This is a good movie.
While most critics have been very enthusiastic (Rogue One is 85% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes), prominent critics at publications including the New Yorker and the New York Times have savaged it. They have their reasons, but Rogue One will stand the test of time. It’s a very well-made movie, a distinctive achievement within its universe that richly rewards both longtime fans and newcomers.
The trick works.
I won’t spoil what it is, but there’s a showpiece visual effect. When I asked my girlfriend what she thought about it, she said she didn’t realize it was an effect. Clearly the filmmakers knew they had to get it right, and though some will quibble, they essentially did succeed.
Once again, the droid steals the show.
One problem with the prequels was that they just used the same droids as the original trilogy — C-3PO and R2-D2 — but to diminished effect. Force Awakens and Rogue One each invented new droids, and in both cases (BB-8 in the former, K-2SO in the latter), the droid is one of the best things about the movie.
The new ships and troopers are only okay.
Both Force Awakens and Rogue One also invent new spaceships and new versions of Stormtroopers. In each case they’re fine, but the new spidery-winged ships and black-armored troopers aren’t as beautifully designed as the Naboo ships from Phantom Menace or as fascinating as the Imperial-izing clone army from Episodes II and III.
Ben Mendelsohn is a highlight.
As the ambitious Imperial officer Krennic, Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn has an important and ironic role to play in Rogue One, and he knocks it out of the park. With Finn the defecting Stormtrooper in Force Awakens, both that film and Rogue One have found a lot of ground to explore in the tragic and pathetic stories of the people who do the Emperor’s dirty work.
The ending is great.
Whereas a lot of blockbusters lavish attention on setup and don’t know how to make it pay off, Rogue One was built backwards: the filmmakers knew where they had to end, and everything spools in reverse from there. It’s an immensely satisfying strategy, and it will reward multiple viewings.
The prequels get a lot of love.
A small but significant character from the prequels returns, played by the same actor (who’s, conveniently, aged just about the right amount for the fictional timeframe). The poignance of that appearance, as well as other details drawn from the prequels, make Rogue One a piece of strong connective tissue between the first two Star Wars trilogies. While the prequels’ failings remain evident, their strengths are also coming into focus as the success of the new movies puts fans in a forgiving mood. It’s Christmastime, after all.