Now I’ve seen Rogue One twice and feel like I’ve had enough time to let my general thoughts on this percolate around in my head. So let’s start with the TL;DR. Rogue One is amazing, and if you’re even a half-way dedicated Star Wars fan and you haven’t gone to see it, what are you doing?
When Rogue One begins, there’s some mandatory exposition into the central character's backstory, and introduction to several other supporting characters. When I first saw the film, this part made me feel like this movie wasn’t going to work out. It was a bit slow going with alot of transitioning from location to location. It also felt like the only thing Star Wars about this movie was some superficial set dressing and Storm Troopers. Man, was I wrong.
Once the movie gets past setting up the story points, everything starts flowing, and it gets a familiar Star Wars feel. From the humor, to the action, to the way the symphonic music plays to the action happening on the screen. It was mesmerizing. There also plenty of call backs and Easter eggs for anyone paying attention, all the way from some blue milk on a counter top to a few blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references to the Star Wars: Reblels animated series. X-Wings and Star Destroyers and mentions of the Force are the big rocks that make this a Star Wars movie. They could have stopped there and been done, but those little flourishes are what fill out the gaps in between. As a long time fan, it makes the film that much more fulfilling. And if you aren’t hard core enough to catch something like a one second call out to Star Wars: Rebels, there are other little cameos and throw away lines that fill in the gaps.
The difficulty for Lucasfilm & Co. with Rogue One was always going to be two-fold. One, Creating a compelling, completely self-contained story to which the majority of moviegoers already know the ending, and two, create a cast of several brand new characters who the audience feels they know over the course of a single film. I’m going to start with the characters. The central cast of characters are people who we have never seen or heard of in any previous Star Wars property, so the writers had to create connections to the audience completely from scratch. In my opinion, they excelled at this. We don’t get complete back stories for every single character, that’d be impossible for a single film. But we get enough through dialogue and interactions that we understand the relationships between characters, and their individual personalities.
On the story front, all the writers had to go on was somehow, the rebels obtained some plans to the Death Star. Man, did they do an awesome job to flesh that out. There are so many ways they could have messed this up. I was looking, waiting for that moment where I say “…but in Episode 4, they say this, but now they say this.” Hell, George Lucas fell prey to things like this in the prequels. Like Obi-Wan clearly knowing who C-3PO and R2-D2 are, but in A New Hope saying, and acting like, he didn’t know them. Or Leia saying she remembers what her real mother looks like, but Padme dying as she was being born. Things like that seem trivial, but they gnaw at my mind. There was no such flaw that I was able to notice here in my two viewings. The story is fun, action packed, and transitions beautifully into A New Hope. It kept me engaged from beginning to end, and though I knew the ending, I didn’t know what was happening next.
In the run up to this film, I was cautiously optimistic, just like I was for The Force Awakens. I’m not a prequel hater, I actually enjoy the prequels. But those were my first full on Star Wars at the theater experience. I was born in 1985, after the release of Return of the Jedi. I didn’t have a mom or dad who enjoyed the films. I first watched them at a cousin’s house, I was bored and they happened to own all three movies, so I popped in A New Hope. I devoured them in one sitting. Every time I went to their house, it’s all I wanted to do. I never owned my own copy until the Special Editions were released. So while I admit, that even though the prequels were clean and didn’t have the same “this is a real place” feel that the originals had, I did and still do enjoy them. But the Originals are my favorites. Hands down.
The Force Awakens was a step in the right direction, an admission that Star Wars had lost it’s way, a sort of re-centering of the franchise. An apology of sorts in film form. Rogue One, I believe, is a statement. It says that Lucasfilm and Disney understand what makes Star Wars feel like Star Wars so well, that they can make a film set in that galaxy without the story centering on the Skywalker family. There’s more to it than just the Skywalkers and the Jedi.
The galaxy can be and is much bigger and filled with hundreds if not thousands of interesting people. The Force Awakens made me excited to have another Star Wars movie again. Rogue One made me feel like I was watching Star Wars for the first time again.