It opens with absence. The absence of John Williams’ theme, the screen crawl and even the words Star Wars, instead presenting the viewer with a planet in the emptiness of space. As a Star Destroyer slowly moves into view, the tropes of Star Wars reveal themselves and we quickly settle into familiar territory with mention of various planets, Jedi, the Empire and the Force. Yet, paradoxically, absence remains a dominant presence throughout Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One, a spin-off story that takes place leading up to the events of Episode Four: A New Hope. Protagonist Jin Erso (Felicity Jones) feels the keen absence of her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen); Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) is spurred by righteousness but also makes hard choices; Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) feel the absence of the Jedi under the rule of the Empire; Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) physically manifests absence through his damaged body. Sometimes the various characters are not given as much motivation or background as they could have, but for the most part absence works as a strength in the film rather than weakness, as the emphasis upon absence and loss conveys a palatable sense of what the Rebellion fighting for, described by Saw as ‘the Dream’. Edwards skilfully creates a sense of the odds facing the Rebellion, the superior weaponry of the Empire – including the Death Star – as well as the ruthlessness of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelssohn), Governor Tarkin (Guy Henry in a digital Peter Cushing suit) and, in a spine-tingling cameo, Darth Vader (Spencer Wilding/James Earl Jones). As a result, the viewer is unlikely to feel shortchanged by this additional story, as Rogue One strikes a fine balance between material familiar and new, resulting in a film that bodes new hope for the future of this franchise.