I went to the very first 7pm screening of Rogue One on Thursday night. What follows are my simple, first impression, spoiler-free thoughts.
I have a lot of thoughts on this, but I guess I'll not bury the HOT TAKE LEDE and just say that as a movie, Rogue One is more interesting than TFA. It strays from tradition more, it works emotively more, and it doesn't have plot holes that you can drive a bus through. While it's no 4-6 in that regard (they being pretty darn tight all things considered, for action movies), the few plot holes are more Segway sized than Greyhound sized.
I had hopes for this because of the director. Gareth Edwards has made two feature films, his first film, Monsters, is a shoe-string budget film about two strangers tasked with nearly impossible odds as they traverse alien infested Mexico to get to the US. But instead of playing up the Monsters and delivering some sci-fi fight fest, it presents them merely as a constant threat. Rather, the movie spends most of the screen time dwelling on our two protagonist's journey and their relationship in the toughest of circumstances. It excelled as a character piece, and was a not-so-subtle jab at immigration policies and the philosophical idea of national borders.
Godzilla was his first big-budget film, and while it had a good sense of tragedy and scale, it floundered a bit and didn't give enough time to the central characters, pandered to action set-pieces too much, rushed a lot of plot developments, and fell flat because of it.
Still, as I said, I had hope here because Edwards can really make some good characters - believable characters - as a ragtag group even in the presence of insurmountable odds- and oh my gosh that sounds like Star Wars!
And in Rogue One, he does! This is a more emotive piece. Infact, Edwards shoots for more tragedy and drama than any previous Star Wars movie, and while it's not always a success, it works way more often than it doesn't.
But perhaps most impressively is how hard this had to be. TFA had the impossible task of living up to 4-6 and starting the series off on fresh footing, not the bantha poodoo infested one Jar Jar trampled across the prequels with (as much as I still love them). And you can tell Disney wanted to stick with what worked and mirror 4-6 as much as possible. That was hard enough in terms of living up to renewed expectations.
Rogue One, too, had a really, really difficult challenge itself; how do you insert a work into a 7 movie universe as a prequel to the 4th movie that was made almost 40 years ago, and stay consistent with everything already established as cannon while still eking out a new existence?
I don't know! I wouldn't even know where to begin! Obviously, some people did, because almost every concept introduced here, every battle, every world building universe moment, is consistent with the period from 3 to 4, consistent with 4, and oftentimes a direct counter to that voice in the back of your head that would say "well what about..." Credit to everyone involved making this mostly seamless. I was expecting to come out wondering how the hell this would fit without unintentionally retconning or messing up the internal established rules. It frays the boundaries a bit, but manages to come up really clean, all things considered. There are a few things that aren't 100% seamless with 4-6, but it's so close that credit is due.
The main flaws? A few. A couple scenes teeter on the edge of melodrama. An important character is entirely CGI, for understandable reasons, but I ultimately disagree with the decision. CGI is getting there, and has come a long ways from CGI Neo in Matrix Reloaded, but it still pulls the viewer out a bit and reminds you it's all just a movie. Maybe in another 20 years or so. There are also still a decent amount of callbacks, which some love and others not so much, but other than one sort of veering into dead horse territory, the movie isn't nearly as wed to them as TFA was.
All the characters, except one (who is sadly typecast), otherwise, are pretty darn good, and shine in their own ways. The two leads are great, the droid is great. Even the minor characters have their moments.
It's a fuzzier film. The good guys aren't all good, war is awful, and the Rebel Alliance is shown to be just that; an alliance. The travesty of the Empire and the things they do, like, in 4 where they BLOW UP A PLANET are finally given some appropriate weight. It's a departure film. Literally not even 1 second into the film and you realize you're not in Kansas any more. Maybe Nebraska. Or Iowa. You get the drift.
Ultimately, it all just works. It works as an in-universe insert, up through the very last scenes that are so, so good. It works as a character piece. It works as a war piece (which, ironically, Star WARS never really has). It works emotionally, mostly. It works as tragedy. Most importantly, it works as a Star Wars film - a different one, a darker one, an edgier one, one that Lucas wouldn't have made, all due respect to how dark V was, but still, in its own, an excellent film.