In 2012, George Lucas sold Lucasfilm to Disney and they subsequently announced an ambitious plan to not only make the thought to be abandoned sequel trilogy (Episodes VII-IX), but to release a stand alone Star Wars movie every year. After Force Awakens brought back the good will of the fans who may have been ready to give up on Star Wars after the much maligned prequels. We now have Rogue One, the first of the stand alone movies to be released. Maybe stand alone is a bit of a misnomer, for Rogue One literally ends where A New Hope begins.
Rogue One answers the question, “Why does a massive weapon like the Death Star have such an easily exploited weakness?” The answer is that it's head architect (Mads Mikkelsen) was working under duress after being taken by the Empire. His daughter Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is recruited by the Rebel Alliance to head a team of, well, rogues to rescue him, or so she believes. There true mission is to steal the plans for the Death Star that will reveal to them the aforementioned weak spot.
Rogue One is a divisive movie. I've heard it called the best Star Wars since Empire Strikes Back and I've heard from people who absolutely hated it. I didn't necessarily dislike it, in the way I do the prequels and the tampered with originals, but I didn't have as much fun watching it as I did Force Awakens. A lot of that has to do with the characters. Granted, Force Awakens has a stacked deck in that it brought back beloved characters, but Finn, Rey, and even Kylo Ren are all more fully developed and memorable characters then anyone in Rogue One.
The sole exception being reprogrammed droid K-2SO, who serves as an anti-Jar Jar Binks; an all CGI character that succeeds in delivering comic relief and is not annoying. He certainly fares better than Rogue One's other CGI character, Grand Moff Tokin who looks like he stepped out of a video game cut scene, a well rendered cut scene, but no one is mistaking him for human.
As directed by Gareth Edwards, Rogue One feels like no Star Wars movie before. Gone is the opening crawl along with the familiar theme music. It's also the first to recognize that there is a war going on with acts of sabotage, assassination attempts, flexing of power, and sacrificial deaths. But it's also unmistakably Star Wars with inside references and cameos. The most effective is Darth Vader who just about steals the movie and gets to show what a formidable opponent he is an badass sequence near the films end. Maybe we can see more of him in other stand alone films.
Rogue One might require further study on my part. I certainly didn't hate it like I do the prequels, but I didn't absolutely love it either like the originals or Force Awakens. It was simply OK and I find my lack of faith in it disturbing.