Before I saw Rogue One I didn't want it or the other standalones to have an opening crawl, although I did think there needed to be something to set up the story. The opening shot, while beautiful, was a jarring way to start the film. The stand alone films need a more stylized opening if they aren't going to have a crawl because this just felt like something was missing.
Some of the character motivations aren't fleshed out enough. Jyn is supposed to be the reluctant hero but she's never properly established as being disillusioned with the rebel cause or her place in the world. We go from her being in jail, to her being rescued, to her joining this mission without any fuss. There needed to be more set up of a despondent maybe even suicidal Jyn for the rest of her arc to fully pay off. She also becomes too much of a leader too quickly following Galen's death. We needed a scene or two before her speech to the Alliance Council, possibly channeling her grief into something more constructive to honour her father, for that to jive properly. That would make her last scene resonate more too when Cassian tells her that her father would be proud of her.
We definitely needed to know more about Bodhi. This guy defects because Galen was a nice guy? It would have been helpful to know what triggered his turn. Was he asked to fire on innocent people? Did he witness some wartime atrocity? I think the first character in the "present day" to be introduced in this film should have been Bodhi, not Cassian, and it should have been the events around his defection so the rest of the plot made more sense.
Both of the Guardians of the Whills were awesome. Obviously Donnie Yen was a standout character in this film, and I think that character will be a mainstay in the expanded lore. The chemistry between those two characters were the strongest of any of the leads. K2 was the other main standout of the group, but he never felt like the Chewbacca to Cassian's Solo. That relationship was definitely underdeveloped and this is my overall gripe with the movie: the characters aren't fleshed out individually enough for me to love them, and their relationship with each another is only half baked. I never got the sense that these characters actually cared about each other. This is where Force Awakens is leaps and bounds above Rogue One.
Krennic: awesome concept of a character and a fantastic actor to play him, but I was shocked how subservient his role was to Tarkin's. I've read most of Catalyst and Krennic is this manipulative and clever officer who wants nothing more than to be part of the Imperial Elite. In the movie I don't feel his menace, and he never really has much to do because of how central Tarkin's role is. This was a big time miscalculation by the story group and writers. They decided to favour a CG recreation of a dead actor's character over a new and potentially interesting one played by a live person. It's actually pretty batshit stupid. No wonder Lucas was proud. Tarkin should have absolutely been part of this story but I thought they would be far more clever about how they integrated him into the film. Show his reflection from glass while he's shot from behind, make him communicate via a holo recording, and maybe even use archived footage. Part of me wants to give them props for totally going for it, but they should have known better once they saw the results. It completely took me out of a movie that was otherwise flawless visually.
The visuals are outstanding and the world building is top notch. I loved the variety in the new environments and feeling the oppression of the Empire. I fucking ate up all of the fan service nods, even the cheap ones like Ponda Baba and Dr. Evazan. Bail referencing Obi-wan and Leia, Chopper and the Ghost at Yavin, General Sendulla being hailed to the briefing room, RED and GOLD FUCKING LEADERS DURING SCARIF ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!!?! All of that shit was boner-inducing stuff. I did think that Artoo and Threepio's cameo should have been on the Tantive before they showed the shot of Leia.
Galen Erso being the architect of the exhaust port flaw is brilliant, as is the way the final act plays out to get the information from Scarif to the fleet. I was equally invested in the ground battle, Jyn and Cassian's heist and the space battle above. This is where Rogue One does it better than Force Awakens.
Vader: Everything about his castle was awesome, from the reference to the original ESB script to floating Anakin in bacta. I was very shocked they didn't nail the costume design and it immediately jumped out that this wasn't David Prowse. The hand motions were less fluid and confident and more awkward. That and the costume was lit terribly, especially the oversized helmet. More ROTJ than ANH in voice performance, but that's hardly JEJ's fault. I actually think Vader's appearance on Rebels nailed the voice track better. But then...who fucking cares about those details because the scene in the cruiser hallway might have been the number 1, 2 or 3 Vader scene in the entire fucking canon. Definitely number 1 on the badass scale. Holy goddamn hell. I have never had a reaction that strong in a movie theatre. Ever. The brains of everyone in that room were melted.
The score: It had its moments, and the references to classic themes were nice, but overall it didn't have much of a personality on its own. Giacchino missed an opportunity to flesh out the Empire's theme from ANH. In fact I thought the Rogue One score should have referenced the ANH score more and didn't. it probably would have helped considering the tight window he had to write it.
The ending: for a script that was so clever at making ANH a better movie by explaining the weakness in the Death Star and investing us further in the plight of the Rebellion, I was shocked by the filmmakers' decision to have the Tantive present at the Scarif battle and for Vader to witness its escape with the plans first hand. It literally transforms Antilles' and Leia's story from being a "believable" cover to a completely laughable lie. They were literally caught with their hand in the cookie jar, chewing on cookies, with cookie crumbs on their faces and saying they didn't do it. That really changes the opening scene of ANH for the worse in my view, and makes some of the dialogue feel odd.
"I have traced the rebel spies to her, now she is my only link to finding their secret base." -- you weren't really tracing rebels spies at all; you intercepted a rebel cruiser while it was fleeing battle, cut down rebel soldiers who were playing pass the baton with the stolen plans, and watched the very ship you captured flee. There was never any direct link between Leia and the spies. Further to that, the search for the rebel base was never a plot point in this film but definitely should have been considering its importance in ANH. The very characters who seem obsessed with finding it in ANH say nothing of it in Rogue One.
I know I've been picking at the film but that's what us geeks do. Overall, I really enjoyed it. Thought it was fun as fuck, added tons to the mythos, and has some of the best moments in all of Star Wars. I loved the tone and the newness of it all and now believe the standalones can really work.
Nerdy nitpick footnote: TIE fighter pilot cockpit shots with exaggerated thumbs hitting triggers looked odd.