The story itself feels more down to earth - more gritty - than any before. We have here the good guys working their way to get the plans, and the villains trying to prevent that from happening once they realise what the rebels are up to. However, there are underlying elements of trust from both sides. The characters question each other, they try to up their own personal status, and in the case of Krennic... Well, let's just say the film does a good explanation as to why he isn't in charge come A New Hope. Within the story is a very great sense of high stakes being presented for the rebels, and one particular scene at the end is something never seen in Star Wars to date. In fact, make that two things, as I don't recall ever seeing a cruiser pushing another cruiser into yet another cruiser. And yes, that final battle is just all kinds of wow.
The effects and camera work are all really well executed to make the audience feel closer to the action. Especially with some of the camera placements during the space battle. The worlds themselves are unique from one another, and each presents different architecture and other design to make them stand out from one another. When it comes to explosions, there are some really good ones here. And the Death Star blasts - even with it only firing low powered beams - are stunning. The Battle of Scarif also has numerous effects that worked well for the environment, such as blasts from the water and exploding trees.
There are numerous references to other Star Wars media. Some being the obvious, such as Mon Mothma in the base on Yavin IV, others being blink-and-miss, such as the Ghost [from the Rebels animated series] being present in the final battle, and a very unsubtle showing of how the position of Red 5 opened up for Luke. I'm sure this will press into spoiler territory, but the film also sets up nicely how Rogue Squadron came to be.
From the opening to the end I was enjoying watching this film. The use of music is sometimes powerful, sometimes flat, and I'm pretty sure during the final battle I heard hints of the Death Star battle from A New Hope. Without going into much more detail for fear of spoilers, there is a very real feeling of despair throughout most of the film, with hope trying to break through. You end up rooting for the rebels come the Scarif battle, and hope everything goes well for them. And though characters do some questionable things, it adds rather than takes away from the film as a whole. The film itself in a way is set up to allow those things to happen.
So to round off, this is the most mature and realistic Star Wars to date, with great action, great character building, and a wondrous sense of scale throughout. I'd definitely say it is a must-watch film. I've heard it said elsewhere, and I'm in agreement, but this film is better than The Force Awakens. The freshness of it, while still being in a much-loved era, makes it a great watch. The Force Awakens was reversed. A new era, but following familiar ground. Thank the circle theory for that. Both are great films, giving new perspectives on old ground, let's just say. Out of the two though, Rogue One wins out.