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Fans keep faith as critics take sabres to Star Wars 'Rogue One'

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Thousands of fans finally got to see the new Star Wars spin-off film on Wednesday as it opened across Europe, dividing critics.

[PARIS] Thousands of fans finally got to see the new Star Wars spin-off film on Wednesday as it opened across Europe, dividing critics.

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

But there was less enthusiasm on the other side of the Atlantic with the first screenings in Paris only three-quarters full.

And several critics took their light sabres to the plot with the French daily Liberation branding it "stutteringly cosmic" and The New York Times calling it a "thoroughly mediocre movie" that millions would sit through "and convince themselves that it's perfectly delightful".

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Market voices on:

But Sweden's Svenska Dagbladet daily was won over, declaring that "despite some forced dialogue and wearying back and forths... Rogue One is two hours and 13 minutes of hugely entertaining space action". Not that the faithful were put off.

Parisian product manager Catherine Jolivet, 35, who has grown up with the saga, said she was cheered by the fact that "female characters have become so important" as she queued up for her ticket.

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 Death Star, a planet-sized weapon of mass destruction.

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 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 though spectacular appearances by Darth Vader and Princess Leia from the beloved 1977 movie, it has all the familiar ingredients including Stormtroopers, X-wing fighters and a cute robot character.

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

The Force Awakens helped Disney to record US$5 billion box office takings last year, and the studio has left nothing to chance as it rolled out the new film 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 Jan 12.

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.

Directed by the British-born maker of Godzilla Gareth Edwards, 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.

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 of around US$1.4 billion.

The spin-off 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 is 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 like Rogue One.

AFP

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