I saw Rogue One: A Star War a week ago*, and then again today. It's important that my Star Wars opinions are on the Internet, and while I've read several reviews, I haven't found my set of opinions anywhere, so I've had to write my own post.
*That's what it says on my ticket, almost (I added the colon myself):
Overall, it's really good! I don't think that its ranking in the list of Star Wars movies is well-defined (for reasons I'll get to), but it is comfortably in the top three along with Empire and ANH.
I have ordered the following bullet points from worst to best.
Things I don't like:
- The biggest villain in Rogue One is the Disney executive who made Cassian not shoot Galen. This decision annoys me so much that I'd take a whole point out of ten off my rating for the film for it. The plot would be so much sharper with a fully-fledged confrontation between Jyn and Cassian on the trip back from Eadu. And, perhaps more importantly, Cassian's speech announcing that he and a group of volunteers believed Jyn – "We've all done things we're not proud of, but every time I remember that it's for something that I believed in" (I paraphrase from memory) – would go from being OK as a bit of descriptive background motivation for the characters to being a significant turning point in Jyn and Cassian's relationship that also perfectly ties in to their common allegiance to the rebellion, which is greater than themselves, etc.
I am so irritated as I think through this bit. There could well be enough material in the film for a fan edit to put this partly right – we see Cassian starting to squeeze the trigger of his sniper rifle; cut to Galen getting hit; X-wings arrive; something like that. The biggest weakness of my hypothetical fan edit is that the subsequent confrontation would have to be cut to something far shorter and less intense than it warrants.
- Chirrut Îmwe's a bit overdone.* I like the idea of untrained Force-sensitive people doing little things with the Force! Leia had a bit of telepathic communication in Empire, and it's a side-theme that never really got expanded on. (It shouldn't be too common – Jedis were evidently quite rare even during the glorious years of midichlorian testing – but they should pop up every now and then as excellent instinctive fighters, or excellent instinctive non-fighter-things.)
*Orthographic trends in the Galaxy evidently didn't follow those of the Académie française, which is getting rid of some circumflexes.
But someone with a stick shouldn't be able to take down so many stormtroopers, even with Baez providing cover. And his successful walking through no-man's-land was absurd both by previous standards of the Force and by previous levels of Imperial trooper incompetence. Unfortunately it was a critical plot point, and I doubt it can be easily fixed with a fan edit. (Keeping Chirrut as the deciding element in that scene, it would have been better to have him declare it time to walk out to the master switch, and for half a dozen rebels to die as they successfully defend him on his walk. A good ambiguous mix of the Force and blasters.)
- While we're here, Baze should have been shot before he got to Chirrut to mourn. Or, as an alternative solution to this bullet point and the previous, something should have drawn the Imperial troops away from the switch for a bit. (Edit: I'm told that smoke from an explosion meant that they wouldn't have seen Baze at this time.)
- Krennic's ambitions to receive recognition from the high-ups, a bit annoying? A bit annoying. I don't really know what that sort of smarmily-work-your-way-up attitude looks like in real life though, and in any case it didn't take up much screen time.
- I don't know who said it first, but the criticism that Star Wars hyperspace speeds are always just fast enough to advance the plot correctly is (I think) a fair one. In Rogue One this is taken to what (I think is) an unprecedented extreme (I didn't re-watch all the other films to take notes on it) as the rebel fleet makes their way to Scarif just after the shooting starts. The correct plot here involves an admiral or two quietly nodding at Cassian and preparing the fleet early, in defiance of the council.
- I probably wouldn't have mentioned this if I hadn't seen someone else point it out (after I'd seen the film the first time), but the very brief inclusion of C-3PO and R2-D2 really is misplaced, if it much be in there at all. It's the only "hey look, here are some old characters you know" moment that really detracts from the flow.
Things I like:
- Probably a lot of people would take issue with cutting between about five different worlds to set the galactic scene in the early part of the film. And I get it, it's not the stuff of rollicking storytelling. But I like it! The first white text caption announcing a locations signals that it's time to sink your teeth into some plot, and a complex plot is what I'm here for.
- I couldn't have named the actor who played Tarkin beforehand, and I thought it was pretty cool that they'd got him back for a major role. Then afterwards I read that he'd been dead for over two decades, and they CGI'd his face over another actor's. Wow! I had no idea! In hindsight, I then thought I'd seen the imperfections, albeit without consciously noting it at the time. But on second viewing, Tarkin still looked great! Maybe I'm just not good at reading facial expressions, because I'm seeing all sorts of dislike for the CGI faces, and I just don't get that at all.
The technology works sufficiently well for me that I'm looking forward to its wide use in the future, whether it's for bringing back old characters for nostalgia value or for use in historical drama. Say, a Cuban Missile Crisis film with good-as-lifelike Kennedys and Khrushchev, that sort of thing.
- K-2SO is a good droid, much preferable to C-3PO. I am being a little harsh on 3PO – I watched A New Hope again today before my second viewing of Rogue One, and 3PO wasn't so bad in it! Maybe he just got more annoying with each new film as they got made. The little callback of the droid quoting odds of survival was mildly amusing only insofar as it was a callback, but otherwise K-2SO was excellent as comic relief. There probably needs to be some work in a novel explaining why such useful droids weren't captured by the rebellion more often, but there are plausible ways to fill this in (too much cost in capturing them, etc.).
- Having the whole Death Star weakness turn on deliberate engineering design appeals to me greatly, and this tie-in to the original trilogy is very satisfying. (The TFA re-hash plot is not excused.) Here is a blog post called "Rogue One: an ‘Engineering Ethics’ Story".
- Many months ago, I recall reading some quote from someone important involved in Rogue One. The idea was that there wouldn't be any Force; instead it'd be a war story. Good guys would do some bad things; a lot of moral ambiguity. I like this stuff. The animating theme of the episodic Star Wars films is the two sides of the Force, which for the most part makes for simple good versus evil stories (episodes II and III are exceptions, and this is one of their redeeming features). The anthology films are a good place to make things a bit murkier.
The big focus for this theme is Saw Gerrera and his insurgency, but as a hard-hitting moral theme, it's tempered by his separation from the rebellion over his extremist tendencies. It's more interesting in Cassian, though not as developed and felt as strongly as it should have been (see first bullet point). I didn't really notice it on the first viewing, but he murdered Tivik early on; I don't know if it's my fault or the film's that I didn't subsequently form a "this is someone who kills people" impression of him, like I do with Han Solo.
Cassian also took out some other member of Gerrera's group during a battle scene; I don't know if there was a reason for this (the action was moving fast), but I'd like someone to write a detailed description and/or for the script to be leaked. (Edit: @lapscallion in a comment tells me that there was a good reason for it.)
- The space battle was great, best since the X-Wing versus TIE fighter battle on the forest backdrop in TFA.
- Rogue One is at its best when it works as a tie-in to the original trilogy. Its absolute best only works on the first viewing, but what an absolute best.
My first viewing was "cold", not having read any spoilers, nor watching the earlier films to prepare. When the X-Wings arrived at Scarif, I felt like cheering. I just unabashedly loved X-Wings; it felt a little ridiculous even in the moment, but Rogue One was tapping into the symbolism built up by a lifetime of knowing Star Wars, and it was making me happy.
Then later they were on the ship and re-creating the white passageway from the start of A New Hope and this is awesome and Vader gets his lightsaber out and goes on a controlled rampage, then they get the Death Star plans to Leia and it's 1970's Leia and she said that what she was holding was "hope" and I was positively euphoric at that ending. I walked out wondering if it was the best Star Wars film yet.
(For full effect, it's probably ideal to first watch it before Carrie Fisher died.)
Those incredible highs didn't survive my second viewing. They rely on me having watched and read Star Wars on and off for over two decades, and then suddenly getting a very neatly fitted piece of new information in that story. (I'm sure Rogue One introduces some discontinuities, but they were too minor for me to notice.)
You could slot Rogue One into a machete-order marathon as RO-IV-V-II-III-VI and it'd be fine, but it wouldn't be a stand-out. If you introduced someone to Star Wars and went IV-V-II-III-VI-RO, would RO have the same effect as it did on me? I'd guess not, though perhaps one day someone will do the experiment.
I watched A New Hope before today's second viewing of Rogue One, and I'd say that big-screen-RO is better than laptop-ANH. In the long run, once I've fully absorbed the story lines, I expect that laptop-ANH will be a little better than laptop-RO, the latter still comfortably in the top three Star Wars films.