This review contains spoilers1 Read at your own risk.
Its hard for me to admit, but this film is better than Episode VII. Its got an originally story, visually stunning shots, great choreography during every scene--especially battle scenes, and has a great ensemble cast.
Chirrut Îmwe: Take hold of this moment. The force is strong.
First lets hit a few (very few) low points: (1) The cameo of R2 and C3PO is poorly timed. They're watching the ships launch to go to the final battle, which Leia's ship escapes from with the Death Star plans...but, wait, they're supposed to be on that ship already! Their cameo should have been earlier. It would have been better utilized if C3PO would have ran into K2SO. Can you imagine that encounter? R2 would probably blow a few raspberries, and it would be hilarious. (2) Tarkin's height. If you've watched the behind the scenes material from Episode IV, you've heard that Peter Cushing wore slippers during filming. We'll come back to that later. My husband noticed during our second viewing that when CG Tarkin stands next to Krennic, he's a head taller than him. Fast-forward to the scene where Krennic stands next to Vader... and Krennic's merely a head shorter than the Dark Lord. Wait, what??? So Tarkin and Vader are both a head-length taller than Krennic? Yet in Episode IV, Vader was much taller than Tarkin. Was CG Tarkin wearing his 1970s moon boots during this film versus slippers? I cannot complain about the CG faces because I personally thought they were fine. It was Tarkin's height that did not quite "stand up" to the original. I'm funny... I know. (3) In terms of musical score, I wasn't a biggest fan. Without the opening crawl that we're used to, things start a bit suddenly. I felt the music to start things off was a bit overplayed as well as a poor copy of John Williams' brilliant compositions. Michael Giacchino was not up to the challenge, and this would be my biggest complaint of this film. But honestly, how can you fill shoes like John Williams? Giacchino has done some big films recently like Star Trek Beyond and Jurassic World, and he just has not quite held up to the original scores from previous franchise films. Zootopia: good. Star Wars: meh.
Back to the great stuff. I love Jyn. Seriously, its so great to have some strong female anchors in these films. There was even a female X-wing pilot. THANK YOU! To provide a little personal history, I grew up idolizing Princess Leia. She was beautiful, tough, and intelligent. She could also hold her own beside an entire rebellion full of men (outside of Mon Mothma and the "stand by ion cannon" female in ESB). Growing up in the 80s and 90s, what other characters provided a young girl like me this kind of female strength? NONE. Even though Return of the Jedi placed Leia in the midst of the fighting, they still had to put her in a bikini, which is basically how that film markets her look! Frustrating. I grew up constantly annoyed with the female protagonists in sci-fi and action/adventure films. Episode VII and Rogue One has really given me a girl power thrill. Honestly, I'm ecstatic to share these characters with my daughter. Thank you, Rogue One, for giving us a female leading the troops on the front lines.
The other characters are also great. Are they super fleshed out, no. But you get enough, particularly with Captain Andor who hints at how much the final mission means to him and how he's lost "everything" just like Jyn. Both Jyn and Andor go through a lot of development in this film. Other characters help round out a diverse and varied cast which all have great chemistry. KS2O voiced by Alan Tudyk is hilarious. You may think its another C3PO, but K2SO is his own unique artificially intelligent individual. Howeer, two of my favorites are Chirrut Imwe, a blind holy man, and his companion, Baze Malbus. Chirrut is a man who still holds onto faith. Baze has lost his, but stands by his friend through thick and even thicker. By the end, Baze finds his faith once more. Watching their final scenes during my second viewing actually brought a few tears to my eyes. Their faith, moments when their faith is lost and found, were such highlights to this film. It was a refreshing touch to Star Wars which has otherwise been absent: the power of faith. Being a Jedi is one thing, but believing in the Force, an energy field which Chirrut cannot touch, and protecting the Kyber crystals is something entirely different that this film explores. Even Jyn has a piece of Kyber that she grips to find strength during times of life and death.
Rogue One is laugh-out-loud funny. There are a few moments in the other films, but this script is so sharp. K2SO is hysterical. So many other comical moments infuse this otherwise sad and dark film. It definitely is what makes you want to see these characters again and again.
As stated in my summary above, the visuals are so beautiful. I first watched this film in 3D and would not recommend it. The action was blurry. My second viewing in 2D allowed me to revel in the beautiful landscapes and special effect shots. Wow. The close ups of the Death Star, the reflection on the ships as they passed by planets, the planet-wide shield over Scarif, the attack runs of the X-Wings... so satisfying to long-time Star Wars fans who've watched the films become more beautiful. And the planet landscapes, particularly Jedha (I love those giant robed men laying in the sand, probably once-revered Jedi), were gorgeous.
The directing is so well done. Can this director do the rest of the Star Wars films, please? Each shot was captured stunningly. Two particularly chilling moments were when we first see Tarkin's face in the reflection of a window and when Vader is revealed as a large and looming shadow towering over Krennic. Even when ships would land in the shadow of an overhang or watching the deflector array getting placed in the Death Star... just wow! Its hard not to talk endlessly about the gorgeous visuals. Should I even talk about the cut scenes from Episode IV that they utilized in this film to add familiar faces and voices? Completely brilliant!
Of course, let's not forget Darth Vader. James Earl Jones is the master in the way Vader inflects his points and dominance. And that scene at the end where he throws around some Rebel fodder... yeah, I bet your jaw dropped just like mine. This was the Darth Vader we needed, the confident and sarcastic Vader from Empire Strikes Back. Hell yes.
This film is satisfying on so many levels. Its got a great cast, great special effects, surprises, and excellent characters that provide humor and heart. I really wish SOMEONE could have survived, but that is sometimes the price of freedom. As we've heard: Freedom isn't free. And many heroes are often unsung. Man I wish there could have been more time spent in between missions that could be novelized for later enjoyment, but this film is fast-paced. You can feel it in the way its cut together particularly at the end between the different battles.
See this film multiple times. You'll notice something new each time. Despite the heart-wrenching ending (yep, everyone dies), it ends with the theme of the entire film: Hope. And the final shot - loved it!