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(Jonathan Olley / AP)

(Jonathan Olley / AP)

By Thomas Atseff, Lyons Township 

After the success of last year’s “The Force Awakens,” Disney and LucasFilm will be churning out at least one “Star Wars” movie every year for the foreseeable future. Every other year, however, we will have a break from the episodic films for a spin-off story; this year, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” begins that trend. Last year, many people felt that “The Force Awakens” was too similar to the previous movies in the universe, but “Rogue One” certainly does not do the same.

From the opening shot, “Rogue One” shows us that this is not a standard “Star Wars” film. The traditional opening crawl text is missing, and the first shot pans upward, ditching the customary down-pan that the rest of the “Star Wars” films open with. The familiar John Williams score is instantly replaced with a new musical take on the galaxy from fantastic composer Michael Giacchino.

“Rogue One” takes place immediately before the original “Star Wars” (A New Hope), but don’t worry, it’s not the kind of prequel you might think of. It tells the talked-about but never seen story of the rebels stealing the plans for the Empire’s Death Star, and follows the group of “rogue” rebels that set out to do so. The group, led reluctantly at first by Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, includes Diego Luna playing a long-time rebel, “Ip Man” lead Donnie Yen playing a blinded man who is very in-touch with the force, and a standout character in the robot K-2S0 voiced by Alan Tudyk.

Although the initial introduction to the cast of characters is somewhat poorly-paced and contrived in the beginning of the film, they are all fun and dynamic characters whose comraderie is believable and entertaining throughout the movie. The cast is also extremely diverse, which is a continuing positive trend in these new “Star Wars” movies. The performances are great across the board, with standouts in Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen and Mads Mikelson as a troubled employee of the Empire. There are also two appearances from characters that most thought would never appear on screen again, brought back to life by impressive and revolutionary special effects.

The film is very fast paced with a lot of action, and although there are some out-of-place scenes that didn’t fit in their place or weren’t necessary, this pace makes for a very exciting and surprising ride. Despite the giant universe it takes place in, “Rogue One” is a more grounded, and small-scale film compared to the episodic series. Much of the film is very dark, and has lingering notions of the modern state of the real world represented by the conflict with the Empire and its oppression. It has far more violence than most other “Star Wars” movies, and feels very much like a war film set int the “Star Wars” universe. However, like last year’s “The Force Awakens” it had great moments of comedy, often brought by the hilarious robot K-2S0 and his quips to the other characters.

“Rogue One” is a wholly new story and a very different film from its predecessors, yet it still feels distinctly like a “Star Wars” movie. It gives us new characters, environments, sights and sounds but doesn’t abandon the best qualities shared by all “Star Wars” movies, and gives us moments of familiarity to delight long-time fans. Director Gareth Edwards puts his own spin on it, but it is still directed like and feels like a “Star Wars” movie. It has hints of the classic John Williams score, but brings a great brand new score from Giacchino. It is an optimistic beginning for the new series of “Star Wars” spin-off movies, and paves the way for future success in the franchise.

3.5 out of 4 stars

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