Ever since Disney bought “Star Wars”, they’ve made a marketing plan regarding the future of the franchise: after each Star Wars “Episode Film” (like Episode 7: The Force Awakens), a spinoff film will be made covering a different time, place or character in the vast Star Wars universe. For the first spinoff film in the franchise’s history, director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters) chose a very interesting section of the Star Wars lore to focus on: the acquiring of the Death Star plans mentioned in the beginning of “A New Hope.” What sounded like casual exposition in the first Star Wars film has spiraled into an epic, heart pounding and thrilling adventure film that easily made this the most unique Star Wars film ever made.

A rebel soldier/criminal by the name of Jayne Erso (Felicity Jones) has been captured and forced by the Rebellion to do the impossible: acquire the plans for the Empire’s latest and deadliest threat yet, the Death Star. With her father (Mads Mikkelson) being the master engineer, Rebel leader Cassian (Diego Luna) uses Jyn’s background ties and connections to radical Saw Gurrera (Forest Whitaker) to orchestrate a plan to break into the Empire and steal the plans in order to stop the Empire’s weapon before it’s fully operational. Who would have ever guessed a side story about something that seemed uninteresting, like acquiring plans for a top secret weapon, could be turned into one of the most compelling and intense dramas of this year?

“Rogue One” expands the Star Wars universe in ways never been done before, treating us to real, gritty, non-Jedi characters; devoid of the Force or lightsabers and struggling to survive a suicide mission against an unstoppable Empire. It’s like a “Mission Impossible” movie set in the worlds of Star War’s galaxy, but taken 100% seriously and engaging its audience in a way no one thought possible.

Through the brilliant use of advanced special effects, famous characters from the past films are re-integrated into the story that makes their involvement seamless and disturbingly authentic. “Rogue One” delivers a perfectly sculpted picture to a saga we didn’t know we needed, but now after seeing it, I realize we’ve wanted AND needed this story to be told and exactly in this way.

The cast is full of semi-familiar faces, hardly top billing celebrity superstars but they’re all top of their game and round out a sensationally diverse cast. We get unique performances from the likes of Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelson, Felicity Jones and a scene stealing, smart mouthed android (no not C-3PO) in the form of Alan Tudyk’s motion capture performance of K-2SO. Gareth Edwards has always had trouble showcasing his story’s true focus in his past films; this is first crack at focusing on people rather than people side kicking next to giant CG monsters. Frankly, he needs to stick to human characters and less on CG beasts more often because he’s created a flawless cinematic jigsaw puzzle piece that fits perfectly into the central Star Wars storyline in “A New Hope.”

The music, the scenery, the effects, the drama, the writing, everything here is lightyears better than any film fan or Star Wars fan could have hoped for. The last half of the film escalates the tension and conflict into a finale that force chokes you by the throat and never lets you breath until the final credits roll. Iconic Star Wars figurehead villain Darth Vader even returns for another unforgettable appearance.

His time on screen is brief, but the impact of his weight in these two scene reminds us how truly terrifying and intimidating he was when he first appeared. I enjoyed this film immeasurably from start to pulse stopping finish. Nothing felt weak or underdeveloped, every character and area was explored, executed exceedingly well and there’s even a number of clever cameos and Easter Eggs for Star Wars fans to enjoy.

Overall, “Rogue One” feels more worthy of connecting to the Star Wars saga than even the Prequels do. It’s an innovative, nonstop thrill ride that captures you with the highest quality characters, drama and storytelling that this galaxy has seen in a long, long time. This is easily one of the best films of 2016. I don’t know what those other spin offs are going to be about after Episode 8 comes out, but if they have even a fraction of the phenomenal talent that “Rogue One” has, the best is truly yet to come.

I give “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” 4 stars out of 4 stars.