It’s what I wanted it to be; a gritty, ground-level look at the Rebellion. A bit slow to start, but once it got moving it rolled right where I wanted it to go. It did feel like a big budget fan film, but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. The cameos were an interesting mix of prequel cast, (usually creepy) CGI, and Adywan-style reused shots, most of which worked.
The plot did what it was supposed to, but I do wish that we got to know the characters a bit more. They were mostly “that guy” and “the other guy”. I also wish it delved a bit deeper into the “bad/good guys on both sides” aspect they referenced but didn’t follow up on. There were a lot of shout outs and references I appreciated. I loved the subtle ones, like using the exact shame shots of people preparing to fire the DS laser both times (which the filmmakers do in ANH and RotJ). It was also great to have some subtle “Rebels” references, which begs some questions about how that series is going to end. It also explained some things, like why there aren’t any capital ships at Yavin. I was going to be upset at the new ship and trooper designs, but if you think about it, none of those ships would have been useful in the other movies. It was great to see Y-wings doing actual bombing runs and TIE Bombers being used as troop transports, and Vader do his thing again/for the first time.
The thing people must remember is that Star Wars (as a franchise) is re-defining what makes a “Star Wars” movie. Previously, it was easy: the movies were the story of Skywalkers saving the universe, going through the Hero’s Journey and making choices. This is what united them, and will continue to unite the Episodes.
Then take a look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe. A half dozen different genres united because they just so happen to take place in the same timeline. What unites them is just the setting really.
Now the Star Wars franchise is expanding the universe, making “Star Wars” a setting and not just the Skywalker/Hero’s Journey arc, which is hard for some people to grasp. This is why they started with Episode VII and why JJ played it so safe. It was easing us into this change of concept. Eventually, we’ll move into the franchise mindset (admittedly easier for those who’ve been consuming the books/cartoons). Will we lose something special? Maybe. But we just might get something even better.