(Spoilers ahead, stop reading if you haven’t seen the movie.)
I think Rogue One is half of an unexpectedly great movie.
The first half, with all the planet-hopping, introduction of characters with absolutely no attention to backstory or sense (I didn’t understand Forrest Whittaker’s character motivation at all), and corny rah-rah-rebellion speechifying, is a muddled, confusing mess.
But the second half of the movie, once they assault the beach planet with the shield, suddenly becomes a great war movie. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t “The Longest Day” or “Bridge Over The River Kwai” or “The Guns of Navarone” or “The Battle of Midway” or “Tora, Tora, Tora” in space, but that’s what we got.
Better yet, the battle sequences (both on the ground and in space) were effectively planned and executed, the action was swift and breathtaking, and yet it was easy to follow what was happening — unlike the action in any Michael Bay movie, or the unaffecting and unmemorable CGI chaos that was the climax of The Avengers.
Yet for all the grand sweep and scale of the battle sequences, they felt like they had real stakes and personal pathos. The most surprising thing for a big budget tentpole franchise movie was that it had an actual ending, and all the characters actually die in compelling and affecting ways. That’s something I’ve never seen in any Marvel Cinematic Universe film — no one can really die, because we know they have to live so that they can star in their own franchise films, and of course we know they have to get back together for the Avengers Secret Civil Wars Multiverse Crisis event.
So yes, I loved the war movie half of Rogue One. Then I saw the last 10 minutes, in which Darth Vader sheds 30 years of marketing to make him cute and cuddly, and uses his Force powers to just decimate a bunch of Rebel soldiers and show us exactly why a Sith Lord should be feared and dreaded. And Rogue One takes us right to the beginning of Episode IV, compete with CGI Leia. That was deeply satisfying. It was good stuff, almost enough to make me forget how bad the first half was.