Can there be a movie that is totally a Star Wars movie, but doesn’t look, sound, or feel like a Star Wars movie? Rogue One answers resoundingly “yes,” and it is really good. Star Wars fans know what this movie is about and how it ends, but it still managed some big surprises.

A Star Wars StoryThis is a Star Wars film. It is set in the Star Wars universe, during the time of the Galactic Rebellion (Classic Star Wars times). There are a few familiar people, aliens, and droids making cameos. And there is “The Force.” In Rogue One, the Jedi are the stuff of legend. Everyone has heard of them and vaguely acknowledges their religion. This is more in the vein of the original films than anything else that followed.

Rogue One manages to remain true without tropes. “I have a bad feeling about this” and the Wilhelm Scream are cut off before finishing. John Williams is not the principal composer. It’s not about the Skywalker family, and no Jedi appear in the film (Vader is a Sith Lord – not a Jedi, and Donnie Yen’s character is a “Force Sensitive”).

One glaring departure from the franchise allows Rogue One to demonstrate where Star Wars went off the rails. There is no opening scrawl. No text scrolls by to set up this story. Unlike the prequels, which required librarian level research to know who anyone was, Rogue One makes few demands of the audience. (They even have the planet names appear as captions whenever we go to a new one.)

Here’s what you should know going into Rogue One: there’s an oppressive galactic empire; they are bad guys; and they’re building the Death Star (and you could probably figure out those things in the first few minutes).

Wait, didn’t the Death Star get blown up in A New Hope (and again in Return of the Jedi)? Yes, this movie happens immediately before A New Hope. Remember the movie that revolutionized space opera and re-invented special effects? This movie tells the story of why Princess Hairbuns was on that ship in the opening scene.

There’s lots of little ‘member berries for the encyclopedic knowledge of Star Wars super-fans: Khyber crystals are used to make lightsabers; the holy city and first [Jedi] temple on the planet Jedah have appeared in animated series and books; Jimmy Smits plays Leia’s adopted father; etc. But, they don’t detract from what is fundamentally a modern antihero adventure movie. A band of outcast scofflaws come together as a reluctant team and help the noble cause, desperately struggling against a vastly more powerful evil empire.

Rogue One makes good use of the screen and rewards your entertainment attention. It takes you back to the original Star Wars – not by retelling the story, but by showing you something new.

One last thing that totally bucks the Star Wars franchise for the better: Darth Vader isn’t portrayed as an arthritic asthmatic in a mobile life support pod, he is a total badass.