I liked Rogue One a lot, but I can’t say I loved it. It’s interesting that this is a movie that George Lucas would never have made. It was the mission of the old Expanded Universe to tell stories like this (indeed, this very story had been told several different ways already), but for me Star Wars was always a cinematic experience; neither the books nor even my beloved comics were ever fully able to capture that feeling of watching Star Wars on the big screen, nevertheless I cannot deny that Rogue One does a good job of getting me there.
The things that held it back for me seem to be pretty common complaints. I got used to the “new” Tarkin in an Okay-Dick-Sargent-is-now-playing-Darrin kind of way, but the second computer generated cameo took me out of the moment. I didn’t think “Hey! It’s Princess Leia!” Instead it was, “Oh, that’s CGI Leia.” The Force Awakens and Rogue One end on almost identical beats, but I don’t feel like’s Leia’s appearance matched the power of Luke’s. On an extremely nitpicky note, I also felt like Vader was just a little off. Maybe it was the way the helmet was filmed, but it seemed like his neck was too thick.
I think a fair argument can be made that Rogue One leans too heavily into the fan service, but as one of those fans, I’m not going to complain. I do think it keeps the movie from standing on its own. I would not suggest to someone who has never seen Star Wars that they should watch Rogue One before Episode 4.
Probably the most damning thing I could say is that Rogue One kind of felt like a Marvel movie: Jyn’s arc is straight from the Tony Stark playbook, the villain was the least interesting character, and Vader fills the role of Loki. I was left feeling like many of the characters’ best stories happened before the movie. Who wouldn’t want to watch a Baze and Chirrut buddy movie? Or see Jyn’s life on the run with Saw Gerrera? And I can even imagine a paranoid workplace drama featuring Galen, Bodhi and Krennic. I thought the cast was very good, but a bit under-used and part of me wishes I could’ve seen them in a story where I didn’t already know how it ends. That’s probably where the Expanded Universe might have had an edge over Disney. A comic book series featuring Cassian Andor, Rebel Spy and his sassy droid would’ve made perfect sense back in the day.
All that said, oh, what fun! My previous complaint about the CGI characters aside, the effects were great. Every single shot of the Death Star was terrifying. The sight of a Star Destroyer looming over Jedha sums up the Empire perfectly. The climatic battle in space and on the planet was amazing. And I will never, ever complain about new types of Stormtroopers. I even bought my first Black Series figure to get a Scarif Trooper since I couldn’t find a regular size version. No regrets.