“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…”

It’s the Star Wars opening sequence that every fan worth his or her salt knows. Indeed, when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opened, this timeless introduction immediately sparked nostalgia and thunderous applause among the die-hard in the audience.

Yet, the resounding familiarity just as quickly gave way to a sense of something new. There was no opening crawl! For the first time ever, a Star Wars film opens without its most iconic filming device. We’re not in Tatooine anymore, ladies and gentlemen.

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Rogue One tells the tale of how a ragtag bunch of Rebel spies steal the design plans for the Death Star, thus setting the events of the original trilogy into motion. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) leads the team, in search of her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), who plays a crucial role in the construction of the Death Star. She is joined by Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a defecting Imperial pilot, and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), an Imperial droid reprogrammed for the Alliance. Along the way, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind monk and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), a freelance assassin joins them.

Rogue One is unique in a lot of ways. First and foremost is how its story is presented. We barely have any mention of a single Skywalker. The story is built on new characters and plot points we only had an inkling of in the original trilogy. Despite already knowing that the plans for the Death Star end up in the Alliance’s hands, Rogue One captures an enthralling story that takes us on a ride from beginning to finish.

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Yes, it’s as standalone as standalones go. But since it’s a story that takes place before the first movie in 1977, you can expect callbacks galore in Rogue One. Thankfully, it’s done in a way that isn’t self-pandering. This isn’t a film made specially for fan service. The little callbacks and Easter eggs in the film serve the plot in some capacity. Some of them are even motion-captured characters. Which are testaments to how much graphics technology has developed over the years.

Rogue One is visually stunning. Through motion capture, they recreated characters from the original trilogy. And they look realistic with only a tinge of artificiality. (No spoilers here so you’ll have to guess which of the old cast makes an appearance.) The battle set pieces are likewise out of this world. To add to the sandy dunes like those in Tatooine and the standard sci-fi sets of spaceships, Rogue One introduces sprawling cities and tropical bases into the Star Wars universe.

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In addition to the changes in scenery, Rogue One’s new characters help develop its story. They mix the film’s more action-packed pacing with the charming humor that the Star Wars saga is known for. For example, even with his masterful martial artistry, Chirrut Îmwe shone beyond his action scenes with inspiring monologues and light-hearted quips. Add in K-2SO’s deadpan sarcasm and you have a film that brews hilarity perfectly with suspense. And truly, both characters stole the film in their respective scenes.

If anything, Rogue One can be faulted for cramming as much new material and characters as it can into a feature-length film. Whereas The Force Awakens spent a lot of time with world-building for the new trilogy, Rogue One has no choice but to rush things along into a standalone. While they tell a compelling story collectively, Rogue One’s characters lacked just a teensy bit of pathos that would have made me care about everyone involved.

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But that’s okay. Rogue One is still an excellent movie I wouldn’t mind watching again. I have no doubt that both casual and die-hard fans will love this first film in the Star Wars Anthology. Like Chirrut Îmwe’s undying chants of “I’m with the Force, the Force is with me,” expect Rogue One’s charm to last well into the next batch of Star Wars films.

And hey, it’s still a better prequel than the entire prequel trilogy.

Movie stills courtesy of Lucasfilm