A few qualifiers to begin with. One, this will not be a spoiler free review, so if you are still yet to see the movie, please stop reading here. This movie is really, really, good and I don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of seeing it for the first time. Two, I am a HUGE Star Wars fan, I grew up with a father obsessed with 80s action films. I know more lines from Top Gun, GhostBusters, and the Star Wars original trilogy than song lyrics. Finally three, I saw this film in Imax 3D in the second row, which effected my viewing experience, many of the backgrounds were not sharp because the parallax 3D effect falls apart if you get to close to the screen

Ok! Disclaimers done lets talk about the movie itself. I went in to Rogue One with extremely high expectations, the director, Gareth Edwards, has a short slate of past films, none of which were super successful, but it did have veteran writer Tony Gilroy (the Bourne series) behind it, so I had high hopes. I went it basically knowing nothing I knew Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) would be the main protagonists, but beyond that I had very little to go on. By the time I left I felt like this movie did the best job of representing what it must be like to be a peon in a galactic war, that any I had ever seen before. This is not the story of a hero general of the rebellion, it is a story of the soldiers who fight and die at the orders of that general, and that is what gives this movie such a visceral feel. No more are we in a star fighter removed from the action and protected by plot armor, instead we are on the ground, in the trench and people are dying.

The film opens in the same way that every Star Wars should with a nice cold open shot of a Star Destroyer, in that oh so Star Wars way.  Notably absent from the film is the trademark Star Wars opening crawl that fans are so used to. Instead we just get the logo Rogue One: A Star Wars Story blasted in to our face after the opening shot. This sets the tone for the whole film, it’s a rapid fire blow to blow almost non-stop action film. This is a movie about war, about a small bedraggled group of pilots, senators, and ground troops who are fighting to restore the republic. To give you an idea of how dark the tone of this film is, the words Rebel and Alliance hardly appear at all in this film. If a new hope is built on the idea that our heroes are a scrappy bunch of lovable underdogs, then this film is about a vicious pit bulls.

Pitbulls basically

I think I first got the idea of how this film about 10 minutes in, just after we had seen Jyn’s mother killed and her father taken away, we swap to Cassian Andor (hero of the rebellion) meeting with someone on a remote trading outpost. This person has information that Cassian needs, and he is wounded, an imperial storm trooper happens on their clandestine meeting and Cassian shoots him down brutally. That troopers death alerts the guards nearby and Cassian now stranded with only one option to climb out, kills his contact so that he can escape. This all happens in the first 15 minutes of the film, and it really doesn’t get any nicer from there.

I loved the dirt, the grit, and the realism that came with this film, there were moments during Episode 7 that I felt like were dragging, during this film I couldn’t even sneak in a drink of my soda. Despite its over two hour run time, and its extensive reshoots the film has very few low points. The action isint nonstop, but there is so much of it the slower parts feel like a much needed rest rather than a forced slow down. The casting is masterful, and the story really kept me guessing.

Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) absolutely steals every single scense that he is in as an old maybe onece jedi who is now guarding the holy city of Jedha, and his chemistry with Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) a mercenary who protects him, is as close to perfect as a set of cast characters can get. Even the voice actor for K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) does a fantastic job.

Sadly, like most Star Wars movies most of the time the droid is useless and often provide only deus-ex-droid by showing up to open unopenable doors or locate things that need to be located, He also delivers basically the only comedy relief in the film. Some of his lines honestly made me laugh out loud. I do feel like he was only funny because we needed to have some attachment to him so his death meant something, but I’ll allow it in this case.

The movie takes a Saving Private Ryan like approach to combat, were constantly down in it, fighting and running with the characters so that I almost felt like I was running with them. The plot was a little shallow. Its your basic Star Wars family story, Girls father is kidnapped, and mother is killed, she wants revenge, etc. But by framing the entire narrative in the loss and pain that a galaxy spanning civil war would not doubt bring, we really get to see a lot of character development both from Jyn and Galen.  Sadly most of the rest of the characters development is limited purely by screen time. I wanted to know more about the rest of the rebel pilots, generals, and senators, and perhaps even more so I wanted to know the story of Chirrut Îmwe and mercenary Baze Malbus. These stories are approached in that oh so Star Wars of ways with a show and don’t tell attitude, and so im not upset that we didn’t get more back story, but I am still curious. There are also other characters and stories here Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) character seems to have suffered from the extensive rerwrites and cuts made, as his part in the film is so small as to be completely forgettable. I know that hes necessary to tie this film back to the Rebels TV show, but man Disney couldn’t you have found a better way to do that?

The films third act feels a little bit repetitive, sneak in to a base, capture something, and escape. But it throws a serious curve ball in the last act by sending our entire protagonist team on a mission they know is suicide. This is where this film went in my mind from another all right Star Wars story, to a true new step for the series. There was no last minute rescue, no surprise jedi, and no left over ends to wrap up. The film ends with an action packed battle where we get a chance to see the true cost of war. Like many war movies before it Rogue One is not shy about showing us the cost of war. During the final act we see our heroes fall one by one, finally ending with just Gyn and Cassian on a beach accepting their fate, after having sent off the plans for the newly completed Death Star.

Rogue One is unapologetically a Star Wars story, and it ends on such a great note that I truly feel that the film deserves all the hype behind it. That ending though is perhaps my biggest complaint with the film, its heavy handed pushes and homages to a level even I felt were too great. I accepted that C3P0 and R2-D2 could be on Yavin 4, I accepted that Vader would indeed be on Mustafar after the purge, and I even accepted that the movie needed Saw Gerrera to tie it to the clone wars era, but for some reason when Leia’s famous Tantive IV detaches from the rebel flag ship, I felt nothing bit a groan coming on.

Other than what I feel was a slightly weak final act, and a heavy hand in referencing the fact that this was indeed a Star Wars film, (like did we really need to crash another Star Destroyer in to another imperial thing in order to blow it up?) I loved Rogue One for what it was, a story of what it was like to be on the ground for the rebel alliance, rather than a legendary hero. I like this new brand of Star Wars. No longer is Star Wars reserved for a small group of plot armored prima donna heroes and their friends, instead its about the real man power on the ground.