"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..."
Then, the sudden appearance of a random planet without a traditional opening crawl signalled a different Star Wars from the traditional Skywalker saga. For the traditional Star Wars film, they are about heroes' journey, Anakin's fall to the dark side, Luke's path to a Jedi Knight and Rey looking for her own identity. In Rogue One, it's a war film where a criminal is entangled in a war between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire, marking the Galactic Civil War.
For the premise, this movie is based of the original opening crawl, where Rebel spies going to a mission to steal the Death Star. Criminal Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) is tasked to work with Captain Cassian Andor to retrieve the Death Star plans from Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker) and her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). Joining along the ragtag team of Rebels are reprogrammed droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), defecting Imperial pilot (Bodhi Rook), blind warrior monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and assassin Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).
Rogue One is a war film, but it is still Star Wars in its core. Director Gareth Edwards has injected a different feel to it. It's bleaker, dirtier and grittier than other Star Wars before it. In terms of execution, Rogue One is great. The film is able to explain its existence by showing the beginning of A New Hope is because of a big war that occurred before the film started. Before that, we only understand from the opening crawl, now we've seen how the Rebellion goes to war. It is also able to address some of the plot holes from the original trilogy, such as the exhaust port, the lack of Rebel Alliances, and etc. What is so well done about the movie is that, it is able to tell its story so well without breaking any continuity, some things the prequel not managed to do so.
Like Godzilla, Gareth Edwards excels at bringing in scale into his movies. Looking at AT-ACT from Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus ground perspectives felt huge and the odds are against them at every turn. And Death Star looming over Jedha before the weapon test is a beautiful sequence to show the menace of the Imperials. In terms of effects, the film will bring out the 70s sci-fi look of A New Hope, matching the aesthetics in the timeline. Rogue One is also able to inject the 'war' into Star Wars, with a killer final act showing the Rebels going toe to toe with the Empire in an big scale skirmish.
Rogue One, like The Force Awakens, is a nostalgia piece to Star Wars fans, but in a different way. There are so many fan service and easter eggs throughout the film, fans will be pleased to see the references towards the other characters and films. Darth Vader is the most prominent fan service in this film. His time in this film is incredibly short, but when he appears, his presence was an effective reminder of why he is one of the greatest villain in film industry.
However, Godzilla's weaknesses is also Rogue One's weaknesses. The film felt sluggish in the second act where at certain times it felt like a drag. The film also suffers from the usual movie tropes whereby the first act felt rush to introduce multiple characters at once to a point you can't relate to them. While all the characters is great, especially K-2SO, Chirrut Imwe, Cassian and Jyn are great new characters, but they are not really good while they're in a team. They don't feel like a team in this, but individually they are great.
Soundtrack is another weakness of Rogue One. Michael Giacchino's music is a test whether we can live without John Williams in Star Wars. Despite Michael Giacchino's efforts, the soundtrack of Rogue One felt underwhelming. There are still piece that reminds us that Rogue One is a Star Wars film, but the others are forgettable. The Force Awakens, was John Williams' weakest Star Wars soundtrack, but it is still better than Rogue One.
Rogue One is a solid entry of the Star Wars saga, it proves that there are good stories outside the Skywalker family and it can be interpreted into different genres. A prequel is effective when it is able to explain the original story with care and be able to cover up the original's flaws, Rogue One did just that. For fans, it's a great way to re-explore the old stories. For non-fans, it can be treated as a standalone just fine. And as for newcomers, you can watch Rogue One as the first film, then treat A New Hope as the sequel. The Force Awakens reawakened my love for Star Wars, Rogue One made me trust the future of Star Wars.