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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Blu-ray Review)

While Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was sold as the first “spin off” of the galaxy far far away, its far from the first side stepping project.  Most of it has been through television (Christmas! Ewoks!), books, comic books, video games and other mediums. But, its no stranger to the theatrical front, either. Star Wars: The Clone Wars, while really three episodes tied together, was launched as a feature film in 2008. What Rogue One really represents is an attempt at serious, hardcore canon, live-action films that have as much put into their production and development as that of the Skywalker saga. As much pressure as there was on The Force Awakens to help restore Star Wars and introduce it to a new generation, Rogue One had pressure to show George Lucas’ creation could branch out and do other things while also being a virtual unknown in terms of how something like this might look and feel.  Sigh of relief, the movie turned out to be outstanding, was well reviewed and took to audiences globally to a tune of over a billion dollars worldwide and becoming one of the highest grossing films of all time. You’ll be able to own the tale of  stealing the Death Star plans on Blu-ray starting April 4th.

Film 

Former scientist Galen Erso lives on a farm with his wife and young daughter Jyn. His peaceful existence comes crashing down when the evil Orson Krennic takes him away from his beloved family. Many years later, Galen is now the Empire’s lead engineer for the most powerful weapon in the galaxy, the Death Star. Knowing that her father holds the key to its destruction, a vengeful Jyn joins forces with a spy and other resistance fighters to steal the space station’s plans for the Rebel Alliance.

Rogue One is A Star Wars Story both thrilling and inventive. It feels wholly a part of the universe’s launch in 1977 while introducing a new edge to adventure.  Gareth Edwards’ film brings together both an old and a new feel, while also giving George Lucas’ 1977 original some added depth and fun.  This little side story proves that Star Wars can be more than just tales about Jedi’s, and that there is more to the galaxy than Skywalkers. While its not completely broken off from the path (Its rather still on it), it starts paving a nice side street.

Minimal complaints from me on the film, but the story gets off to a bit of a frantic start following a prologue setting up our main protagonist, Jyn Erso. We bounce around to three different planets and are quickly caught up in the middle of proceedings with three separate characters (Grown up Jyn, Rebellion spy Cassian Andor and defecting Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook). After having seen this film multiple times now, this is probably inadvertent, but this sort of quick back and forth, a little rushed fervor actually reflects the journey this film must take and its race to the finish finale. Rogue One is a race against a clock for just a mere chance or “hope” to improve the Rebellion’s outlook against the Galactic Empire.

We couldn’t have asked for a better rag tag group thrown together to steal the plans for Death Star. While the most meat comes from Jyn and Cassian, each one of them finds an arc and memorable performances or character traits throughout this journey. Each character has both something to offer on this journey and something to take away from it as well. The actors really light up and elevate them from the paper to the screen. Jyn Erso seems like a very tough role, but Felicity Jones is able to pull it off in spades and always feels like an enjoyable part of the ensemble rather than taking spotlight turns. Diego Luna brings some of the most unique energy that the Star Wars universe has ever seen in a character. This could easily have been a more dull and played out character (Not just in a Star Wars sense), but just him being there gives it so much more. Of course there are the scene stealers in Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO and Donnie Yen’s Chirrut (Who brings a nice addition to the mythological tone of the Force used in the original trilogy).

Something I thought would set off some wonder and enjoyment when I saw Rogue One, but resulted in some silly backlash in my opinion was the usage of Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia as CG renderings. Of course you’ll never be convinced they look real because you have the knowledge that those versions of the actors are not available in modern times. But for what it was, I thought it looked convincing enough and on this watch I paid attention and Gareth Edwards filmed both very cleverly. If you’ll note, a human face and Tarkin never truly share a frame. Its always over the shoulder or they are in the background blurry or too far to the side to get a full face. There is a humorous instance where Ben Mendelsohn faces the back of Tarkin, only to turn his back to us as Tarkin turns to face the camera and then they both turn back again. I also don’t think this is in any disrespect to either actor as I see film as art. They use Peter Cushing’s likeness on Star Wars Rebels quite frequently and no one complains. “Yeah, but that’s different that’s a cartoon” they say.  “Is it?” Isn’t this essentially just a higher tech animated version? People draw, scupt and paint Star Wars artwork all the time with characters whose actors are living and deceased and make money off of them. I really don’t see it as any different. Me? I was excited when both showed up. I was able to kinda see Peter Cushing (A legend and favorite of mine) in a brand new film. It seemed done with a lot of care and the utmost respect. On another side of things, its a nice marking place to see how far we’ve come with computer technology in film as well. A “heat check” so to speak that wows now and we can look back on and see where things were. Was it perfect? No. A distraction? I didn’t think so, but after the first time he appears it shouldn’t be. I guess I’m lucky to be one that it put a smile on my face.

Gareth Edwards shows some of the prowess he’s known for in this movie during its action sequences, especially the finale, where it provides some awesome looking scale to the battle. Rogue One consists mainly of three planets and three bigger action moments. Each one uses the familiar in some different ways than before. Edwards keeps a familiar visual aesthetic to the film while adding some new flair to a lot of the camera work in the film. He even adds a fully new terrain with the tropical beach planet of Scarif. This film does something both the prequels and The Force Awakens weren’t quite able to manage in that it crafts both an original feeling and memorable new space battle with X-Wings and Tie Fighters going at it. One of the biggest factors is the unknown fate of everyone involved (We know the plans get delivered, but the how is the suspense) which makes for a terrific amount on non-stop intensity for the finale which seriously delivers from the moment they land on Scarif to the final shot/line in the film. This movie really could have just been this part and succeeded as well. Its one of the best scenarios, sequences, action bits and arc closures in Star Wars history. Oh, and you can call it “fan service” or whatever hogwash you want, but that Darth Vader sequence everyone is roaring about, is RIGHTFULLY roared about as it is a stunning visual treat and gives the fright factor back to one of cinema’s greatest villains.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story makes best at being a one-off and becomes a successful fully realized film that not only makes itself noteworthy but ushers in a new appreciation and depth to Star Wars (Or Episode IV: A New Hope as it was rebranded after release). Gareth Edwards puts together a good set of characters that got done what they needed to do while populating some terrific action and suspense sequences. He doesn’t harp on cameos while using known characters, he uses them to the perfect degree they are necessary. With this film and The Force Awakens both feeling so much like Star Wars yet completely being two very separate things, the future of this franchise is incredibly exciting and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: To Gareth Edwards credit, his digitally shot film looks almost right at home with the original trilogy thanks to the adherence to detail in costumes, sets and effects. This transfer comes across looking like it was shot on film. Every aesthetic used per planets carries a sharp, crisp look, whether it be a dry rocky desert, rainy and muddy or sunshine and clear skies. Details on worn ships, pristine Mustafar castles, the old worn and bombed out Jedha village or the insane familiarity of the Yavin 4 temple serving as the Rebel base look terrific on this Blu-ray debut for the film.

Depth:  Spacing is rather impressive on this film that released in 3-D theatrically. Characters feel nice, free and detached from backgrounds that feel pushed backward enough without ever feeling forced or distracting. Movements are clean, cinematic in nature and smooth. Even just static shots of characters, aside from impressive camera swoops, look impressive and 3 dimensional. A lot of Jedha scenes in the marketplace really stick out for this example.

Black Levels: Blacks levels are well saturated here. Its impressive their adherence to not letting details get hidden among a lot of the darkness. The shades are fine tuned as to where it might bump up the lightness in the right areas that never feels off or distracting.  Darks can get pretty deep and look very lovely under this transfer. No crushing witnessed on this viewing.

Color Reproduction: Rogue One isn’t a dazzling colorful affair. Keeping to mostly browns, blacks and grays. Mostly dirt terrains are ventured too. Green in the early goings (And the Death Star’s beam) looks well represented and the bright blue skies of Scarif pop nicely. The orange and greens on the Rebel uniforms are pretty good stand outs as well as reds on the imperial uniforms and of course Darth Vader’s lightsaber. When we are treated to fire and fiery explosions this transfer enriches quite nicely.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural, except going a little cold on the prologue planet, and maintain consistency throughout the film’s length. Battle tried features on the faces like dried dirt, blood, scuffs, scratches, scars, stubble, blemishes all come through with good precision to go along with normal lip textures, make-up, freckles and things of that ilk. Even digitally, Grand Moff Tarkin has very impressive levels of accurate detail to the elderly Peter Cushing of the late 1970s evoking a real feeling, while still being quite digital.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 7.1 DTS-HD MA, English Descriptive Audio, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish

Dynamics: A shame Disney isn’t implementing Dolby Atmos or DTS:X to their release yet, because obviously Rogue One would rock the hell out of it. As is, nobody was complaining about 7.1 DTS-HD MA when Atmos wasn’t around, so why do it now?  Its still a top tier way to showcase and showcase it does here.  This is an incredibly immersive track that lights up the room with interactive action and rollicking experience that feels genuine from the biggest battle to the quietest conversation aboard a U-Wing.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Your subwoofer gives a booming performance here and is working around the clock with Rogue One. Ship flying back, stomping of AT-ATs, blaster bolts, thermal detonator explosions, storms, hums of electronics and more are provided at measured levels of effectiveness, intensity and accurate to their distance in the film and placement on screen.

Surround Sound Presentation: Every one of the seven speakers available in the mix is full utilized and never abused. The production gives a real 360 degree feel for every environment visited in the film. Action finds blaster bolts, explosions, battle cries, destruction and more coming from the side to the back and traveling around to the front. Its insanely accurate to onscreen. Ambiance feels lived in and real.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue is crisp and clear, with perfection in all volume settings. From the rumble of Mads Mikkelsen’s voice to the rolls of the faux Peter Cushing, all diction is well captured, layered and displayed on the track.

Extras 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a 3-Disc set containing 2 Blu-ray Discs and the DVD edition of the film as well as a DisneyMoviesAnywhere digital copy.  A ll bonus features appear on Blu-ray Disc 2.

The Stories – These feature interviews with Kathleen Kennedy, John Knoll, Kiri Hart, Doug Chiang, Christian Alzmann, John Swartz, Gareth Edwards, Allison Shearmur, Felicity Jones, Pablo Hidalgo, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Hal Hickel, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Chris Weitz, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Rayne Roberts, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Henry, Greig Fraser, Gary Tomkins, Neil Lamont, Andrew Booth, Jason McGatlin, Jordana Finkel, Glyn Dillon, Dave Crossman, Simon Emanuel, Ingvild Deila, Paul Giacoppo, Todd Vaziri, Jee Young Park,

  • A Rogue Idea (HD, 9:00) – This starts with John Knoll’s little idea from scratch and keep showing how it expanded all the way up to Gareth Edward’s hiding and coming up with the characters. There is some behind the scenes footage of both the original Star Wars as well as Rogue One here. You also get video of Gareth Edward’s first trip to Lucasfilm as well as pictures of his trip to Tunisia for his 30th birthday. This featurette is also painting with plenty of production artwork for the film.
  • Jyn: The Rebel (HD, 6:16) – What defines Jyn Erso, how she’s a rare character in Star Wars that knows where she comes from and who her father is. They discuss Felicity’s physical training and demands for the role in which we see plenty of footage as well as on-set footage of shooting scenes. Gareth Edwards says she had the hardest job of the entire film because she has to carry a whole Star Wars film.
  • Cassian: The Spy (HD, 4:14) – Diego Luna describes himself as “the happiest man in Mexico” when Gareth Edwards told him he was his guy. They go over this “broken” character and how Luna brings something to the table beside dark and brooding and just looking cool. Diego brings a likability to a role he says is “no super powers, fire and passion”.
  • K-2SO: The Droid (HD, 7:43) – Focuses on the “anti-C-3PO”, who was in the story from the earliest pitch. Features plenty of footage of Alan Tudyk onset in his outfit, pre-effects. They designers describe striking out a lot on their earliest ideas, but then going back to the Ralph McQuarrie well for inspiration. The casting of Tudyk, his pre-visualization outfit, his onset humor and some of his acting choices (The British accent) are discussed.
  • Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills (HD, 6:20) – They wanted to not only make sure these two had something important to do with the team in the film, but that they had an arc as well. People discuss how the actors are superstars outside of the US and that their children were insanely happy about their casting. Screenwriter Chris Weitz said these two and their representation of the Force was derived from Lucas’ original screenplays, novels and its overall thematics. Donnie Yen’s martial arts are also brushed over briefly.
  • Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary (HD, 8:35) – While this is about two characters, they both represent gray areas of both the Empire and the Rebellion (Which is dabbled on). Riz Ahmed apparently filmed himself doing Bodhi stuff and gave many different versions of the character which they show in this (Many different homemade looks). His first days of shooting were actually his death scene in the film. Forest Whitaker talks of being in character most of the time. The decision to pull Saw from The Clone Wars cartoon series is credited to Kiri Hart. Forest (Gareth Edward’s first choice) really knows the background of the character quite well.
  • The Empire (HD, 8:18) – Gareth Edwards opens by discussing his goal of crafting a gray world with the characters in the film. Here we tackle the ideologies of and dig into Galen Erso, Orson Krennic, Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader. They really dig into the uniqueness of Krennic. Guy Henry also gets to discuss his work and approach to Tarkin. Gareth Edwards talks about how careful you have to be when using Darth Vader in a film.
  • Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One (HD, 8:24) – Covers the difficulty of creating designs that look like they are from the original trilogy but haven’t been seen before.  Once again, Ralph McQuarrie’s work lays the foundation or starting point for the film. Recreating Yavin 4 (A “legacy set”) is highlighted with their goal as to be able watch it back to back with the original Star Wars and not notice a difference. For the city on Jedha, they had to come up and fully design what it would have looked like new and then age it. Improving the Stormtrooper designs (And creating the Deathtroopers) get covered in this. Edwards talks about a fine line of going too far and not feeling like Star Wars and then the opposite way and copying it too much.
  • The Princess & The Governor (HD, 5:49) – They discuss the confidence in technology to go ahead and fully CG Tarkin and Leia in the film. It was a complete gamble as they had no backup plan. Lots of footage, previsualized as well as some of the artists hard at work rendering is show. Little trinkets about what exactly it took to bring this to life via interviews and meeting footage is shown.
  • Epilogue: The Story Continues (HD, 4:15) – Footage of the premiere red carpet and reflections on the film after having finished it and moving forward to keep what George Lucas created alive. It highlights fan excitement over more female and international cast/characters in the film. Kathleen Kennedy discusses not being stuck in nostalgia and that the “A Star Wars Story” line will find them with endless possibilities for more original new adventures.

Rogue Connections (HD, 4:31) – A little “inside baseball” tid bits about some of the droids, creatures and vehicles in the film. There are also some connections pointed out to Star Wars Rebels and cameos.

Summary 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a fantastic debut in the live action spin-offs of the incredibly big Star Wars universe.  Many will be happy at finally having a great prequel.  Gareth Edwards’ film dazzles and paints a new gray area on a world that seemed to be just “good vs bad” before. This Blu-ray release comes with a fantastic transfer to go along with equally fantastic audio.  Bonus materials prove to be just fine, telling the story of making the film and leaving it there. We all know there is more they could give us regarding this one in terms of excised footage, abandoned story points or even go over some of that in a commentary. But, we are in the happy phase of things and will just have to hope that somewhere down the road they share the footage and a little more honest story of how the film went down in production.  Hopefully home media won’t be a “Movies only” streaming-only bonanza at that time. For now, this is good enough and you’re going to buy it, and probably will buy it again in the future. Its Star Wars, its what we do.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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