When Disney purchased Lucasfilm and announced shortly thereafter that they were going to turn out one STAR WARS film a year, I was hesitantly excited. After seeing the first of the new stand alone films ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, my hesitation is gone.
This movie is a blast.
Star Wars fans will remember that the original 1977 film opened with Darth Vader boarding Princess Leia's ship and demanding the plans to the Death Star that the Rebels had stolen.
But HOW those plans got stolen proves to be a compelling adventure in itself.
We first meet reluctant scientific genius Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen of "Hannibal") as the evil Empire conspires to bring him back to work on the Death Star. Galen wants no part of it, scattering his family to hide from the Gestapo-like grasp of the Empire.
Flash forward to his daughter as rebellious young Jyn Erso, perfectly played by Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, Inferno).
Jyn finds herself a valuable pawn between the forces of the rebel alliance and the more violent factions opposing the Empire, who must merge forces to defeat the Emperor and Darth Vader during the height of their pre-"Star Wars" power.
The film's brilliance is it creates a story line more attuned to a World War II thriller or a Tarantino band of misfits drama than a traditional science fiction movie.
The film's opening scenes hop all over the universe, taking you to new worlds and plenty of planets thrillingly familiar to Star Wars fans, some of which you haven't seen in many films.
Director Gareth Edwards brings the same sense of mythology, scale and fun he did to his 2014 "Godzilla", providing plenty of humor in the mix.
Our band of rebel brothers is a great one. Diego Luna is our young team leader, Riz Ahmed is a pilot with an important secret, Donnie Yen is fantastic as a blind warrior with plenty of Force, Wen Jiang is his laser gattling gun toting sidekick and Forest Whitaker is battered extremist Saw Gerrera.
You'd think the last thing we would need is another robot in this series, but Alan Tudyk voices one of the best, a self-aware reprogrammed Empire unit with no filter and plenty of attitude.
NO SPOILERS here, but its safe to say that Star Wars fans wont be able to wipe the smile off their faces with the many, MANY well executed Easter Eggs, references and expansions on the original Star Wars film.
The filmmakers employ every visual trick in the book to bring some characters to life that you will NEVER expect to see. Suffice to say that you walk out of the theatre understanding that actors no longer even need to be alive in real life to play a major part in a film.
You'll see plenty of your favorites in large and small parts, some very surprising but all enjoyable. James Earl Jones provides his voice yet again to Darth Vader, re-establishing the character as one very nasty villain long before George Lucas could sabotage his legacy with a Humpty Dumpty head and sappy Hallmark-card death scene (not to mention those crap Ewoks) in "Return of the Jedi".
The last 40 minutes of ROGUE is a feast for Star Wars fans. The Imperial Walkers are back, the X-wings and Imperial Fighters battle it out in the atmosphere and at a beautiful, flawlessly realistic tropical setting and the Death Star plays an imposing role.
Michael Giacchino provides a strong music score with the right John Williams themes interwoven just when you want them and Screenwriters Chris Weitz (About A Boy) and Tony Gilroy (The Bourne film series) find a great balance between what you know and constantly unveiling interesting details that feed the original trilogy.
The last five minutes is the perfect transition between the end of ROGUE ONE and the beginning of the original STAR WARS, leaving me ready to see this new film again for everything I missed the first time.
Whether you are a lifetime Star Wars fan or someone that has never seen a Star Wars film, this is a terrific thriller that stands alone on sturdy legs, but soars for the fans of these tales from a long time ago and far, far away.
It's the most fun I've had in a theatre all year.
GO ROGUE- it's an exciting visual blast that gets an A+.