I’ve finally done something I meant to do almost since Rogue One came out on DVD and that’s watch it and Star Wars back-to-back.
This isn’t a full-dress review (I sort of did that on Mk I of this blog and didn’t manage to do a very good job) but just some notes on the assumption that people have seen it (though this is an even worse job).
The new non-Williams music, the subtitles, and the CGI actors still bug me. The grimdark rebels also bug me in theory but it’s done well. While some of the organic effects like the truth-reading organism weren’t great, the mechanical effects (ships, etc.) were fantastic. The movie found the sweet spot in its homages avoiding the big chunky ham-handed stuff of the sequel trilogy and instead focusing on the largest scale of being a Star Wars movie and the small scale of quick little bits. It also didn’t restrict itself to that with nods to Indiana Jones and others.
The plot mostly made a sort of sense and created some small-scale action before blossoming into full-blown space opera battle. There was a strong sense of old WWII movies generally (what with an Imperial tank and many rebels wearing WWII-style helmets) and of a Battle for the Pacific, specifically, with the island and palm trees. So that kept everything interesting and exciting (with a lot of the emotional ups and downs of Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi in one) but that needs characters to fully work and this had them. When Jyn is meeting Chirrut, and Andor says, “We’re not here to make friends,” it’s deeply ironic because they are there to make friends. I think Jyn is very pretty (and don’t care if people can’t take that as a compliment) but she’s also an interesting person who’s lost her biological parents and the last straw is losing her foster parent so that she’s drifted without connection or anything to believe in until she finds out things about her father and hooks up with her band of rebels, eventually even being able to embrace the notion that “rebellions are built on hope.” Andor is also lost, in that his hands are so dirty he’s turning into a stormtrooper for the rebellion but he still finds some compassion and independence within. The next tier of Chirrut (“the force is with me and I am one with the force”), Baze (Mr. Machine-Gun-Laser), Bodhi (Imperial Shuttle Pilot on the Road to Redemption), and even K-2SO (the least Asimovian “good” robot ever) is also strong. One might argue that they band together too quickly and that Jyn and Andor’s necessarily platonic romance is too automatic but it just recalls the quick banding together of the rebels in the original movie. More seriously, the Empire has some weird damn data protocols  but it made for interesting drama before the space opera morphs into a disaster movie (embracing on the shore) and then into a horror movie (as Vader goes through the corridors like Jason and Freddy and all rolled into one).
One small-ish spoiler (for anyone who hasn’t seen it) is that I loved that the Death Star bad guy was on the tower when that tower got obliterated by the Death Star.
As far as how they run back-to-back, the first movie was made about forty years earlier when pocket calculators cost hundreds of dollars and any PC-like things people had were built by hobbyists out of kits so there are going to be some differences in feel, despite Star Wars being shockingly beyond the state of the art of its time. (I mean this generally but, speaking specifically, it was interesting that the slick new movie managed to keep old Death Star graphics and the like and get away with it.) Still, after some FX-shock, Star Wars seemed as wonderful as ever. But the most glaring thing is how tiring that assault through the corridor must have been for Vader because, in Star Wars, he just sort of strolls through the next corridor and his duel with Kenobi is very gentle.
Perhaps the most important thing is that Rogue One dramatizes most of the opening text crawl of Star Wars and fixes one of the weird issues in Star Wars of why the Empire would built such a massive contraption that has such a glaring flaw. On the other hand, it’s not clear why the Empire is tearing things apart trying to find any evidence of Galen Erso’s sabotage in the prequel and then everybody seems quite content that the Death Star is invincible in Star Wars until the guy reports to Tarkin that they’ve analyzed the attack and there is a weakness.
I’m not going to actually “review” this one at all – if you somehow haven’t seen it, you simply must. But a couple of random notes I thought about this time: Star Wars has a much greater appreciation for non-verbal communication. In Rogue One, someone’s talking almost non-stop. Star Wars is much more like THX 1138 in that regard. Speaking of verbals, though, I love the audio effects during the Death Star battle scene when they cut from “camera in the cockpit” to “camera somewhere else” and the voices go from “in the cockpit” to “over the comms.”
I still love the scenes between Tarkin and Leia, especially when he tells her “You’re far too trusting” and, moments later, is scandalized when he declares to Vader, “She lied! She lied to us!” (Jyn’s cool but nobody will ever top Leia. Speaking of topping Leia, yes, it still bugs me that Chewie doesn’t get a medal but my theory is that Chewie’s too tall for Leia to get it over his head, so he got his in a separate ceremony. And the hold in that scene where C-3PO is shown and the camera cuts away before the camera returns and then pans down is classic.)
The main thing I thought about in this experiment of running the films back to back is that they are superb but I so deeply wish I could unsee the prequel trilogy. Also, I’m amazed at how good Rogue One is when I had to make so many allowances for The Force Awakens, didn’t even like its sequel and don’t have to unsee the sequel to that because I’ve never bothered to watch it.
Still, while I’m glad I finally did this, it worked pretty well, and I enjoyed it, it’s probably best to let some time elapse between the two. (But it is kind of hard not to at least want to watch Star Wars right after Rogue One.)