*Nobody reads these things, but mad spoilers ensue*
Rogue One works because it knows when to be a Star Wars movie and when not to be a Star Wars movie. The film is billed as a standalone movie in the franchise, and technically it is seeing as the cast is 90% new characters. It’s really Episode 3.5, as it provides a connective link between the two sets of trilogies and shows how the Death Star came to be.
The thing I hate more than anything else in movies deep into a franchise, spin-offs or whatever of the like is the cute little winks and nods to popular characters of the past just for the simple sake of getting a quick rise out of the audience just for mentioning them. This film has them, of course, but it’s done in such a small scale and organic way that it never feels like the film is stepping aside from its story to focus in on these elements. It bridges the gap between the two trilogies so it makes sense to shade in element of Darth Vader’s rise and fill out the story of how the Death Star came to be and what exactly lead to the moments at the beginning of A New Hope, the place we all originally were thrust into this world. Every other nod is treated as more of an easter egg where if you’re just watching the movie on face value (and/or you’re just a casual fan) you might not get it, but nothing will seem wildly out of place, but for more heedy viewers all the little references are there.
This is all in contrast to The Force Awakens where they pretty much just copied A New Hope and had a heavy presence of characters from the original trilogy. I mean, sure they kind of had a different mission to accomplish with The Force Awakens compared with Rogue One, where the former movie had to re-instill and reboot this franchise in people’s mind by playing to the broadest sensibilities possible to a. ensure the movie and subsequent franchise would be a success and b. to have a connective vessel point for these new characters. Whereas Rogue One is in the wake of the success of that movie and can follow a more niche guide because they knew it was going to be a one-and-done film rather than a direct sequels that had to follow in the story wake of The Force Awakens.
But, mostly Rogue One works because it makes sense and its chief example of this is that every damn body dies in this thing. It makes sense that since we’ve never heard of any of these people in the original trilogy that probably a lot of them wouldn’t be around at the conclusion of it. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting it at first, of course some people were going to die, but then the body count started rising and it all clued in for me and I hoped they would go that sensible route, because it made sense, and they did. I’m still amazed that Disney green lit this movie where literally the whole main cast dies, good and bad. Sure, they had in their back pocket the up note of an end scene where Princess Leia gets the Death Star plans and we see her in all her CGI glory, kicking directly off into A New Hope. But still, damn, I keep scrolling through the main cast on IMDB and I’m just like, “Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.”
Honestly, I was just as excited about getting a new Gareth Edwards film than I was another Star Wars movie. I absolutely loved his first film Monsters which is almost a masterpiece for me. I was less enamoured with Godzilla, as I thought it was just fine and didn’t really do anything new. But, what I knew with both of those movies is that he obviously has a flare for staging epic battle scenes, but his sensibilities also extends into a passion for smaller human elements. I felt that Rogue One was actually pretty skimpy on the dramatic emotional beats, outside of the Galen Erso and Jyn Erso father/daughter stuff, but it served the film well in that there wasn’t an overabundance on any of that (not that it was bad or anything, it just picked and choosed well what it wanted to accomplish), as the film clearly wanted to focus on the larger battle aspects. And I thanked the high heavens that they didn’t do anything with a Jyn Erso/Cassian Ando romantic relationship because few things are worse than shoehorning a romantic relationship into a movie just because that’s what 95% of them do.
I gotta say I was pretty lukewarm on the movie for about the first 80%, but they really stuck the landing on the last section of the film and were seemingly allowed to do what they wanted and pulled everything off. Like I said earlier, I think this film was allowed to succeed in that it was operating inside of this area between the two trilogies where they knew this would be a one-and-done movie and could go all out and tell a story that didn’t need to be extended or have the end set up sequels (because they’re already made!) or have characters do unnecessary things because they needed to bank on them for the future. I don’t know fully where this stands for me in regard to the whole series, although I do find people thinking this is the best one pretty ludicrous, but I do know if they keep giving these films to auteur action/genre directors like Gareth Edwards and Rian Johnson then we’ll be in more than good hands.