Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is fundamentally an experiment – a test case to see if people actually want to see Star Wars movies set in the Universe, using all the familiar iconography (weapons, creatures, all the other various toys) but in different ways to make different types of films outside the main series’ rather insular rotating circles of the Jedi, the Sith, the Skywalker family, The Force, etc. On one level, it’s kind of a cynical scheme; a way for Disney to make sure they’ve always got something with “STAR WARS” stamped on it in theaters every year but (sort-of) also be making semi-original movies, so we don’t get sick of it too fast. But it’s also an opportunity for a broader range of filmmakers to play in one of the bigger franchise sandboxes and (at minimum) have some really cool, different stuff happen.And when Rogue One is following the “cool and different” edict, that’s when it’s awesome – and fortunately, that’s most of the time. The idea here is to make a gritty, seedy, espionage-focused military story in the Star Wars Universe; and right off the bat it’s novel to see the first Star Wars movie basically ever that isn’t deliberately trying to mimic the look and feel of A New Hope: It doesn’t have traditional Star Wars-style editing, it doesn’t have the same type of cinematography (much more handheld and “in the mix” of things), and it doesn’t follow the expected beats and rhythms. Sometimes the differences are more precise since, well, we’re still dealing with Stormtroopers and blasters and X-Wings and all that business; but it does end up feeling like a very different kind of Star Wars movie. Not quite “Jessica Jones vs. The Avengers movies” different, but it’s still pretty different.A lot of that difference comes from just the premise: The “big idea” here is that this is the new story of how the Rebels got the Death Star plans in A New Hope and, also, why the Death Star had such a relatively easy to exploit fatal weakness in the first place (oh, lord… we’re going to get movies explaining every minor fanboy nitpick now, aren’t we?) now that Dark Forces is no longer “official” canon. Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is a street-tough nomad troublemaker who’s also the daughter of the engineer (Mads Mikkelsen) The Empire is forcing to build The Death Star – and since it’s believed he’s trying to defect and reveal secrets, The Rebellion scoops her up to use as leverage. To say more would be to invite spoilers, so suffice it to say she ends up reluctantly (and then enthusiastically) helping a “too rebellious even for a Rebellion” team of scoundrels (including Diego Luna, Donnie Yen and Alan Tudyk mo-capping a wiseass Droid) to get the job done and set the stage for all the stuff we already know happens.Since that kind of intelligence-gathering mission in actual wartime tends to be undertaken by the less-than-savory part of an army, what we’ve got here is the first real Star Wars movie that’s laser-focused on the less-than-nice “underbelly” part of The Rebellion: There’s no Jedi presence (well, not really) in the mix this time, so all the usual business about The Force and “balance” and not being mean or angry regardless of what team your on doesn’t really enter into it – these are the results-oriented, “off the books” cutthroats who do the Machiavellian wetwork so the Leia’s and Luke’s can win clean later; the snipers, assassins, thieves, bomb-throwers and borderline terrorists – we’re a long way from the scenario where Han Solo can be the “morally complicated” one by virtue of being (gasp!) a smuggler.And when Rogue One is keeping to that territory of “stuff you don’t usually get from Star Wars movies,” it comes damn close to being Empire Strikes Back good. It doesn’t get there (what does?) but you can see it on the horizon. On its own merits, it’s pretty damn excellent; especially once it really finds its groove at the midpoint and coalesces in a finale that’s genuinely awe-inspiring. Do not let people spoil this one for you.On the other hand, while the most welcome thing about it is that it’s a new, different take on a Star Wars movie, I did kind of find myself wishing that it was even more different. The newness is a little jarring at first because it still looks and sounds enough like the other seven movies that it takes awhile to adjust to the fact that it’s not going to follow the structural beats you find yourself expecting. But once I did adjust, what I found instead was that the material that feels dropped in to remind you that you’re watching a Star Wars movie kept taking me out of it to one degree or another.None of it is fatal, but there’s just a few too many cameos, callbacks and fanservice jokes leaning in from the margins. Most of them are cute and there’s only one major scene that feels like it only exists to give a certain popular character more screen time, but a few briefly make you feel like your watching the Special Edition of a Star Wars movie you didn’t get to see the original cut of. There’s also a pair of surprise cameos (I won’t spoil who) realized through fully-CGI characters (integrated into scenes with the other human performers) because their respective actors have either passed away or aged considerably and the effect is… well, uncanny in the bad way. Granted, that technology is never going to improve if filmmakers don’t keep trying at it, but these are going to be memes by the weekend (and not flattering ones.)I’m also a bit mixed on the music. The film has a John Williams sound-alike score from Michael Giacchino that’s… just fine; but I couldn’t help but feel like something that works so hard to not look like just another Star Wars movie would be better off with a score that’s not constantly referencing the classic themes. Supposedly they actually had something like that originally and Giacchino was brought in by the studio to replace it. I don’t know how much of that is true, I just know what my ears heard (ditto the rumors of extensive reshoots and studio interference – it certainly feels likely, but who can really say at this point?)Still, while my “issues” remain and are evenly distributed across the whole movie… I still feel that they’re overall pretty minor. This is a damn good movie and I feel like it’s ripped the band-aid off the potential of what a Star Wars movie can be going forward – that’s exciting. I’m not terribly interested in the business of whether it’s “better” than The Force Awakens. But it’s probably more… “interesting,” in and of itself.Look, we all know that you’re going to see this no matter what I or any other critic had to say about it, but you can relax: Rogue One delivers the goods.