A week ago I saw the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One, at an IMAX theater with a group of friends and a crowd of adoring fans. There were laughs, whoops, hollers and applause. It was a great experience, including the post-film discussion at BW3. That night, I gave the film a 9 out of 10. A few days later, I went back for a second viewing, and now give it a 7.5 I still quite like it, but the lowering of the rating was deserved. It's a good movie, but not without faults.
Allow me to explain (spoilers ahead).
First, the good. I found Rogue One engrossing from beginning to end. Some folks have complained that the first half of the film drags, while the second half is much better. I am perplexed by such an assessment, as the first half is brimming with travel to various locations, and intricate story set-up (and call-backs to some of the other films). To each their own, I suppose.
The pacing of the film is brisk, but never so fast that one misses vital plot points or dialogue. The direction is solid, and the acting is good all 'round. While the main characters are never explored in too great of depth, they remain fleshed-out enough for us to grow an attachment to them. This gives their eventual deaths all the more impact.
The action sequences in Rogue One are choreographed very well. My complaint with so many action scenes in movies today is that they are often an incomprehensible mess. It is difficult to tell what is happening to who, who is where, and what has just occurred. Not so with Rogue One. The spatial dynamics (more on those later) are well-placed, and the action is easy to follow.
There were so many (comparatively) little things I liked about the movie. There was the wonderful attention to detail when it came to costumes and set design. Seeing Bail Organa from the prequels was a nice touch. I hated it when he left for Alderaan, and to his ultimate fate. The inclusion of Dr. Evazan and Ponda Baba (the dudes from the cantina scene in A New Hope) was hilarious. Oh, and Darth Vader kicking ass at the end will go down as one of the most awesome moments in cinema history. That the movie ended with the Tantive IV escaping with the Death Star plans, and into the start of A New Hope, was icing on the cake.
Now, the not-so-good. CGI Tarkin, while an impressive step forward in the world of digital recreation, still looked just fake enough to throw-off his scenes a little. Also, the spatial dynamics seemed a bit off when it came to the Star Destroyers. In short, they looked way too small next to the Death Star, even smaller than the Millennium Falcon did in A New Hope. CGI Leia at the end was also slightly unconvincing.
Now, let's talk about Director Krennic. Ben Mendelsohn portrays him the best he can, but overall the characterization doesn't make a lot of sense. When the movie opens, Krennic is lean, mean, cold, and calculating, his face is lined (even pockmarked?), and he is frightening in his nature. Fast forward fifteen years, to the meat of the story, and Krennic somehow looks younger (and appears to de-age throughout the movie for no apparent reason). He's prone to losing his temper, and is made to look small by both Tarkin and Vader.
Some of Krennic's motivations and dialogue don't make a lot of sense, and while you sense there is something going on with his fragile ego and relationship with Vader and Tarkin, it is never really addressed. Something has obviously happened to him between the time of the movie's prologue and the rest of the film, but it isn't explored. A friend has remarked that the novel Catalyst addresses some of this, but if a movie has to rely on a prequel book to make things clear, then it's already failed. I found Krennic to be a sub-par villain.
Somewhere I read that the plot of the movie also negates the entire reason for them going to the planet Scarith -- so, the entire climax, basically. Earlier in the film, Jyn Erso watches a hologram message from her father, wherein he explains the weakness he has placed in the Death Star, allowing it to be destroyed. Jyn then relays this to her Rogue One crew. She later explains it to the entire Rebel Alliance Council on Yavin IV. It's pretty well laid-out. Why, then, do they need to procure the plans?
There are a few other minor things. As much as people seem to like Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe, I just thought he was your stock 'mystic Asian' character we see in lots of other films. And how do C3PO and R2D2 get around? At one point, we see them on the Yavin moon, then they end up in an escape vessel (Tantive IV) that comes from Admiral Raddus's command ship. So, they must have gone with Raddus from Yavin IV, stopped-off at Alderaan, picked-up Leia, then headed over to Scarith for the big battle. Just seems a bit tiring for them, but oh well.
Again, overall, I quite enjoyed Rogue One, despite its flaws (which all movies have). Of the eight Star Wars films released so far, I'd rank it #5 (the top 5 are clustered together closely in terms of greatness). It will never climb as high as #1, simply because I have too much childhood emotion and years of appreciation invested to the original trilogy.
Now, on to Episode VIII!