I also wrote a spoiler-free blog entry about the film here - http://atariage.com/forums/blog/618/entry-13519-star-wars-rogue-one-spoiler-free-review/
I wrote that quickly after seeing the film, being careful to avoid all other reviews because I didn't want my thoughts influenced. Once an idea gets in one's head, its there forever. I left the film in elation, feeling some of the 80's stunned wow-factor that I remember as a kid watching the originals. Rogue Squadron stirred the Star Wars excitement in me more than last year's The Force Awakens. By now, I've read and watched many reviews and comments about Rogue One. I thought I'd blog out my thoughts on CGI humans, cameos, text story crawls, and Darth Vader.
The most mentioned subject seems to be the CGI Grand Moff Tarkin. Or, is he Governer Tarkin as addressed in A New Hope? When he appeared from behind, with his face semi-reflected in the Death Star window, I thought that's all we'd see. And then ... he turns around, full CGI mo-capped character, Peter Cushing resurrected! And he was in the entire movie. Well, complaints from the internet peanut gallery keep popping up about how distracting this evidently was to them. But honestly, is it not true of all the Star Wars films that some characters, be it CGI or puppet, are obviously an effect? Would it have been better to cast a lookalike actor instead of CGI Peter Cushing? Check out the Tarkin makeup from Episode III again and see how horrible it looks up-close. That film wisely put him into the background, so it works. I bet few people have those cutting Peter Cushing cheekbones.
I agree that CGI human faces aren't quite perfect yet. But it was still the best we've seen yet, far better than many attempts from earlier films. It seemed better than young Robert Downey Jr , young Michael Douglas, and before that young Jeff Bridges from Tron which admittedly was several years back.
Tarkin was a great character, played briefly by the great actor Peter Cushing. I loved and applaud the incluson of the ruthless and brilliant Tarkin in Rogue One. It would have felt cheap if he and Vader weren't part of the film. I knew right away it was CGI because of course it is. Immediately I widened my eyes, looking apprehensively for flaws. But even on the huge XD screen at the theater, the effect held up. I think I may have actually gasped at seeing Tarkin as a character in this form! The CGI Princess Leia, at the film's close, was also not 100% a replacement for a human, but it was brief and still looked very good. Seeing the young versions of these actors again in this prequel is not something I'd complain about. To the contrary, it is true Movie Magic that we are witnessing.
Darth Vader also returned! Wow! And they gave us two scenes with Vader! And we got to see him in a bacta tank! I've seen complaints about his funny lines to Director Krennic, not to be 'choked by his ambitions'. Why was this so bad? Anakin had a sense of wry humor at times, and Vader was never afraid to throw out a cutting jab to fellow imperials. In my theater audience, people chuckled with laughter at that. It didn't diminish the character of Vader at all. This is not a bad line. It certainly isn't 'what happens when a toad is hit by lightning' bad. Frankly, I think Vader was in a hurry to dismiss Krennic and get back to his warm Bacta tank. Nobody likes having to get out of the tub to answer the door.
Vader's second scene at the film's finale ... WOW! I was so, so happy at that. When those poor rebels got trapped in the room by the faulty airlock door, and they turned around and you could see Vader's red lights dimly .. and then he fires up the lightsaber and methodically blocks blaster fire, uses the Force to throw them, all the while slowly advancing and cutting them all down. Wow Wow Wow! Coming on the heals of the prior excellent space battle, I was in full fanboy-grins and jaw-dropped mode at this point. Go go, Captain Antilles! Hurry!
I really loved seeing cameos such as Walrus Man (Kenner's toy description from the 70's) , currently still having 2 arms, and his ugly wanted-in-12-systems friend, in a cameo! Looking around, there were so many things to see. Familiar droids, blue liquids, familiar races from Episode IV's timeline. Tell me I didn't see a domesticated Wampa in there during the Jedha City scenes?? I loved the 5 seconds of 3PO and R2 , as the rebels left their base. Just the right amount of cameo and humor, thankfully not wearing out its welcome. I loved seeing Red Squadron. This brings up a question - I swear I saw Biggs as one of the pilots. Perhaps it was just another pilot with a similar 70's mustache? I won't know for sure that I'm wrong, until I watch it again.
Concerning the characters, I went into the film with no knowledge of any of their histories. Except for possibly Jyn, the other characters were not as fleshed out as much as TFA's Rey and Finn, but they didn't need to be. I got to know them all well enough that I felt down at each of their deaths. I didn't need a text crawl explaining where the story was and who was involved - but maybe general audiences did need that. I absolutely loved the film's opening , with the only necessary verbiage, "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." and then the scene with young Jyn's family on their farm, and the approach of Imperial Krennic.
Wow, a film where the entire main cast is killed by the end. Just like old films like The Dirty Dozen or old westerns. I think Rogue One's different, darker tone is one of the reasons the film was so enjoyable to me. As an example or two, I didn't expect Saw to die so early. I didn't expect the wartime ruthlessness shown by Captain Cassian Andor with his informant.
What irony that Director Krennic is killed by his precious Death Star, courtesy of the absolutely ruthless Tarkin. Krennic, you're far too trusting.