The first thing to note is that the opening and music are both noticeably different and similar to the core films, helping cement the fact that this is a spin-off.
The film has 3 distinct acts, each of which is focused on a different planet, though there are more than 3, the others bridging or being repeated through the acts.
The first criticism of the film is that I spent a lot of the first act trying to decide which was less convincing - the lead actress, or a particular CG homunculus.1
The overall Nazi imagery has subtly increased again - "They have a child, find it!" cries the villain.
I greatly appreciate the addition to the Star Wars lore that the film provides - e.g. the Empire are mining Kyber crystals (which power Lightsabers) in order to power the Death Star (so is it essentially a moon-sized Lightsaber?)
There is a huge attention to detail evident - from the fantastic sound design of rain pinging off of weapons and armour, to the changing ranks on the uniforms of soldiers over time. There was a lot of perfectionism involved in the production.
The actors are all good (even if some of them take a while to warm up) - the villain is particularly excellent, and it's fantastically refreshing to see Mads Mikkleson cast as a good guy.
The script is a brilliant mix of drama, tragedy, and hilarity. Though everyone gets a fair share, the comedy show is undoubtedly stolen by the droid H2-SO. I don't think anyone could watch this film without laughing.
You may notice that I'm mostly referring to the actors rather than the characters - it is in part because, despite seeing it twice, I can barely remember the character names. I in fact noted that Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang's names are only mentioned a handful of times, and are difficult to hear at those times. Which is a shame, as they were great characters who deserve to be better known.
On the note of Donnie Yen, his fight scenes are particularly impressive and visceral. Unlike some ignorant professional writers, I appreciated that some of those staff blows could shatter bone, even through armour (which was also visibly breaking apart under the barrage of attacks.)
There is some aerial combat, but the vast majority of it is from the perspective of people on the ground. You may recognise this style of direction from the 2015 Godzilla film, which I also liked and was directed by Gareth Edwards as well.
Despite the stellar script and direction, there are some definitely predictable cliches that occur, and on my second viewing I noticed some blatant continuity errors in relation to Forest Whitaker's costume.
Overall this is an excellent film, despite some flaws, with an utterly brilliant ending.
A very strong 8 out of 10.
1The aforementioned CG homunculus is Peter Cushing, evidently being dead is not the disability it once was. It's just a shame that the textures are so completely unconvincing.
Another issue that I feel I have to state is that C3-PO and R2-D2 have a cameo towards the end, on Yavin-4. This means that Princess Leia would have to travel there to specifically pick them up, and then rendezvous with the fleet at Skariff. I'm not convinced that the timing for that actually works. To me, it's a humongous plot hole that could have been avoided by not having the cameo in the first place.
My final major criticism is that there is absolutely no Kyle Katarn cameo, despite the fact that the beginning features a shot that was very reminiscent of the Dark Forces box cover:
0 out of 10.