In the first act, we visit planet after planet without any sense of place or structure. I almost tuned out in fear of ending up at BOOP CHOWBAH, IMPERIAL WASTEWATER TREATMENT MOON. But once the Death Star fires its first shot, we're off to the races: Rogue One is fast, focused action sci-fi given space to get its hands dirtier than usual Star Wars stuff.
Yet it so loves and respects that universe, treating it with great reverence. In particular, I loved how the "primitive" computer displays of the original Star Wars era were convincingly upgraded into an intentional UI aesthetic. Now the 1977 original looks like a faithful low-budget sequel to a beloved classic.
So go and watch it already. Three things stood out for me:
• Diversity is represented by human variation in the cast instead of ethnically-stereotyped alien puppets. Moreover, women are in charge. As you can imagine, all this has certain men on the internet very sad indeed. A real-world bonus to giving Disney $7.
• There's a quality to the violence that I found weird. Unlike earlier Star Wars movies (or anything at all, to be honest?) Rogue One uses that dirt-thrown-up shakycam Fallujah docudrama look in battles, but lacks the gore we associate with that particular aesthetic of movie violence. Don't get me wrong: I'm glad it doesn't go there. But the way it cued me to expect intestines and limbs, then not show anything close to that, was really top-notch PG-13 craftsmanship. The downside: adolescent boys thinking they just watched a realistic war movie.
• Director Krennic, the main antagonist, is getting some flak for being unbadass. But he's a great example of what makes this movie distinct, and better, than the other Star Wars prequels. The enemy, instead of being a tragic avatar dispensing line after line of clunky dialogue, is a petty, shouty, sarcastic climber obsessed with his toys. You know when they promote a top engineer to indispensable-level management and it is a terrible mistake? That! Though the CGI resurrection of Moff Tarkin doesn't quite escape the uncanny valley, his dilemma at having to deal with this volatile, sneering warrant officer is wonderfully human: he's so acutely aware of the mistake he made putting Krennic in charge of the Death Star that he makes it personal, and thereby fails to see just how bad the consequences of that mistake will be.
In this sort of thing, Rogue One has real magic to it: later moments from earlier Star Wars movies become secret denouements, traps set decades ago.
That twitch of Tarkin's eyebrows is the last scene of Rogue One.