At one point as I was watching Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, I actually forgot I was watching a film that was in any way located in the Star Wars universe. This might seem like a bad thing but, upon reflection, it is actually an example of the strength of this movie. I say this because Star Wars, for being such a beloved franchise, is not without its fair share of controversy.
Much of this controversy centers around the Star Wars Anakin Skywalker trilogy, Episodes 1, 2 and 3, that came out decades after the original film graced screens. These films, while technically, very satisfying, ultimately left a lot to be desired. That said, when you're telling the story of how Darth Vader ultimately betrayed the good of The Force and joined The Dark Side, you're going to have your share of detractors. Still, nobody could probably predict the way that the Star Wars Prequel trilogy would be skewered.
For a lot of people, they felt that George Lucas had made the prequels "kids movies" and thus vaporized the original fans. Other people had a hard time with Hayden Christensen's portrayal of Anakin Skywalker and his relationship with Queen Amidala (Natalie Portman). There even more that hated the introduction to Jar Jar Binks. Whatever your reason, these prequels almost seemed to be dining in the fans misery of these characters. At the same time, kids loved these films and, in the years since they were released, have come of age with them in much the same way that my generation did with Episodes 4, 5 and 6.
This is where the slippery slope of making a Star Wars movie truly lies. They have a shared history that spans generations! The makers of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story couldn't simply make a movie to please the hardcore fans. That audience, while large, isn't the only audience. The fans of the first three films need to be respected without getting Jar Jar cameos in every film. And this is the crux of what has made Rogue One the success that it is. It managed to straddle both worlds, and in the process it gave us the best prequel film in the series.
Rogue One is not bound by the same rules as the prequel trilogy.
While everybody knew the story for Rogue One, the Rebel Alliance stealing the plans to destroy the Death Star before Episode 4 happened, it wasn't telling us a story we all know and have expectations of. There were many questions. Who were the characters? How big of a role would Darth Vader have? Why was an Imperial soldier holding up a Stormtrooper doll? How come Darth Vader's helmet wasn't connected to his suit? Why would there be no title crawl in this movie? The questions go on and on. Now, if you're a purist you might not be able to get passed these issues. If you are not (and I am most certainly not), I reveled in the fact that Rogue One kicked the prequel trilogy traditions to the curb and broke new ground in the process. We need these standalone films to not be bound by the same rules as the films in the trilogies. Why? Because at the end of the day it allows for characters like Jyn Erso, Saw Gerrera, Cassian Andor, Chirrut Imwe and many others to exist. If the Star Wars universe isn't evolving (this includes the Star Wars Prequel trilogies and all the other films completed in the canon), lord help the rest of us.
Rogue One is a prequel in name only.
A big discussion around Rogue One is whether or not this film is really a prequel. A lot of people say that it isn't, while others, citing where it takes place after the Star Wars Prequel trilogy, certainly declare that it is. I personally think that it is, however, you could take out the biggest things that connect it to Episode 4 and you would still have a terrific film. What are those things, you ask? Well, it begins with the connective tissue, Senator Bail Organa. He figured quite prominently in the official Star Wars Prequel trilogy. By having him in Rogue One, he is a direct link to those films and, not like we needed it, firmly ensconces Rogue One in that timeline. Add to the this the cameo by Princess Leia at the end of the film, and Grand Moff Tarkin's near starring role, and it honestly feels like we now have a 5 hour version of Episode 4. What separates Rogue One and ultimately makes it work better than the prequel trilogy is that it doesn't need the Star Wars timeline. It doesn't need those characters to be a better film. With the prequels it constantly felt like we were waiting for something to happen. Rogue One is constantly moving and in that regard, constantly changing the way we view this film and it's relationship to the trilogies.