Fan expectations, just like rebellions, are built on hope. This epic space opera opened to $323 million worldwide in the first 5 days. I have to assume that there are people who may think this the next film in the Star Wars saga; it’s not. This is the first of an Anthology series, where every other year there will be a completely different spin-off story set in the same universe as the titular franchise. This one takes place right before the events of A New Hope and follows Jyn Erso, an outsider who has been on her own for much of her life. Long story short, the Galactic Empire is building a brand new superweapon known as the Death Star, and a test for its effectiveness is eminent. The Rebel Alliance recruits Erso to help them find a way to stop it and get valuable information on how they could potentially counter it. I’m keeping it kind of vague for some people who wish to go into the movie completely cold and might not even know what I’m talking about. After giving us the modern incarnation of Godzilla 2 years ago, Gareth Edwards returns to the director’s chair in his third theatrical effort to date. And he does his best to make this film as different from the previous entries as possible. From the very beginning, there is no opening crawl with John Williams’ iconic score. Instead, an intense cold opener immediately sets the tone of the rest of the story. If they did have an opening crawl, it would have probably just recited the plot of the background novel, Catalyst, which is not required reading in case you’re wondering. The second in a string of strong female protagonists from the Walt Disney-owned franchise, Felicity Jones is excellent in the lead role. She puts a hard shell above the surface, but underneath is a vulnerable young woman who is trying to find her place in the galaxy; a universal theme in the series. The standout character of the movie isn’t human, nor even alien; it’s Alan Tudyk as the droid K2SO. He brought the right amount of humor into the dark story without compromising the flow. He was so hysterical, everyone in the theater was dying laughing at everything that he said. I love me some sarcastic, smart-ass characters. Martial arts superstar Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe kicked complete ass as a blind Force-sing monk. His dialogue and nature brought a newly found depth to already existing lore. His relationship with the mercenary Baze Malbus, played superbly by Jiang Wen, is one of the most interesting and appealing in the movie. Now let’s touch on the villain. If you went to this movie because Darth Vader is in it, you probably going to be disappointed because he only appears in about 3 scenes total. He’s still badass, and for the first time, it becomes apparent that this guy is legit scary. The REAL villain is Orson Krennic, played marvelously by Ben Mendohlson. He’s obsessive, brilliant, cruel, and yet in some way sympathetic. In fact, the thing this movie does best is showing the uglier, grayer side of warfare. It’s not just good guys are trying to take out bad guys. Even though there’s still a dynamic of good vs evil, the Rebel Alliance make a few decisions in the story that could be considered immoral. But on both sides, there are people who genuinely believe that they’re doing what’s best for the future of the galaxy. Forrest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera proves as much. Even though he’s not in the movie much, his actions are extreme but you understand where his motivations come from. But the pacing in the first half of the movie drags on for a bit. It spends a lot of time introducing new characters and locations quickly, resulting in the story slowing down. However, I can’t judge whether or not 133 minutes was long enough or too short for this to happen. Could they have shaved off or added several minutes? That’s entirely your opinion. However, in moving on, we get to the third act, the final battle; it’s epic. That’s the only word I can use to accurately describe the entirety of the final 45-50 minutes of the film. It’s at that point the writers decided to really put the “Wars” in Star Wars. It’s gritty, it’s harsh, it’s explosive, there are no lightsabers clashing. Of all the entries in the series, Rogue One is probably the most ground and violent when it comes to action, with more onscreen deaths than most of the original trilogy. Edwards shows his affinity for large-scale filmmaking with Greig Fraser’s swooping cinematography of the land battles and space combat. It’s also worth noting that a couple characters from the original trilogy were brought back with extensive CGI. I won’t say which characters, but I could tell they needed some work from ILM. Admittedly, though, I adjusted to them after a while and didn’t have much of a problem. And with series regular John Williams sitting this one out, Michael Giacchino steps in to score the soundtrack- and I can’t think of a better composer they could have gotten for the job. Utilizing familiar themes while toying with brand new ones, each track matches perfectly with the scene in question. It brings out all the emotion and excitement we can expect from a Star Wars movie at this point. Even though the first act was slow, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a fantastic action movie with enough balance of spectacle and heart to warrant the Star Wars logo. Delivering impactful mature themes along with one of the most exciting and satisfying final acts for any movie I’ve seen recently, there’s a bright future ahead for this franchise. I’m now more excited than ever for the Han Solo prequel film in 2018. Yes, I’m excited for a Star Wars prequel. Crazy.