Thumbs up for latest ‘Star Wars’ chapter

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I was not especially anticipating “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
 It seemed to be nothing more than a marketing ploy, a filler movie to hold people off until Episode 8 of the saga next year.  Also, any one with half a brain knows that this series has always been on rocky ground when it comes to prequels, and I hoped all the good will amassed by The Force Awakens would not be washed away by this one.
Thankfully, I was wrong in all regards; Rogue One is as much a part of this franchise as any other installment, improving what came before it while still offering long-time fans something new in return for their patience.  It isn’t nearly as good as Force, but it has enough grit, action, and unexpected charm to make up for it.
I can’t get into plot details here, but the story basically follows a young rebel (Felicity Jones) who must go against the Empire, who are building a new and powerful weapon that could win them the war.  The rebel will have to lean on new friends and come to terms with her past demons while doing so, leaving the battle forever changed.
Garreth Edwards (director of the 2014’s  “Godzilla” is a great fit for the material, bringing an unprecedented amount of grit to the proceedings that differentiates it from other installments.  The galaxy is no longer a place where you walk into a bar and see various aliens sitting around, it’s an explosive war zone with danger around every turn.
 I got the answers to some long-sitting questions about this series, and that really helped my enjoyment of it.  Edwards directs the action very well, giving the feel of a legitimate war movie a la “Saving Private Ryan” at some points (Alternate title for this film: Saving Private Rebels).  If you enjoy action, then Rogue One will definitely leave you satisfied.
The characters and story get better as the film goes along.  I wasn’t very interested in some of them at the outset like I was in Force, but they gained depth later on.  This new hero isn’t as memorable as Rey, but she is still a strong female character and a positive role model for women to follow.  It’s also nice to see some diversity among the rebels this time, showing that the filmmakers are aware of cultural tides.
Lastly, the story has twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, and there are some very emotional scenes.  If anything, the film shows the realities of war, and I hope to see future installments do similarly.
Rogue One isn’t the best film in the saga, but it is a solid placeholder until the next installment, with enough action, humor, and charm to balance out its dark and gritty nature.  See it, and may the Force be with you all.
Rated PG-13 for Extended Sequences of Sci-Fi Violence and Action.