Ahead of The Rise of Skywalker on Thursday, I'm attempting to re-watch all of the previous live action Star Wars movies in chronological order. The Phantom Menace Attack of the Clones Revenge of the Sith Solo: A Star Wars Story This was an interesting experiment, basically the equivalent of a Marvel One Shot, albeit at feature film length and with a feature film budget. The last hour of the movie is succinctly summarized in the opening crawl for the original Star Wars. Even more than Solo, this one feels completely unnecessary. And yet, despite that, I think it does a better job of justifying itself than Solo did. The events of Solo proceed more or less exactly how you'd have expected them to, and -- for large chunks -- more or less exactly how previous ancillary books and comics and depicted them. By contrast, Rogue One takes something dry and impersonal and gives it human faces. The price of Luke Skywalker's big victory above the moon of Yavin IV was paid with the lives of people who were just as heroic but not nearly as celebrated. As first live action Star Wars movie outside of the Saga movies, the creative team had to decide what was universal to all Star Wars movies and what was unique to the Saga films. Mostly, I think they struck the right balance. Keeping the "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...." title card at the beginning, and the sky blue end credits font over the star field with the same cut to credits music felt right. And ditching almost everything else also felt right. The one I go back and forth on was the decision to get rid of the wipes. "The Mandalorian" uses them to great effect. I think a big part of it is that this movie is a war movie that strives for a sense of immediacy. There is something distancing about the wipes, something that sets the audience at a remove from the characters. After the joy of Lawrence Kasdan's dialog in Solo, this felt like a major step back. There are some lines in this movie that are as bad as anything that Lucas came up with in the prequels. It's also probably the worst structured movie of the ten Star Wars movies released so far. The first half, in particular, has no sense of flow to it. We jump around a lot until all of the pieces have been assembled, and the movie doesn't really establish a flow or a sense of of momentum until Jyn and the Rebels flee Jedha. On the other hand, it might just have the best cinematography of any of the ten Star Wars movies released so far. The prequels have more eye candy, but Greig Fraser makes the more mundane settings here absolutely beautiful. I love the look of movies shot with the Alexa 65 and this is no exception. But unlike Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, which combined the camera with the latest state of the art large format lenses and created an entirely new look, Fraser paired the camera with vintage 1970s lenses from Panavision. The result is something in between old school and new school, while being an entirely different look than the original trilogy that was shot on 35mm film. I love the way the movie uses the shallow depth of field to create a sense of three dimensional space. I love the framing and the use of color. It feels epic, and the way it was shot was a big part of that. The music is a step up from Solo, but still not in the same league as the Saga films. Michael Giacchino is a great composer, but there's only one John Williams. I do appreciate that he didn't overuse the classic themes, only threading them in where appropriate. I appreciate the movie's effort to bridge the gap between where Revenge of the Sith ended and where the original Star Wars picked up, including having Jimmy Smits and Genevieve O'Reilly reprise their roles as Bail Organa and Mon Mothma respectively. Nineteen years had passed in story time, and eleven years had passed in the real world, so it only took a little makeup to sell the time jump. The tricky thing about telling a story that's literally taking place in the days leading up to the original Star Wars is that the world of your story is pretty well fixed. If the other movies were about taking the Star Wars aesthetic and then innovating as the story required, this movie's challenge is taking the specific A New Hope aesthetic and extrapolating it out. Everything in this movie had to feel like it could co-exist with that movie, and the production design team did a really good job of it. Nothing really felt like it was trying too hard. The use of characters from the original Star Wars was more of a mixed bag. Some shots with the CG Tarkin are staggeringly effective. But in most shots, he looks like one of the CG aliens from the prequel trilogy. The lighting isn't quite right, the texturing on his skin isn't quite right, his mouth doesn't move quite right. The filmmakers were in a bit of a bind, since viewers knew what this character was supposed to look like a day or two later. So recasting wasn't really an option. In the old days, they would have gotten around it by having Tarkin referred to but not seen directly. I think that might have been a better choice than what they went with. The CG Princess Leia at the end is really well done until she speaks. Then you get the same problem as when the CG Tarkin speaks. On the other hand, the integration of unused cockpit footage of pilots Red Leader and Gold Leader from the original Star Wars into the battle here is really effective. It's a little thing, but it does more than probably anything else to sell that this is just before the events of A New Hope. The visual effects of the ships and the CG environments are rock solid; among the best in the entire franchise. There were very few shots where I spotted any issues that punctured my suspension of disbelief. The movie essentially only has one character with any meaningful development, and that's Jyn Erso. And her character arc is essentially self-contained to this movie, since it opens with her mother being killed as her father is dragged away from her and ends with her death. All of the other characters arrive more or less fully formed, and don't change much from the beginning to the end. That's less of a problem then it would be for other movies, because this is essentially a heist picture and in heist pictures the team dynamic matters more than individual character development. Felicity Jones does a good job serving as the movie's center of gravity; when she's on screen, Jyn is the character you're focused on. Diego Luna is perfectly fine as Cassian Andor, but he's a bit like a less charismatic James Bond; he's good at his job, and he's there to get the job done. I will watch the planned Cassian Andor Disney+ series if it comes to fruition, but I'm not overly excited about it. Part of that is that the period between Revenge of the Sith and the original Star Wars is a bit hamstrung by the crawl's declaration that the Battle of Scarif was the Rebel Alliance's "first victory against the evil Galactic Empire." Who wants to watch the good guys lose over and over again? Forest Whitaker's Saw Gerrera is the only major character in the movie that doesn't really work for me. With that battle suit and the apparatuses to keep him alive, and his dogmatic approach to resisting the Empire that undermines the Rebel Alliance's strategies, he feels like a cartoon character. It's an example of where less would have been more. Of the supporting characters, the most fascinating for me were the two former Guardians of the Whills played by Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen. The movies have frequently referred to the Jedi and the Force as a religion, but that never made sense to me because religion requires faith and the Jedi have objective proof of the power of the Force. These two aren't trained in the ways of the Force, and yet they believe in it and at times appear to be aided by it. If The Phantom Menace made the Force less mysterious, this movie goes a long way toward making the Force more mysterious again. The first six movies gave us a completely new environment with each new planet that was introduced. The planets in Solo were all just kind of vaguely shitty and unimpressive. The planets in The Force Awakens, with the exception of one at the very end, were all variations of planet types we'd already seen. In addition to revisiting Yavin IV and Mustafar, Rogue One introduces six new environments: Lah'mu, a ringed planet with rich volcanic soil and a humid climate Wobani, a dreary planet obscured by a dust cloud The Ring of Kafrene, a mining colony built into (and connecting) two asteroids in deep space Jedha, an arid moon with a vaguely Middle Eastern feel to it Eadu, a stormy planet with towering pillars of rock carved by rushing flood waters Scarif, a warm planet dominated by vast oceans broken up by tropical archipelagos. Only Scarif is a completely new enivronment to the Star Wars universe, a Pacific theater counterpart to a universe that is dominated by influences from the battles in Europe, Africa, and China-Burma-India during World War II. But even the environments that are variations on a theme differentiate themselves visually in ways that the most of the new environments in The Force Awakens did not. The thing that most allows this film to stand apart is that it's a movie about sacrifice. Every one of our protagonists dies by the end. When I saw the movie in theaters, I thought it was ballsy but typical of the grim-dark philosophy that dominated pop culture at the time. Watching it on Blu-Ray, I got hung up with the structural issues and some of the execution choices. This time, knowing what was coming, I really paid attention to and developed an appreciation for how the bulk of the movie is giving these characters reasons to die. We get the first inkling that there is more to Jyn Erso than the mercenary front she puts on when she ran into the line of fire to save the little girl, around the same age that she was when she got orphaned, from the Stormtroopers. And when she sees how much her father sacrificed to protect the galaxy from his creation -- a J. Robert Oppenheimer with foresight -- it's a forgone conclusion that she will make sure his sacrifice wasn't in vain. Cassian Andor has lived an amoral life for an idealistic cause. He's done a lot of things he's not proud of in service of that cause. He goes on this mission to make sure that his idealistic cause survives. The two Guardians of the Whills have failed at their sacred task by the time we meet them. Their journey in this movie is about getting revenge on the people who have committed sacrilege against their faith and their traditions, desecrated the things that they dedicated their lives to protecting. And getting that revenge in a manner that comports with their belief system. The net result of all that sacrifice is that while many people die, the movie ends on a note of hope. Much like Solo, given the behind-the-scenes turmoil, it's amazing that the movie didn't turn out worse than it did.