force Awakens.

The story, about a maverick rebel force who mount an almost suicide mission to steal the plans for the imperial Death Star, is set just before the very first Star Wars epic, A New Hope.

Although it has only fleeting appearances by two of the characters from the beloved 1977 movie, it has all the familiar ingredients of Stormtroopers, X-wing fighters and a cute robot character.

The first reviews, however, were mixed, with the New York Times calling it a "thoroughly mediocre movie" that millions of people would sit through anyway "and convince themselves that it's perfectly delightful".

The Guardian was less damning, praising it as an "exhilarating, good-natured and enjoyable adventure" though bemoaning that it felt like a "deja vu-quel".

Nor has the hype quite reached the pitch of last year's for The Force Awakens – which came a decade after the end of the last Star Wars trilogy.

Just like The Force Awakens, the grittier Rogue One has a female lead, with Felicity Jones starring as intergalactic bad girl Jyn Erso, recruited by the Rebel Alliance to destroy the planet-sized weapon of mass destruction.

Oedipal twist

In a typical Star Wars Oedipal twist, her father Galen, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is none other than the brilliant scientist gone bad who has designed the Death Star.

The Force Awakens helped Disney to record US$5 billion (RM22.19 billion) box office takings last year, and the studio has left nothing to chance as it rolls the new film out Wednesday across France, Belgium, Switzerland, The Netherlands and Scandinavia.

Audiences in North America will have to wait until Friday, while those in Britain and most of Asia will get to see it a day earlier. It will not open in China until January 12.

A lucky few got to see the film Saturday at a star-studded premiere in Hollywood, where one of its stars, British actor Riz Ahmed told AFP that "I really feel proud of the film, and I hope (the fans) connect with it too".

The studio has gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure no details of the plot have leaked out beyond the two trailers it posted in the run-up to the release.

Before critics were shown the film they had to sign an agreement saying they would not reveal anything that might give away the story until the film was released in their countries.

There were no such constraints however on the celebrities who packed the Pantages Theater for the Hollywood screening – many of whom have links to Disney – and who were quick to heap praise on the film to reporters and on social media afterwards.

Chinese stars

Directed by the British-born maker of Godzilla Gareth Edwards – whose background is in special effects – the movie is more of a war film than previous adventures with one sequence seen as a nod to Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 classic Apocalypse Now.

In a bid to pull in Asian audiences, Jyn Erso's band of renegade rebels also includes Chinese stars Wen Jiang and Hong Kong martial arts master Donnie Yen.

Rogue One is part of an attempt to revitalise the franchise since Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, when it was still reeling from grim reviews for the prequel trilogy.

The idea was to bring out a sequel trilogy with a movie every other year – starting with The Force Awakens in 2015 – and intersperse those releases with an "anthology trilogy" of one-off, standalone movies in the even years.

The next trilogy film, Episode VIII, is due next December, with an as yet untitled anthology movie centring on Han Solo due in May 2018.

J.J. Abrams's The Force Awakens made US$2 billion to become 2015's biggest release, the most successful Disney motion picture and the third-highest grossing movie of all time.

Pundits expect Rogue One to open at US$130-US$150 million, some way behind the US$248 million debut weekend for The Force Awakens and end up with a final global total around US$1.4 billion. — AFP