Rogue One - A Star Wars Story is, in hindsight, what I truly wanted The Force Awakens to be. Meaning, it is entirely its own movie, and even though it does contain a BUTTLOAD of references and cameos from the previous films in the franchise, it is not simply a remake of those earlier flicks. It is dark, gritty, and (beyond everything else) it takes chances that no other Star Wars movie has taken before, and it actually makes Episode IV: A New Hope a better film after all is said and done. And it is a magical experience because of it all.
Is Rogue One perfect? HELL NO. The first half of this movie had incredibly bad pacing issues, as well as large concerns with character motivations and reasons behind people doing what they do. Some would say that the filmmakers put way too many visual allusions to earlier films (with characters and objects popping up from episodes I - IV in virtually every scene), but fuck those guys. This is a Star Wars movie after all, and at least the references that were inserted were typically only used in passing. Honestly, people would bitch and moan if there weren't any shots of Yavin IV, the Death Star, or Darth Vader in it. Sometimes you just can't win.
But as I was saying, I'm pretty sure that more [heavy] editing was needed, as there were a few times where I was starting to squirm in my seat due to the sluggishness of the scenes. Or maybe the content of those scenes is to blame, I dunno, but something needed to be done to keep the whole thing constantly moving. Say what you will about Episode VII, but it never feels dull at any point during its runtime.
STAR WARSY SPOILERS
So Rogue One goes a li'l bit like this: Jyn Erso is the daughter of Imperial super scientist Hannibal Lecter Erso, who got taken away by the director of super weapons tech for the Empire when Jyn was just a tiny tot. Jyn has since grown up to be a rogue who gets arrested by the Empire, and then is freed by the Rebel forces who are just ramping up their battle against big Papa Palpatine and his jackbooted Stormtrooper army.
See, it seems that there is an Imperial pilot who escaped a space government think-tank base with a message for Jyn and her once guardian, Che Guerrera. Guerrera was a character in the old Clone Wars animated show who has apparently turned into Forest Whitaker, who is a thorn in the foot to both the Empire and the fledgling Rebel Alliance. But he was also a good friend of Jyn's daddy, who the sneaked-out message is from.
Anyway, it turns out that Daddy Erso was forced to participate in the development of the Death Star (as seen in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), and he only agreed to do so knowing that the bad guys would have built it without him anyway, but if he was on board the project he could make sure that it had some exploitable flaws that might lead to its ultimate destruction.
So Jyn, Rebel spy Cassssian Endor, funny robot K-2SSSSO, and Chinese ticket ambassadors Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen all unite to find out what these Death Star flaws are, and then to get an actual digital copy of the weapon's blueprints, downloaded illegally from the Imperial Piratebay website, stored on some tropical paradise planet. Explosions, and AT-ATs, and Corellian Corvettes, and Darth Vaders, and creepy CGI'd Grand Moffs all combine in an ending that almost made me shit my pants in excitement!
Like I said, I enjoyed the tar out of Rogue One, I liked how it felt like a down and dirty war movie more than a magical space-knight tale, and it showed us what the average soldiers were doing and thinking during a time of open rebellion in this universe. I would have loved to have had a bit more background exposition for Jyn at least though... Something to make us understand her connection to her father more. As it stands, the only time that we see with the two of them together as a family is when Papa Erso tells Daughter Erso that she has to hide in the opening 2 minutes of the narrative. We don't get a feel of a real relationship between this father and daughter, and therefore Jyn's entire arc of doing what she's doing for her dad feels a bit flat.
And the pacing of the first half of this thing could have been a lot tighter. A lot tighter. I mean, A LOT TIGHTER. Half the stuff that occurred on the Jedi Temple world of Jedha could have been excised easily (with no real loss of story or characterization) in order to move us along to the next objective in Jyn's mission quicker. Things pick up dramatically in the second half though, and then they never slow down until those final fantastic 5 minutes. My god...
So there's a space battle going on outside of the planetary shield that surrounds the Imperial internet planet, and the Rebel Alliance is fighting a losing battle against the Imperial fleet out in the vacuum, while their ground forces battle Stormtroopers and TIE Fighters and AT-ATs on the planet surface. They're all just diversions though, sacrificing their lives in an attempt to give Jyn, Rebel-with-an-accent guy, and funny robot enough time to find the Death Star plans and discover a way to transmit them to the Mon Calamari Cruiser hovering on the other side of the shield.
Now, we KNOW that they get the Death Star plans to the Alliance (it's how A New Hope begins, for Jimminy Smit's sake), but it's still tense as all fuck, and then CGI Grand Moff Tarkin shows up with his creepy Uncanny Valley face and starts blowing shit up with his fully operational battle station. And just when it looks like the Rebels will barely get away with everything, Lord Vader and his Star Destroyer appear out of hyperspace, and they start blowing Rebel scum up left and right. And then Vader boards the crippled Mon Calamari Cruiser himself and shit becomes frightening as fuck.
That final Vader slow march of death down that Rebel corridor was goddamn breathtaking. It showed us why the Rebel Alliance fears him so much, from his appearance out of the smoke, to his deliberate pace, to his almost bored, but surgical elimination of all the soldiers in his way. My god. I want to see a movie about Vader in his prime now. Maybe with Doctor Aphra too, for good measure.
But I digress. Beyond that ending, the thing that I liked the most was that everything here was colored in shades of grey. Not all the Rebels were 100% good (with Che Guerrera being some sort of nightmarish freedom fighting thug, and Rebel-with-an-accent straight up murdering people when they might give him away to a group of Stormtroopers), and not all the Imperials were 100% evil (with Jyn's daddy playing in the Emperor's sandbox in order to exploit it and give them a damaged product, and the traitorous pilot jumping to the Rebels' side once he realized how malicious the Empire really was). In the past, all Rebels were glowing-hearted saints, and all Imperials were mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplashes. This was a nice way to show that the universe isn't all black and white.
END OF SPOILERS
As much as Disney and Lucasfilm were pushing that this was a stand-alone production, they lied. If you've never seen the original trilogy, then you'll be as lost as a Vulcan at a bukkake porn shoot. Rogue One is meant for long-time fans of the Star Wars saga. Yeah, it's a way for Di$ney to make even more money on their $4billion investment while not (well, hopefully not) retelling the same Skywalker story over and over again. It is the beginning of a long line of non-Skywalker Star Wars movies that will hopefully bring about a series based on the Knights of the Old Republic.
I can dream.
Really? This is how the Rebels stole those Death Star plans from me? Absolute, unadulterated luck? I was at least hoping that they used some of their super spies, or maybe some shape-shifters (it's a large universe with giant slug mobsters, I'm sure there are shape-shifting aliens here somewhere)... Nope. Just two goofs and a reprogrammed non-funny comical sidekick droid stumbling their way from one giant historical event to another, until they unskillfully walk right into my personal cyber-vaults on my time-share vacation world and get what they need in like 10 minutes.
I honestly hoped this would be a galactic James Bond movie. Or a Mission Impossible story at the very least. No sneaking and no spying, just almost Jar-Jar Binks levels of stumbling through important situations.
Oh well. Maybe they'll get the next stand-alone movie right. Which one are they doing next? After Episode VIII?.... What?... A fucking Han Solo movie? Really? Oh god. Let's hope they don't just creepily render a young Harrison Ford's face over some poor starving actor's head for the entire flick. I'll demand my money back if they try that again.
Here's just a few questions for ya, foo'! Why did Forest Whitaker's character decide to just roll over and die like that? I mean, he was totally like a big bad ass in this story, yet he was all like, "Nah, you guys just go and get on your spaceship and I'll just stay here and let that wall of rock just land on me. I'm sure I could do a lot more to fuck over the Empire, but I've like got two robot legs now, man. That sucks. Just let me die."
And why did we have to see that butt-face alien and his angry friend who lost an arm to Ben Kenobi in A New Hope in this thing? And R2-D2 and C3PO? Those cameos did nothin' to expand the paper-thin plot of this sucka! They just took me completely out of the experience.
Oh man! And Tarkin's fake CGI'd face gave me nightmares! The quick 2 second shot of Leia was passable, but Tarkin was a goddamn mothafuckin' main character in this fuckin' flick! What the hell, computer artists?! This is 20-fucking-16! How has this not been perfected yet?! The shitty CGI Agent Smiths in that second terrible Matrix movie looked more real that Tarkin's face in this movie! The Teenage Mutant Ninja Shitty Turtles in the new Michael Bay movies looked more real than Tarkin's face in Rogue One! Mothafuckin' bitch! No! No, Disney! You do not get to make more fuckin' Star Wars movies until you fix this fucking problem!
See? That shit is creepy. Creeeeeeeepy.