Written by Emilie Kefalas

The Force has awakened . . . again. This time, however, it is stronger.

As 2016 wrapped up, I noticed an unofficial trend in movie trailers where the plot often advertised in thirty-second ads is packaged quite differently from the final cut seen in theaters. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was one of the major releases, along with “Suicide Squad,” that underwent reshoots within the six months leading up to its premiere. Unlike David Ayer’s wannabe-edgy antihero spectacle, Gareth Edwards’s edits improved upon the “what if” of “Rogue One’s” narrative. Those changes easily make it the best prequel in the Star Wars universe. 

The familiarity is in the summary: a group of rebels fights to steal the Death Star plans and save the Rebellion. The premise provides an entertaining backstory, one definitely worth telling in 133 minutes. The now-legendary logline was embedded for years in the opening crawl of Episode IV and taken for granted as an easy-peasy piece of plot to destroy the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star (cue “Imperial March”).

The more complicated side to that story includes an equally entertaining plot focused on Jyn Erso, the daughter of Galen Erso, a reluctant research scientist and designer of the Death Star. Jyn’s eventual alliance with a band of Rebels  – whose call sign is Rogue One – sees her on a mission to acquire the Death Star’s blueprints so the Rebellion has a chance.

Some critics complained the plot was crowded with inconsequential characters, though I was able to keep up just fine. Each personality is well-developed and supported by a diverse ensemble of actors genuinely invested in the saga’s cries of “I am one with the force and the force is with me.”

Notable performances include Felicity Jones’s refreshing Jyn, who’s anything but a clone of Daisy Ridley’s Rey in last year’s “The Force Awakens.” Donnie Yen is an excellent addition as Chirrut Îmwe, a blind warrior with invincible faith in the Force. Darth – “don’t mess with me” – Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones and physically portrayed by Spencer Wilding and Daniel Naprous) also returns in all the glory of the powerful, black-masked figure audiences feared in the original trilogy.  

Thanks to Industrial Light & Magic, “Rogue One” also succeeds in experimenting with revolutionary, face-placement technology. Take Grand Moff Tarkin, a major character in “A New Hope” originally portrayed by Peter Cushing who died in 1994. For the sake of “Rogue One’s” story, special effects supervisors resurrected Cushing’s Tarkin by superimposing his face on actor Guy Henry, who supplies Tarkin’s voice.  

Edwards’s go at the Star Wars extended universe deserves your viewing, if nothing else, for the chance to discover the opportunity beyond the main Star Wars canon. The tone is a touch darker, but not unnecessarily so as seen in the superfluous shadows of, say, “Batman Vs. Superman.” The mood is a given in this new installment for George Lucas’s baby, but 

The mood is a given in this new installment for George Lucas’s baby, but the film does not harbor a strictly grim filter. Wonderful supporting characters, like Alan Tudyk’s wisecracking droid K-2SO, attend to the appropriate tension breaking.

Michael Giacchino’s score borrows from John Williams’s iconic themes while also adding a successful dose of poignancy (not a bad feat considering he only had four and a half weeks to compose the film’s score following his replacing Alexander Desplat). Greig Fraser’s cinematography tackles Edwards’s war-movie, documentary style approach sans signature Star Wars transitional wipes. Even without an opening crawl, “Rogue One” distinctly marks its territory as “Star Wars 3.8.”

The cultural “Force” that is the Star Wars universe has elbow room a plenty for infinite expansions, evident in the scheduled Han Solo and Boba Fett films. As “Rogue One” proves, it is possible to draw a crowd (and hundreds of millions of dollars in box office revenue) with a simple space backdrop of stars and the howl of tie-fighters, that and a plot that literally leads into the main story of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Dare I say I enjoyed “Rogue One” more than last year’s “The Force Awakens.” The originality and separation of the two cannons made a positive difference for the former. “Force Awakens,” now that I’ve watched it well over ten times, imitates the classic, effective qualities of “A New Hope.”

With “Rogue One,” something was at stake. Spoiler warning: These imperfectly compelling non-Jedi characters are not coming back for sequels and spinoff’s. By the film’s end, I was both exhilarated and thankful for the consideration that went into any of Edwards’s final revisions. They ultimately made whatever plot points started out slowly in the first half hour worthwhile in an incredible 45-minute finale.