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“Rogue One” is the first of many standalone Star Wars films to be distributed by Disney. I use the word “standalone” lightly because it could just as well be appropriately titled “Star Wars: Before A New Hope” and it would have been just as successful anyway. It fits seamlessly within the timeline, meaning it does not feel estranged as some separate entities in major series do. Its success is well earned. “Rogue One,” in my mind, will not have earned its ratings and profits just from being a Star Wars movie. It earned it all from being a great film.

“Rogue One” is the title of the ship used by the Rebels in their pursuit of stealing the Death Star plans from an Imperial Base on the planet Scarif. The name is decided on as the Rebels onboard are going against orders set by the leaders of the Rebellion to not engage the Empire. Funny, how I always just assumed there was a war going on. The brave men, woman, and droid onboard fly on an Imperial ship through enemy territory and mount a daring resistance built purely on hope and fortitude. Anyway, that’s just the third act. And the third act carries its suspense and excitement all the way to its ending. “Rogue One” starts off quick, and never slows down. It’s an absolute spectacle.

The first act involves getting to know our characters. Unlike other Star Wars movies, our heroine’s past is explored a bit and her struggle is therefore put in greater perspective. The acting is exceptional. Felicity Jones triumphs as Jyn Erso. Diego Luna is inspiring as Cassian. Ben Mendelsohn is menacing as the Imperial Admiral. Some criticism was given to the film’s use of CGI to recreate past characters, but I did not find it appalling at all. In fact, were it not for some closeups that gave it away, I may not have even noticed. It’s marveling how advanced these imaging systems are. And unlike much of the CGI used in the prequels, the special effects are used brilliantly to add to the scope and tone of each scene, rather than being overused to the point of blatant arrogance.

Everything that made the original Star Wars films great is here. The imagination and creativity is so enthralling we feel as though we are part of the story. The artistry of each scene and each setting is gorgeous. From a conceptual standpoint, the creative team behind all the planets, the bases, and the aliens were brilliant. The film is wholeheartedly original. Unlike “The Force Awakens,” it is more than reverent fan service. While “The Force Awakens” may have filled the void, “Rogue One” truly delivers.

I have said before that the Star Wars films are simply meant to be looked at and enjoyed. They are not meant to be dissected for insight into human behavior, and they have never been known for the quality of their writing. “Rogue One” dares to cross my statement, as its themes of hope, love, and sacrifice are beautifully woven into its storytelling. Even the Force takes on a greater meaning. In this film, there are no Jedi twirling light sabers or moving objects with mere thought. The Force is a spiritual connection for these heroes, built on faith rather than practice. Hence Imwe’s constant prayer, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.” Our heroes’ connection to a greater purpose is what drives their actions throughout the course of the film. Their bonds are everlasting, even in death.

“Rogue One” exceeded all expectations. It is sci-fi, sure, but it is also drama, action, adventure, a war film, and a love story between father and daughter. It has space battles (with the cleverest maneuvers, I must say), suspense, thrills, brings about tears, and provides exciting entertainment. Its scenes with a familiar villain are especially well executed. John Williams was absent from the film’s musical compositions, but fortunately we do not miss him too dearly. Giacchino writes a bold score. But what really brings it all together is the story’s characters. Their friendships and valiant efforts tug at the heart. The story begins and ends with them.