I saw Rogue One last night, so I have many thoughts below the break (spoilers, including there is this thing called the Death Star, oops):
The good news is that we don't have to ponder whether the new movies rank above the prequels or not. Both Force Awakens and Rogue One are fun, genuine Star Wars movies where the focus is not on the effects or on incredibly badly written/acted romance scenes. Instead, people have to quibble about plot contradictions or on whether a movie is "necessary." Did we really need to the backstory to the theft of the Death Star plans? Only in the sense that we NEEEEED more Star Wars. And we got it. Woot! And to finally explain why it is so easy to blow up a Death Star? Thanks!
When I first heard of this movie, I thought it would be a heist flick, but instead was more of a Dirty Dozen/Guns of Navarone kind of movie--where a small team of people with incredible skills and checkered pasts risk and mostly (well, in this one, oh my, all) lose their lives to make a difference in a larger campaign. And that's ok, I like both kinds of movies, and given that this is "A Star Wars Story," having a heap of war in it was just fine.
It was very much a Star Wars movie as the film moves from planet to planet and ship to ship, even without the crawl at the beginning. It also embedded itself firmly between Revenge of the Sith (Darth Vader seems to be hanging out at the same place where he lost his limbs to Obi-Wan) and Star Wars, with the end of this movie being the starting scene of the classic. Again, the hero fails to save the person she wanted to save. Losing parents/history with parents is about as Star Wars-y as it can get with Luke and Anakin/Darth and Kylo and Han.
To have so many familiar faces--not just Grand Moff Tarkin but Mon Mothma and Red One Leader--from Star Wars was a delight. Of course, we knew that Red One Leader would live this time (same for Gold Leader!). They showed us Red Five getting killed, opening up the spot for Luke! The Leia appearance? Meh. Not the best CGI. On the other hand, the Darth Vader scenes were terrific--his intimidation of Krennic and the battle scene where it goes from black to lit only by red lightsaber and then using all of his powers to get through the rebels.
Speaking of rebels, I liked all of the characters a good bit. Jyn was not quite as interesting and fun as Rey, but she was still impressive and well acted by Felicity Jones. Diego Luna (Cassian Andor) pretty much makes the movie in his speech to Jyn as he brings along the other tarnished rebels, explaining that they didn't want their moral sacrifices to be in vain. I loved that the cast of heroes was multiethnic, driving the alt right fan boys nuts. Ben Mendelsohn did good work as Krennic, making his ambition the heart of his character, which then gave Darth Vader a great line about aspirations. I was puzzled by the slimy interrogation monster's potential brain damaging of the shuttle pilot, Bodhi, since he did not show any real effects later on.
I could not help but think of World War Z (the book) as the older blind Asian man with a handy stick beating the bad guys was very familiar to me. This was also Classic Star Wars--that the Stormtroopers kind of suck. Good against unarmed villagers, but against anyone else? Only through attrition. I see online repeated discussions about AT-ATs having lousy design--this movie shows that they don't stand much of a chance against X-Wings even if they could resist the shots by Speeders in Empire. Still, like tanks, they are as intimidating as hell to infantry, so that is something.
One of the key underexplained aspects of this story is how is Forest Whitaker's splinter group so extreme that they created a split in the alliance. I love that there was a split as we can then invoke Monty Python's Life of Brian as well as the work of some of my friends who work on fragmentation in civil wars (Kathleen Cunningham, Lee Seymour, Kristen Bakke, etc). We have two hints: the use of the aforementioned slime monster to interrogate people and the willingness to do a raid in mid-day in a populated area, putting many civilians at risk (giving Jyn a chance to rescue a kid). Of course, this movie does something that none of the other Star Wars movies shows--that the rebellion has a nasty side to it--not only the successful effort to kill Jyn's dad, but Cassian's team of wet-work veterans. War is hell, and this movie demonstrates that perhaps better than the other Star Wars movies.
I have an old post that ranked the first six, with various the categories I came up with to compare the movies, Rogue One does not have many aspects that are among the very best, although the action is quite good, and, thankfully, has none among the seriously worst. I will add a few new categories, but I will say that we might have a new best Death Scene as the end of the movie. Jyn and Cassian on the beach was mighty moving, and they chose not to have them kiss. Woot for BFF!
Best Droid: K-2SO. Yep, there it is. While BB8 was cute and had the personality of a puppy, and the R2-D2/C-3P0 had pluck and served as the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the six earlier movies, K not only was wonderfully voiced by Alan Tudyk and not only provided heaps of comic relief, but also was a badass. I'd have to rank the major droids now as: K-2SO > R2-D2 > BB8 > C-3PO.
Worst Operational Security: as a friend of mine noted on our slack conversation, having the entire rebellion in the room while considering what to do? Not good. Sure, having the young hero in the middle of the argument is classic Star Wars: Luke, Rey, and now Jyn. But everybody else? Nope.
Important Lesson: Don't take anyone who just returned from Europe two days before. College Spew got hit by jet lag mid-movie, making it hard to stay away despite all the action. The good news: we now have additional justification to see the movie again in the next week. Almost if everything is proceeding as I have foreseen.