We are two movies into the rejuvenation of Star Wars in contemporary multiplexes, so it's time to do what any self-respecting movie geek would do: Pit the two movies against each other in a fight to the death!
No, really, we want to explore the divide that exists between J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Gareth Edwards' Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. The movies serve different masters, as one had to launch a new trilogy, but another was able to operate as a solo, standalone story that supplemented a corner of the existing Star Wars universe. But there has been some heated debate around the CinemaBlend offices about which Star Wars movie we prefer (and, yes, which one is better). Conner Schwerdtfeger and Sean O'Connell have decided to step into the ring and defend their choices for the "Best" current Star Wars movie. Read their discussion, then weigh in with your choice in the comments. Needless to say, there are a TON of Star Wars spoilers in this piece:
The Star Wars Experience
SEAN: Conner, I want to be perfectly clear. I'm not trying to say that I dislike Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I think it's fantastic that Disney and Lucasfilm allowed Gareth Edwards to make a bleak, unflinching war movie that just happens to use characters from the Star Wars universe. But when I step back and look at the two movies, the one I had WAY more fun with was J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I prefer it, by a country mile. Tell me why I'm wrong.
CONNER: My biggest issue with The Force Awakens is its constant need to wink at the audience and echo things that we have seen before. It was as successful as it was BECAUSE it remade/rebooted so many classic Star Wars elements. The Force Awakens is a classic hits album, and Rogue One is an attempt to dust off the instruments and try to write some original songs. For all of its Easter eggs, I just felt like Rogue One was making a far more earnest effort to give me something I haven't seen from this universe before, and it worked.
SEAN: This is going to be fun. Because we disagree wholeheartedly. I'd say that both of the films equally reference the familiar, and play on our nostalgia, to guarantee success. I think it speaks volumes that the one scene most Star Wars fans are talking about post-Rogue One has nothing to do with any of the new characters, but rather a two-minute long sequence built around one of cinema's greatest (pre-existing) villains. You mention Greatest Hits. That scene was Led Zepplin launching into Stairway to Heaven. But in the weeks and months following The Force Awakens, Star Wars fans dug into lengthy conversations about Rey, Kylo Ren, Snoke, Maz... new elements of a new world.
CONNER: For me the Vader scenes in Rogue One work without feeling overly nostalgic because I know upfront where this film takes place in the Star Wars continuity. Vader is one of the first to board the Tantive IV in A New Hope so his presence logically fits into place, and I don't think you're giving newcomers like Kaytoo and Chirrut enough credit when you say people are ONLY talking about Vader. On the other hand, The Force Awakens takes the cool new elements like Kylo, Rey, and Finn, and forces them through a story that is basically a hodgepodge of classic moments from the original trilogy. We get the young hero living on a desert planet who meets a droid that changes her life, we get the death of the aging mentor, and we even get a large, spherical superweapon to destroy. We've seen that movie before. Rogue One wasn't afraid to play with tone, genre, and moral ambiguity, which felt undeniably refreshing for me.
SEAN: I'm glad you mentioned story. Let's use that as a launchpad for the next topic in this debate.