On the one hand, there’s the Star Wars franchise. I’m neither here nor there with it. The better ones all blend together, although like many, I’ll name The Empire Strikes Back if I’m asked to pick a favorite. And the worst ones (easy to identify, they are episodes I, II, and III) all seem the same, too. I liked the most recent “episode”, The Force Awakens, better than most. But I’ve never given a Star Wars movie more than 7/10.
And now we have Gareth Edwards directing a Star Wars movie.
I think it’s a step back from Godzilla, but on a par with the other good Star Wars movies. I noted in my comments on Godzilla that Edwards was “using a big budget not to knock us on our asses a la Michael Bay but instead to make a better film.” And sure enough, one of the things I liked best about Rogue One was its lack of Michael Bay-ishness. The action scenes are coherent, which in 2016 means they are old-fashioned, but when it comes to action, I’m old-fashioned, too. I always knew who was where in the action scenes, which didn’t used to be that hard to pull off. I was often confused during the film, but that came not because the action was jumbled, but because I don’t have Star Wars embedded in my brain. So I didn’t understand where this movie is placed in the Star Wars timeline until it was explained to me after the show. I never remember if the good guys fly those x-shaped planes or the h-shaped planes (they are different, aren’t they?), so I’m behind from the start. And I didn’t much care about the characters, beyond their basic function ... that is, I liked Felicity Jones kicking ass, but have no thoughts on Jyn Erso (heck, I had to look the character’s name up before I typed that).
But I often find character development superfluous in action movies. Not if it is done well, not if the film makers actually care about those characters. But when we find out that Betty Jo had a hard relationship with her father, or that Bill never got over losing his best friend, and that is the sum total of what we learn about the characters, I wish they just wouldn’t bother.
So for me, the last part of Rogue One is the best, because it’s mostly pure action. And based on his last two movies, Gareth Edwards appears to know how to do action.
I'd also like to mention Donnie Yen. Yen is now in his early-50s. He deserves a good paycheck more than most people. And he can't keep on doing his martial arts magic forever. But he was wasted in Rogue One. Many of his (few) fights were against CGI opponents. I was reminded of The Tuxedo, made when Jackie Chan was pushing 50. Chan had special powers when he wore this magic suit ... but Jackie Chan doesn't need a magic suit to do miraculous things. And Donnie Yen doesn't need CGI. So check him out in Ip Man, or working with Michelle Yeoh in Wing Chun.
OK ... I’m willing to call Rogue One a better-than-average Star Wars movie. Which means 7/10. But if you want to know where I’m coming from, I gave both The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Fury Road 10/10.