First things first: If you go into Rogue One expecting something just like the episodes, you will probably be disappointed. Rogue One is not like the episodes. It’s definitely a darker, more adult film (not really with regards to violence, which is about the same as the other movies, but with regards to themes).
It is, however, a fantastic movie and I loved it.
I knew going in that it was going to be about a group of rebels conspiring to steal the Death Star plans. What I didn’t expect was how far they would have to go and how far they were willing to go to do it. Rogue One has more about how the Rebellion actually functioned in its operation than what we’ve seen previously, and shows how fractured the Rebellion itself actually was.
It’s not just “good guys” and “bad guys,” as in most of the other movies. You see how the leadership disagrees on how extreme to go in their resistance, which resulted in a splinter group breaking off because they felt the Rebellion wasn’t extreme enough. There are arguments about when to launch an attack versus when it’s prudent to lay low and gather more information. There are people on the “good” side doing bad things because it’s for the greater good, and there are people on the “bad” side using their positions to cripple the Empire from the inside.
Our main characters are not people in their late teens and early 20s, who are just finding their place in the galaxy, but people who are easily middle-aged and who have already seen and done many, many things. Their stories are about finding redemption, about coming to terms with what they’ve done, and about physically digging hope out of the darkest places, no matter the cost.
They do a fantastic job of making you click with these characters and care about them, even though it’s an entirely new group only tangentially connected to the characters we already know and love. Jyn, Cassian, K2, Chirrut, Baze, and Bodhi make a great team, and I would gladly have watched an entire series about them doing all sorts of intelligence gathering for the Rebellion.
My favorite scene in the movie was the final one, which is (obviously) difficult to talk about without spoilers (although it syncs up so perfectly with A New Hope that it’s really hard for me to call the very end a spoiler). But even though you know where it’s going, it’s still so tense, watching these characters as they’re desperately trying to get this vital information where it needs to go.
The one real quibble I have was General Tarkin. The CGI face was just noticeable enough that something looked off, and there was something very Uncanny Valley about the eyes. I don’t think it would have been too bad, but to see him interacting with Krennic and being able to compare the two just made it difficult for me to forget about while I was watching those scenes.
But other than that, the visuals were absolutely astounding, but never to the point of overshadowing the actors and story itself (thank God).
Rogue One is not necessarily a movie you need to see to keep up with the Star Wars series, but it is an excellent addition to that series. I really, really loved it, and it is 100% worth the theater price.