REMEMBER the iconic opening scene of the original Star Wars movie?

Princess Leia’s ship, Tantive IV, is dwarfed on screen by an Imperial Star Destroyer. Darth Vader makes his dramatic entrance and the stolen plans to the Death Star are hidden inside R2-D2’s memory banks as the droid departs in an escape pod.

These moments will be etched in the minds of millions of fans and they will hold new significance after watching Rogue One.

Director Gareth Edwards, best known for Monsters and Godzilla, clearly grew up on the original Star Wars trilogy. You can feel it in every frame of his spin-off prequel which he described as a boyhood dream.

Rogue One finishes just moments before the beginning of the film that started it all – George Lucas’s A New Hope from 1977. The way it ties in is a real treat for fans.

The film sees Felicity Jones play Jyn Erso, a petty criminal, who is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to track down her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen). Galen is a genius engineer who – unbeknownst to the Alliance – is manipulated by the Empire to help build a ‘planet killer’ powered by the same crystals that are used in lightsabers.

When plucky Jyn learns some vital information she sets out on an unauthorised mission to steal the Death Star plans which could change the fate of the galaxy.

Rogue One offers three films in one really – it is a heist story, it is a war movie and it is an unashamed homage to A New Hope. Edwards fits all these elements in one in this well paced, excellent love letter to the sci-fi series.

The Death Star’s destructive power is finally done justice on screen with some unlikely but spectacular escape scenes. Jones does a fine job as Jyn, outshined only by Alan Tudyk’s hilarious reprogrammed enforcer droid K-2SO. Ben Mendelsohn is fantastic as cold-hearted director Orson Krennic as is Donnie Yen as blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe who can channel the Force.

The only disappointment was the usually great Forest Whitaker as Clone Wars veteran Saw Gerrera. He was outperformed by a CGI version of the late Peter Cushing as Tarkin.

Rogue One also features great cameos not least Darth Vader. His scenes are as chilling as they are memorable. But sadly, at 85, James Earl Jones’ voice does not have the power it once did.

Nevertheless this is at least on a par with The Force Awakens. Thankfully fears about the extensive reshoots were unfounded. There may be no Jedi here but the Force is strong with this one.

RATING: 8.5/10