Franchise Fred has complicated feelings about Rogue One. As you know, I tend not to like prequels because they are not taking the franchise forward. Rogue One is definitely a prequel to the original Star Wars: A New Hope, but a sequel to the prequel trilogy so it sort of evens out and becomes the closest to the standalone Star Wars movie I was hoping they’d make.
Oddly, this prequel felt less slavish to the Star Wars formula than The Force Awakens. There are certainly call forwards to A New Hope but far fewer than the homages in Awakens. Also, because the premise is already confined to the events surrounding A New Hope, I can be a little more forgiving about story structure. Force Awakens could have gone ANYWHERE and it chose to repeat the same formulae. But I also expect more of a sequel, to expand the franchise. I am being a little easier on Rogue One, but to its credit, someone did think of a scenario where they could exceed expectations rather than fall short. This one mission is just this one mission. It’s not trying to set up films that don’t exist yet.
Could Rogue One have been more of a paradigm shift? Sure, it could, but it doesn’t have to. Part of Star Wars is that all the stories in the galaxy are worth telling. “Because it’s awesome” is enough reason for Rogue One, and it is awesome. The final space battle is the best space battle of any Star Wars movie.
As I expected, the story of Rogue One explains how that major design flaw on the Death Star came to be. It’s a good explanation. Perhaps it robs the original of an ambiguous interpretation, but I don’t think it’ll ruin anyone’s childhood to know how the exhaust port got there. It would probably ruin it more if they got cleverly revisionist about it now, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (The explanation ain’t broke. The exhaust port still is.)
Rogue One still has the used and ratty look of the classic trilogy, not the pristine shine of the prequels. K-2SO is a performance capture character but he still feels like an old school droid. Using handheld cinematography is an interesting way to signify that Rogue One is a post-2000 movie, and it never goes full Greengrass. It’s only enough to show this is not 1977, but it still fits that aesthetic. This is the first time we’ve hard a live-action Star Wars composed by someone other than John Williams. Michael Giacchino’s new theme fits right in with Williams’ and goes off in new directions.
Familiar characters are revealed with great drama, in reflections with their back to camera. Rogue One gives Darth Vader the best introduction he’s ever had in the saga. You’ve seen him in the trailers, but man, that does not spoil the magnitude of it.
I would put Rogue One behind Empire Strikes Back and A New Hope, and ahead of Return of the Jedi, Revenge of the Sith and the Force Awakens. It’s the better Star Wars movie of the newly beginning franchise, though I still have faith in Rian Johnson and I still want to see a movie about some other people in the Star Wars universe who have a random adventure.