I don’t pretend to be the biggest Star Wars geek in the galaxy, but I do know a good Star Wars film when I see one, and “Rogue One” is exactly that. For one, it cleverly and effortlessly works as a link between episode III and Episode IV while working perfectly well as a standalone film, introducing us to an array of intriguing new characters and digging deep into the Star Wars mythology. Fanboys, you’re in for quite a ride. As mentioned before, the events of this story take place right before Princess Leia sends the cryptic message to Obi Wan Kenobi, which will eventually set the tone for the rest of the original saga. We meet Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, terrific), a born rebel who also happens to be the daughter of Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), the scientist who is helping the Empire build their most dangerous weapon yet: the Death Star. On the surface, this is straightforward stuff: the rebels plot to steal the plans of the Death Star and the rest is…well… history. Except it’s not. Since most of the new characters are exceptionally well written, they begin to feel a lot like old friends, and this is what propels this spin-off. And if you don’t lose it when Darth Vader appears onscreen, you probably deserve banishment from the Star Wars fandom. The action, from a heart-pounding opening scene to an explosive climax, is masterfully orchestrated by director Gareth Edwards (“Godzilla”). The new actors, from Forest Whitaker as Jyn’s mentor Saw Gerrera to Diego Luna as a rebel Captain, are all aces. But no one can steal the spotlight from Felicity Jones, who gives the movie its heart and soul. “Rebellions are built on hope” she says, in one of the film’s most iconic moments. Truer words have never been spoken. This is Star Wars at its very best.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story  ★★★½