Rogue One is not cute, but it's not cold.
The tone of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story might be the most impressive thing about it. There are moments, especially at the outset of the film, where we are genuinely scared. I don't mean "bad guy in a movie" scared, I mean horror movie scared. However, there are also instances of great levity that actually occur as the Rebel Alliance attempts to outwit the Imperial Forces. This is to be expected in a Star Wars film. Nobody seem up in arms at the fun that Luke, Han, and Chewy have as they engage in a space battle in Episode 4. It is this ability to not be cute and not be cold, that the Star Wars Prequel trilogy truly lacked. They went so far in the cute direction in the prequel trilogy, that when they wanted to be serious, we were still mind-boggled by whatever cute atrocity we have just laid witness too. Rogue One has richness to it. We care about all the characters and, given how many there are, this is truly extraordinary as they don't occupy the screen for that long. However, this new cast of characters is so dynamic that we honestly feel sadness at their demise. We felt sad watching the prequels (no, not that kind of sadness!), but the sadness and our connection to it in Star Wars: Rogue One was entirely more palpable.
Rogue One doesn't look like a video game.
Having talked about the tone, lets talk about the look of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The prequel trilogy, no matter how you try and spin it (they look better, they utilized new technology more, etc.), look like video games. Rogue One, and even more importantly Star Wars: The Force Awakens, have gone out of their way to place these characters in very real situations. I remember being surprised at the battle scenes in both films. The Star Wars Prequel trilogy would've had the main characters flying through the air, shooting off their guns, flipping and spinning away from enemy fire, etc. We get none of that Rogue One. I also recall watching Anakin and Obi Wan's battle scene on Mustafa. As they are battling on pieces of broken up earth that rest upon a bed lava, doing insane lightsaber moves, I found myself completely detached from it all. Look, I know I am watching a movie that takes place "in a galaxy far, far away," but a big reason why Star Wars: The Force Awakens and now Rogue One are resonating is because they have brought back the humanity to the films. They battles don't move at a lightning pace. We don't see the characters transformed into CGI and then bounce all over the screen in ways that are, from a physics standpoint, completely impossible. Sure, the the battles in Rogue One may not look as quick and slick, but that is a worthy sacrifice considering what we are getting in return. A superhuman tale being achieved by mortals who are always pushing themselves to be more than they are.