Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Better than expected! was so much to expect from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, as the Star Wars movie universe added its first true standalone fixture in the series.  It’s almost as if the storytellers decided to rebuild the old “Star Wars Expanded Universe” that once populated the series’ books and videogames and TV specials, and placed it directly into the movie canon.

And that’s what happened with Rogue One, as we get the story of how a band of freedom fighters acquired the data tapes that exploit a weakness in the planet-killing Death Star – the same data tapes that Princes Leia smuggles into R2-D2 in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

And here I was last night, buying my ticket to the early evening 3-D showing at the Regal Cinema in Colonie Center.  Yep, it’s just like that magical day in 1977 when I stood in line across the street at the old Cine 1-2-3-4-5-6 in Northway Mall for the first Star Wars film … except it wasn’t in the middle of winter and the ticket price wasn’t $17 to see the film.

Be that as it may, I found a good seat in the theater and waited through the 20 minutes of pre-movie advertisements and 20 minutes of movie trailers (so there are at least three Marvel movies debuting in 2017, okey dokey).  One Star Wars fan in front of me stood up, turned around, and shouted half-jokingly in the theater, “Is there anybody in here that isn’t wearing a Star Wars shirt?”

“Yeah, me!” I shouted back.

“Get out of the theater, you’re not welcome here,” he called.

Okay, I can play along.  I slowly waved my hand in front of him, and used my best Alec Guinness intonation.  “You don’t need to have me leave the theater.”

“That Jedi mind trick won’t work on me,” he shouted back.  Dude must have been a prequel fan.  Probably still has a Jar Jar Binks inflatable doll in his bedroom.  But we both had a good laugh over the moment.

As for the film itself – it was way better than I expected.  While it did follow the usual beats of a Star Wars film – group of mismatched, diverse fighters band together, some comic relief from a droid that joins the team (K-2SO), and plenty of menacing, threatening Stormtrooper action (I think their aim has improved in this film, if that’s saying anything).

And there were several shout-outs to various Star Wars moments – yes, at least one character says “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” and yes there were various Stormtrooper armored war vehicles that we remember from Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back.

The best praise I can bestow upon this film is that it finds a way to truly integrate itself into the Star Wars movie universe more tightly and fluidly than any of the prequels.  And without spoiling anything, we even get a return visit from Grand Moff Tarkin, the despot governor from Star Wars: Episode IV as played by Peter Cushing.  Well, as recreated from the estate of Peter Cushing, since Peter Cushing is quite dead now, but thanks to CGI technology he looks as alive and as menacing as he did in 1977.

The other thing about this film is that it really amps up the danger and drama for the freedom fighters Jyn, Cassian, Chirrut, K-2S0 and the rest.  This isn’t like the prequels, where you know that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Annikin Skywalker were going to survive their battles.  In this instance, you’re not sure who will prevail in the rebels’ fight against the Empire.  There’s no sure answer, because we don’t see these rebels in any other film, nor do we hear their names mentioned.  Was their mission a success, or did it become a noble failure, a footnote to the resistance against the Galactic Empire?

Oh, and one more thing.  Stay till the end of the film.  You will not be disappointed.  Trust me on this.

So what are you waiting for?  You know you want to see this film.  And you’d better see it before Star Wars: Episode VIII debuts next Christmas.

And maybe this time I’ll pack a Star Wars T-shirt or something for the premiere. 😀