I am neither a fan boy nor a Star Wars fanatic,  and through the years I have had mixed reactions to George Lucas’ iconic creation. But as we approach the 40th anniversary of the 1977 original, I have to say I am surprised that I liked the first “stand-alone” entry in  the franchise, Rogue One: A Star Wars Storyas much as I did. It is not hype on my part to say I really think this could be my favorite of all of them. It’s certainly  the grittiest, even using indie film technique like hand-held cameras, and also is the first one to play like a war picture. As I say in my video review above, at its heart though it has got a kick-ass ragtag team of new characters I warmed to right away in a movie that is less space opera and more hybrid of The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven.

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Director Gareth Edwards, who revitalized the Godzilla franchise, has done the same here with a rousing and wholly entertaining take that proves you don’t have to go along with the recipe in order to serve up a satisfying meal for fans and non-fans alike. Of course, he has the benefit of a script credited to top screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy from a story by a Star Wars visual effects wizard John Knoll as well as Gary Whitta. They have set this story just shortly, at least in Empire years, before the 1977 original begins, so it is a prequel. In fact, for the first time there is no opening crawl, with only the brief intro “In a Galaxy Far Far Away…”.

We meet future revolutionary and streetwise Jyn Erso as a young girl witnessing horrific acts against her family, and the kidnapping of her brilliant scientist father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen), who is wanted for his way in helping to develop a superlaser to be used by the Empire in their bid to create the ultimate weapon. Cut a few years later and the grown-up Jyn (Felicity Jones) is set to become a key part of a stitched-together team to go in and steal plans for the Empire’s Death Star. Star Wars fans will recall those are the plans Princess Leia receives at the beginning of A New Hope.

The spy team includes Cassian Andor (a very fine Diego Luna), a veteran in espionage affairs; his reformed Imperial security droid K-2SO (or K2), played by Alan Tudyk as a wisecracking sidekick full of acidly funny barbs; Chirrut Imre (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior monk; machine gunner Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen); and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a former Imperial pilot trying to carve out a new life and close the door on his past. The casting could not be more diverse , and the good news is it all works. There’s also Forest Whitaker showing up as Saw Gerrera, a rebel insurgent and mentor to Jyn who gives guidance on this mission to infiltrate the inner circles of the Empire, where of course a character known to all lurks — and that is Darth Vader (voiced again by James Earl Jones), who is sometimes at odds with one of his own, the true villain of the piece Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who is the one who snatched Galen to use his know-how in carrying out his evil plans which threaten the rebels.

To say much more would be to pile spoiler on spoiler, and this movie is too much damn fun to do that. The fan-infused audience at its Hollywood world premiere Saturday night ate it all up and cheered mightily at the conclusion, proof positive that even if you don’t know an X-wing from a TIE fighter, this is one that gets it right for just about any audience that wants to succumb to this battle royal for the future of the, well,  future. The cast could not be better, with Felicity Jones the perfect and edgy heroine, Luna a dashing partner, and Tudyk’s great new robot invention. Mendelsohn is a nicely complex bad guy, while Ahmed and Yen each have some great moments. It is also nice to see, or at least hear, James Earl Jones back in full Vader mode. The special effects team outdoes themselves here, and Michael Giacchino’s great score owes a few notes to John Williams’ iconic classic but carves out its own place in this particular universe.

Producers are Kathleen Kennedy, Simon Emanuel and Allison Shearmur. Disney unleashes the Lucasfilm production on Friday — it will likely do quite well at the box office, don’t you think?

Do you plan to see Rogue One? Let us know what you think.