In what might be the grittiest Star Wars movie in the franchise, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story simultaneously establishes itself between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, while also breaking tradition and standing on its own.

As the opening crawl of the first Star Wars movie states, “Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Death Star.” Thus, this film chronicles exactly how that goes down, with some other shocking twists along the way.

The diverse cast brings a lot of stellar performances to the movie. Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso has a great hero’s journey of distant criminal to courageous spy, as she finds hope in herself that she uses to inspire it in others. Diego Luna does a fantastic job showing the internal struggle of Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor, who is ordered to do something he does not agree with. Alan Tudyk provides the motion capture and voice of reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, and is able to emote comic relief through just his body language and voice.

Other great performances were by Donnie Yen as the wise and high-spirited blind monk Chirrut Inmwe, Wen Jiang as the brave assassin Baze Malbus, Riz Ahmed as the brilliant Imperial pilot defector Bodhi Rook and Mads Mikkelsen as the conflicted engineer Galen Erso.

As well, many characters and fanboy references to the greater Star Wars mythology appeared in Rogue One. Prequel actors Jimmy Smits and Genevieve O’Reilly reprise their roles as Bail Organa, the Alderaan senator and father of Princess Leia and Mon Mothma, the Chandrila senator and leader of the Rebel Alliance. Through the use of modern technology, Peter Cushing’s face is recreated digitally for Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. Finally, Darth Vader himself returns to the big screen in a chilling and terrifying way. Many of the costumes and sets will no doubt stir nostalgia in fans seeing familiar elements again on the big screen. There are many other shout outs, but for the sake of fans reading this, they won’t be spoiled.

Though even with these familiar elements, the beautifully shot cinematography lends itself more to something like Saving Private Ryan than what is seen as the visual Star Wars style. This type of shooting lends itself very well to the intense and downright brutal guerrilla fighting of the Rebels against the Empire. You really feel the intensity of being there on the galactic battleground, not seen this way before on film. Other times, the cinematography is tranquil and thoughtful during the quieter moments.

Another thing Rogue One does well is showcase the oppression of living under the Imperial dictatorship. In the Original Trilogy, we saw glimpses of this, like on the streets of Mos Eisley on Tatooine. But, this film shows just how brutal the Empire can be to maintain their iron fist over the galaxy.

Overall, Rogue One both stands on its own as a fresh take on Star Wars cinema, as well as being a love letter to the saga a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.