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In a time of galactic conflict, a group of unlikely Rebel heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star the Empire's ultimate weapon of destruction. (From Disney’s official synopsis)

Because every new Disney Star Wars movie is going to be thoroughly dissected before their theatrical releases – let alone their home video releases – and because this Blu-ray screener arrived less than 24 hours ago, I’m going to try to keep this part of my review brief.

 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
As those who have read my review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens may recall, my Star Wars opinions can be a bit ‘quirky.’ To reiterate, I enjoy many aspects of the prequel trilogy (especially Revenge of the Sith), in part because they’re such strange franchise blockbusters, but also because they subvert so many assumptions about Jedi and the Galactic Republic. Naturally, I was excited by the prospect of creative people taking on this mythology, stretching it beyond Lucas’ limited view, and further subverting the implied canon – despite suspicion that Disney would want to maintain the pre-Prequel status quo. To my chagrin, the first new movie was a nearly beat-for-beat redo of A New Hope. Fortunately, my chagrin has been muted by the auxiliary Disney content – namely the comic books and Rebels cartoon – so the idea of bi-yearly “ Star Wars Stories” series sounds like a nice antidote to the doldrums of the J.J. Abrams-verse.

Rogue One is the most exciting of the projects announced, at least on paper, because it would not be holden to any previously established characters. Director Gareth Edwards was also a likeable choice for director, having previously established a uniquely gritty style and a great sense of scale with Monsters (2010) and Godzilla (2014). His habit of creating sentimental, one-dimensional melodrama actually lends itself to the pulpy Star Wars universe. This particularly po-faced, hyper-serious entry in the canon isn’t so sophisticated that children can’t enjoy it and its emotional dark streak is broad enough to convey the horrors of war without dumping Saving Private Ryan (1998) levels of shock intp the audience’s lap. The central theme, which sees salt-of-the-earth revolutionaries forcing bourgeoisie rebel leaders to act outside the rules established by their dead government body, works well, too, even when Edwards starts beating his audience over the head with scenes of sacrifice that verge on corny. It’s a delicate balance that is propelled forward by some of the best space action since Return of the Jedi (1983) and loads of the liveliest land-based war action in the franchise’s history (outside of the Clone Wars cartoon).

However, the spectacular sturm und drang of the battle-burdened final act seems to have been devised to cover up some structural shortcomings, most of which can apparently be blamed on last-minute studio interference. Without studying up on exactly what happened, I can guess that Disney didn’t think there was enough mindless action in the first cut. Or they didn’t think it was sentimental enough to appeal to broader audiences. Whatever the studio mandate actually was, I think that even Rogue One’s biggest fans can agree that it feels structurally unsound and tonally disconnected. The greater consensus appears to be that the first half is too slow, but worth the wait, because the last half is so invigorating. I have the opposite problem. The set up feels constricted, as if key elements were forgotten or, more likely, excised and dropped onto the cutting room floor. Not only are the Erso family and Krennic introductions super-compressed, but so are the team-gathering sequences, which is a vital component to the Great Escape/Dirty Dozen-type formula that Edwards and screenwriters Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy are working with. I love that formula and am much more interested in Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus’ relationship, the history of the Guardians of the Whills, and the ins & outs of Saw Gerrera’s operation (in the final film, he’s barely a participant – he’s one of two guys that delivers the McGuffin to the heroes) than I am in the increasingly ridiculous antics of relaying the actual Death Star plans amid a war zone (the whole ‘claw machine’ sequence is one step beyond my suspension of disbelief, unfortunately). That Darth Vader scene is pretty rad though, I’ll give them that. And any movie that introduces a widespread Western audience to the charms of Donnie Yen deserves a thumbs-up.

 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Video


Rogue One was shot on Arri Alexa 65 – a new series of digital cameras designed to recreate the look of 65/70mm film – using the same Panavision 70mm lenses used by Quentin Tarantino for Hateful Eight (2015). The footage was post-converted for 3D theatrical release, but I believe that Edwards and cinematographer Greig Fraser were more interested in the size of the format (the IMAX screenings were reportedly spectacular) than they were in the depth of 3D, so it’s fine that this 2.40:1 Blu-ray is not enhanced for 3D sets (if you do want to own a 3D version, it can be purchased as a Best Buy or Target exclusive). The last time a Gareth Edwards movie hit Blu-ray, it was Gozilla and it was significantly darker than the already dark theatrical release, to the point that several sequences were basically just monster noises over a black screen. Rogue One is also designed to be quite dark, because, well, Disney/Lucasfilm hired Edwards based on his Godzilla performance. Cinematographer Greig Fraser ( Killing Them Softly, 2012; Snow White and the Huntsman, 2012; Zero Dark Thirty, 2012) – who is also known for dim photography – creates some very delicately-lit compositions and even leaves sunlit exteriors laced in shadows, so this particular transfer has every reason to be indiscernible. Fortunately, there is obviously some intricate production/set design texture lost in the darkness, there aren’t any Godzilla-sized issues with this transfer. The digital format leads to some oddly smooth gradations and a bit of grainy noise, but these do not appear to be problems with the incode or related to compression. Colour quality is muted, in keeping with the moody overall look, but the base hues do consistently change from cool to warm, depending on location, and the reds of laser beams and light sabres pop beautifully.

Audio


Rogue One is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound and is every bit as aggressive as it was in theaters. I could complain that this particular movie’s grittier edge and focus on fidelity doesn’t leave as much room for that classic Star Wars personality. In place of cute robot beeps and critter noises, though, is an awful lot of lively explosions, zippy laser beams, and room-rumbling spaceships. The dialogue track is a bit quieter than I’d like, compared to the more aggressive sound effects, but this might just be an indication of how loudly I’m expected to watch the movie – ‘turn it up until the dialogue is comfortably loud, then grit your teeth through the explosions.’ Rogue One is the first live action Star Wars film to not be scored by John Williams. Apparently the musical process was a bit tortured, because Edwards’ Godzilla composer, Alexandre Desplat, was replaced by Disney and Bad Robot workhorse Michael Giacchino only three/four months from release. He had only four and a half weeks to work and, frankly, the rush is evident in the final product. Though Rogue One’s score is far from bad and even includes a couple of memorable cues that aren’t recycled from Williams’ original compositions, it is pretty generic overall (the main theme is respectfully rousing). At the very least, it doesn’t have much of Giacchino’s usual musical characteristics.

 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Extras


  • A Rogue Idea (9:00, HD) – The Lucasfilm staff and story writer John Knoll recall the inception of the film’s story, as well as the idea of stand-alone Star Wars movies.
  • Jyn: The Rebel (6:16, HD) – Felicity Jones and the filmmakers discuss the development of Jyn Erso, complete with behind-the-scenes footage and production art.
  • Cassian: The Spy (4:14, HD) – A similar character bio with actor Diego Luna and the filmmakers describing Cassian’s complex relationship with the Rebellion.
  • K-2SO: The Droid (7:43, HD) – A slightly more extensive exploration of Alan Tudyk’s droid hero, including a look at the design and motion-capture processes.
  • Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills (6:20, HD) – A quick look at Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen’s work that doesn’t delve into their characters’ backstories as much as I’d like. Maybe they’ll show up on Rebels or something.
  • Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary (8:35, HD) – Forest Whitaker and Riz Ahmed reflect on their likeable, but underdeveloped supporting characters.
  • The Empire (8:18, HD) – Concerning the development of the film’s main villain, Krennic, the tragic Imperial scientist, Galen Erso, the use of classic franchise villains Darth Vader and Tarkin.
  • Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One (8:24) – The filmmakers describe the difficulties of designing an original Star Wars film still fit in with Ralph McQuarrie’s Original Trilogy production illustrations, including set construction, art direction, and prop fabrication.
  • The Princess & The Governor (5:49, HD) – A closer look at the special effects processes that brought Peter Cushing back to life and made Princess Leia look like a teenager again.
  • Epilogue: The Story Continues (4:15, HD) – Footage from the film’s L.A. premiere.
  • Rogue Connections (4:31, HD) – A look at some of the design elements and Easter eggs that tie Rogue One to the other Star Wars movies.

The Target Exclusive release will include Inside the Creature Shop and Digital Storytelling featurettes

 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Overall


I guess I haven’t given an opinion on the uncanny digital Peter Cushing performance. I suppose it’s kind of neat, but ultimately quite unnecessary. Audiences probably wouldn’t have had any trouble taking a different actor as Tarkin seriously (especially if he was particularly hammy about it) and the character is sort of one villain too many, anyway. His expanded inclusion (as well as Vader’s) is definitely a symptom of Disney’s focus on nostalgia over good storytelling with their Star Wars properties. It’s also sort of strange to have filmmakers tout the return of physical effects to these films as a plus, while also spending loads of effort and digital effects technology creating a human character that could’ve been portrayed by a guy in make-up. For better or worse, it’s pretty much the same thing Lucas was doing with the Prequels.

Anyway, I enjoy this movie, despite its narrative/structural/thematic issues magnifying under the further scrutiny of a second viewing. Disney’s standard-issue Blu-ray comes loaded with a strong transfer and lively DTS-HD MA soundtrack, but the extras aren’t nearly as extensive as one might have assumed, considering the fact that they’ve been relegated to a separate disc. I sort of assume there is a special edition planned and hope that it will feature some of the deleted/alternate footage that we all know is sitting around in a Lucasfilm vault somewhere.

 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

 Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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