Despite the weirdness of CGI Tarkin and the awful weirdness/weird awfulness of CGI Leia, I think Rogue One is the best-made Star Wars film, and this viewing did nothing to change that opinion. It's the only SW movie to pay major attention to the way external lighting conditions affect the interior illumination aboard spaceships, for instance -- one of many touches that make it such a visually beautiful and immersive film.
What I was really eager to see, though, was how it affected my viewing of A New Hope ... so eager, in fact, that since I had the day off, I put in Episode IV after little more than a lunch break.
Two things worried me, going into the experience. First, would the modern cinematic sophistication of Rogue One make the original film look really cheesy in comparison? And second, would the action-packed, drama-packed, emotion-packed war movie make Star Wars seem too slow and too popcorn-fluffy?
But I settled in and tried to put myself in the mindset of some total neophyte who had somehow watched Rogue One as its own movie and was now watching Star Wars: A New Hope as a sequel that just happened to have been made 40 years earlier.
A great deal of surprising entertainment ensued!
To start with, Imaginary-Star-Wars-Newbie Herb appreciated the 20th Century Fox fanfare reminding him that he was about to watch a really old movie. Reign in those special-effects expectations, Imaginary-Star-Wars-Newbie Herb! Then the "A long time ago..." screen popped up and made me feel like, "Oh, look! Total continuity!"
Main Title Theme, logo, and screen crawl: these piled on the expectations of a hugely different tone and approach than Rogue One. The decision to avoid a crawl in Rogue One turns the ANH crawl into a distinguishing element that completely resets the viewer's mood. Everything described in the text is familiar from the "previous" film, but couched so differently that it eases you into the film and prevents the 40-year jump in filmic technique from being too jarring. Plus, we find out the name of the creepy CGI chick from the end of R1.
And then, Bam! The Star Destroyer pursues the fleeing Rebel Alliance ship across the screen with really chintzy laser blasts and explosions, but surprisingly good ship visuals. Inside the ship, we see those two robots who showed up in the rebel base last movie for no apparent reason, and it turns out now they're going to be important.
Let me tell you, the moment Leia puts that data disk into Artoo becomes stunning in light of Rogue One. Before, the disk was just some flimsy little data-transfer device of no real significance -- all the meaning of the scene was bound up in Leia and Artoo interacting. This time, that disk was the thing everybody in the last movie died to get hold of. Suddenly, instead of being our cute robot hero being given a mission by the movie's female lead, what we see is the transfer of the most important thing in the galaxy to this little droid who doesn't even speak a human language.
What follows is a long sequence of seemingly low-key adventures (compared to the action of R1), but with the slow pace turned on its head by the knowledge that no one in the whole first half of the movie has any idea how important this information is! (Except Artoo, and he can't tell anyone.) Owen ordering Luke to take the droids into town and have their memories erased changes from a curmudgeonly uncle trying to stave off trouble into a horrifying command that would render Jyn and Cassian's deaths meaningless.
I read and heard a lot of people saying that Darth Vader's display of power at the end of R1 was inconsistent with and would undercut the drama of his actions in Episode IV. But for me, it had the opposite effect. R1 Vader does a lot of Force-lifting and throwing, but he really doesn't move any quicker than ANH Vader. And the opening of ANH shows us that Vader behaves very differently when a situation is under complete control than he did when in the middle of a pitched space battle. The 1977 Darth Vader basically served as Tarkin's henchman for most of the movie. But within the context of Rogue One, we can now see that he stands behind Tarkin not because he's a lackey, but because the two of them have very firmly established spheres of authority, and Vader is totally comfortable letting Tarkin run the bureaucratic part of the Death Star's activities.
Another cool thing about Episode IV as a direct sequel to Rogue One is the sophisticated slow build about the Jedi. In Rogue One, we hear them mentioned as figures revered by Chirrut and Baze -- and Chirrut mentions that khyber crystals power the Jedi's "lightsabers." Having this in mind when Obi-Wan reveals that he was "once a Jedi knight, like your father" creates a far greater sense of things coming together than that line does in the original film alone. This dude is one of the guys Chirrut and Baze looked up to ... and not only that, but this Luke kid who wouldn't last two seconds in a fight with Jyn or Cassian is the son of another of those guys! Seeing the lightsaber turn on for the first time becomes a fulfillment of the anticipation set up by Chirrut's reverence for the Jedi in R1.
This viewing also marked the first time I could really see Obi-Wan through Owen's eyes. Thanks to the willful isolationism of Saw Gerrera, meeting this "strange old hermit" lent a lot more credence to Owen's line, "That wizard's just a crazy old man." Saw and Obi-Wan have both sought refuge in desolate wastelands. Both of them are aging and unkempt. Obi-Wan's still in one piece, but he looks even older than Saw, and he moves like an old man as well. And the look in the Jedi's eyes when he tells Luke, "You must learn the ways of the Force, if you're to come with me to Alderaan," has a clear echo of Saw's unhinged fanaticism.
Which brings us to Luke's response that "It's all so far away." By virtue of the completely different pace, and the total naiveté of our young farmboy hero compared to the protagonists of Rogue One, this line finally feels entirely real, not just the excuse of someone who's not ready to take up the hero's mantle. What we've seen in ANH to this point really is whole worlds away from what we saw in Rogue One. Luke isn't just attempting another teenage dodge here -- he's genuinely reacting to information and events that are alien to him.
Other fun elements of Episode IV as a Rogue One sequel:
- The Easter egg of seeing those two guys who bumped into Jyn in Jeddha City again.
- The idea that ISWN Herb would have been surprised to realize that Red Leader and Gold Leader from Rogue One were actually in the 1977 film.
- The worry that "Red Five" was not necessarily an auspicious call-sign for Luke to be given.
- The extraordinary continuity of technological design, like the Imperial plug-in sockets that both Artoo and K2SO use, and the Scarif tower interfaces compared to the tractor-beam controls.
- The subtle return of that blue milk from the Erso farm.
There was more, but that's probably enough for now.
On to Episode V ... !