‘Rogue One’ is one of the best ‘Star Wars’ stories ever told

Stormtroopers in “Rogue One.”  Jonathan Olley, Lucasfilm-Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

“Rogue One,” more than “The Force Awakens,” feels like a new kind of “Star Wars” movie experience.

The stand-alone “Star Wars” movie coming out Friday is a powerful and gripping inside look at the front lines of battle between the Empire and the rebels, who have a chance to strike at their enemy’s seemingly indestructible Death Star. It’s a reward to fans who had faith that Disney’s acquiring of the rights to the franchise would produce a “Star Wars” viewing experience not seen – and, more importantly, not felt – before.

Emotion is what sets “Rogue One” apart from other “Star Wars” chapters. This film is heavy with it, from Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) struggling with the idea that her father, Galen Erso (played with the type of steely performance you come to expect from Mads Mikkelsen), has a hand in designing the Death Star that will lay waste to planets, to rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) grappling with whether to complete his mission even if it goes against what he feels is right.

K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) is the least cute droid we’ve ever seen, but what he lacks in BB-8 appeal he makes up for in scene-stealing sarcasm.

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We may be just getting to know Jyn, Cassian, blind Force believer Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and their brave crew, but the acting by this cast assures that by “Rogue One’s” end, we are witnessing the acts of “Star Wars” legends.

“Rogue One” isn’t handcuffed by nostalgia the way J.J. Abrams’s “The Force Awakens” seemed to be. The creative freedom of being a stand-alone film that isn’t one of the main Star Wars “episodes” fuels the film’s feeling of freshness while giving director Gareth Edwards a license to produce a darker “Star Wars” experience, but one that still has heart.

“Rogue One” has a deep story and some of the best dialogue and acting that we’ve seen in the “Star Wars” universe, setting the standard for future episodes. But its most inspiring act is its confirmation that a sequence from “Star Wars'” past – in this case the movement that leads to the destruction of the Death Star in the first trilogy – can now be mined for fresh approaches, making the franchise feel like it has unlimited filmmaking possibilities.

You’ll notice we’ve yet to mention Darth Vader.

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This movie is good enough that it doesn’t need Darth Vader and could have gotten away with mentioning the ultimate Sith Lord in name only (the way other classic “Star Wars” characters are referenced in “Rogue One’s” multiple winks to the audience). But Darth Vader’s reappearance – something many “Star Wars” fans never thought they’d see – is brilliantly executed, an exclamation point that pushes the “Rogue One” viewing experience from memorable to unforgettable. (To say anything more would do a disservice to the experience.)

Visually, “Rogue One” provides the stunning special effects we’ve long come to expect from anything connected to “Star Wars.” The battles are intense and up-close, whether in the stars or where water hits the sand.

“Rogue One” is “Star Wars” storytelling at its very best.