here's some money, go see a star war.
Bottom Line: It's fine! It's fine.
I like Gareth Edwards. His Godzilla was incredible, visually and emotionally striking — just look at the trailer if you need proof. More than any other living director, he has a better sense of how to use colors (especially reds and blues) with subtlety; the beach scenes in Rogue One are stunning for how bright they are, like some bizarro-world version of Super Mario Sunshine. Take, too, the image of Darth Vader's lightsaber materializing out of the darkness and casting everything into a red haze. It's dazzling. But it's not enough to elevate the movie above "fine." I had a good time watching Rogue One, sure, but when the first things I want to talk about are elements that struck me as frustrating or dissonant, that's not such a good sign.
The cast is mostly wasted. It's a typical problem in ensemble movies to have too many characters and not enough screen time for each of them, and Rogue One is no exception to the rule. It's as if they came out of a randomized stats generator with the amount of time they got, how interesting they were, and how much that balanced out into caring about them all scrambled in a way that doesn't particularly make much sense. Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) is crippled by a redemption arc with nothing he really needs to be redeemed for, Saw (Forest Whittaker) seems to be made of indomitable spirit until he just sort of isn't (despite being one of the best in the cast at conveying emotion that transcends the canned dialogue and plot), Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) should ground one of the biggest emotional beats, but he's around so little, and Jyn hasn't developed enough that it doesn't pack a wallop at all. The list goes on. The biggest wastes (to me, anyway) are Chirrut and Baze (Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen), who are woefully underserved given the fact that, somewhat ironically, their relationship carries the most weight in a story that's all about those sorts of interpersonal bonds. By the end, the entire cast gets obliterated, including the leads, Cassian and Jyn (Diego Luna and Felicity Jones), and yet the only character deaths I find myself thinking about are those of Chirrut and Baze. Then there's Ben Mendelsohn, who shows up to provide glimmers of a villain unlike any we've seen in the Star Wars universe before, but he's knocked off the board without much development or ado, just like everyone else.
For whatever it's worth, the peripheral cast is packed to the gills with familiar faces (personal favorites: Daniel Mays, Alistair Petrie, Jack Roth, Ben Daniels), but the most prominent start to serve as distractions rather than positive additions. The digital Peter Cushing is alarming (not least because he seems to have grown a foot in death), not to mention the digital Carrie Fisher, and the constant cameos and references to classic characters get tiring after a while. There are too many Easter eggs hidden in the yard.
The problem is that these Easter eggs come with a lot of baggage, as we're constantly reminded by Michael Giacchino's score, which borrows liberally from John Williams'. It feels a lot, at this point, like Giacchino's talents are being wasted; his scores for The Incredibles and Ratatouille are transcendent, whereas the franchise work he's done recently is simply serviceable. The new material he provides relies too heavily on old themes to be truly distinct, and as a result, only reminds us of the beauty of A New Hope, free of the burden of franchise, which I don't think will ever be replicated.
It's strange that so much emphasis would be put on the fact that Rogue One is a standalone movie with an all-new cast when, in fact, iconic characters take up a not-insignificant chunk of screen time, underscored by equally iconic musical cues. When I felt thrills, they were for callbacks to the best parts of the old movies, not for anything Rogue One was doing anew. The movie ultimately isn't so new at all — it won't stand alone, even if it could.