Release Date(s)2016 (April 4, 2017)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: C-
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
These words are, of course, familiar to every Star Wars fan as the first two paragraphs of the opening crawl to George Lucas’ original 1977 classic. It’s also the essence of Rogue One, a film that finally tells the story of the Rebels’ first victory against said Empire. That story begins with a young woman named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), whose scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken and pressed into service helping the Empire to finish the Death Star. Years later, when the Rebel Alliance finally learns of the nearly-complete super weapon, they seek Jyn out in their darkest hour, hoping she’ll help them to track down her father and find some way to save their cause.
In many ways, Rogue One represents the best of both worlds as a Star Wars film. It features a new story, with fresh and diverse characters, yet it feels familiar and bridges the gap for new audiences to the Original Trilogy. It’s fascinating to see a Star Wars film with a decidedly Zero Dark Thirty tone – this is special ops work “a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away”-style. As much as we’ve all come to love stories of Jedi and Sith, it’s also great to finally see a glimpse of what life is like in this universe for the everyman in the Empire’s shadow. If anyone doubted that the Star Wars franchise could survive without Skywalkers, that doubt has now been laid to rest. There are many good performances here, but special notice must be given to British actor Guy Henry, who captures Peter Cushing’s essence and mannerisms as Grand Moff Tarkin with great success. Certainly, he was assisted by digital wizardry, but the performance is all Henry’s and he simply nails it. Alan Tudyk also shines as K-2SO, a kind of comic anti-C3PO, despite the fact that he’s an entirely CG character. And it’s hard not to love any film that includes Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen, especially when the latter is playing a Zatoichi-inspired character. There are, as you’d expect of a film that ends almost exactly where Star Wars (a.k.a. A New Hope) begins, many connections to the Original Trilogy. Speaking personally though, no two thrilled me more than appearances by Angus MacInnes and Drewe Henley, as Gold Leader and Red Leader, thanks to some unused outtake footage from 1977 and a digital assist from ILM (MacInnes actually came back and recorded new lines for this appearance). If Rogue One has any major drawback, it’s that we don’t get to spend enough time with most of the main characters to know them very well. Nevertheless, their sacrifices feel genuine, so much so that the experience of re-watching Star Wars is enhanced by new knowledge of the personal cost paid in getting to those events. Rogue One moves along at a steady pace, its final act is simply magnificent, and the film saves its best for last, offering what is arguably the finest Darth Vader scene in the entire Star Wars saga.
Disney and Lucasfilm’s new Blu-ray version of Rogue One is a 3-disc set that includes the film all by itself on Disc One, in a beautiful 1080p widescreen presentation (at the proper theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1), so the video compression has lots of room to breathe. The disc’s overall image is reference quality, with truly gorgeous clarity and contrast. The colors are vibrant and accurate, which you can see immediately in the subtle sweep of hues on planet surfaces as viewed from orbit. Image detail is crisp, yet nuanced, without ever appearing edgy. Fine texturing is terrific as well, visible right from the start in the ring particles of Jyn’s home world, and later in the rock formations of the Jedha desert, the Death Star surface, and around the Rebel base on Yavin IV. Contrast is lovely too, with nice deep blacks and good shadow detail. What’s perhaps most impressive here, however, is the intimacy the home experience brings to this film. This is an epic story, but it’s a decidedly personal one too. Somehow, seeing the film in such high quality, but on a smaller screen, really enhances its emotional impact. Rather than simply taking in all the spectacle, your eye is drawn more quickly to the characters’ faces. Every little nuance of their facial expressions and reactions is enhanced – something else that’s unexpected but very welcome here.
The film’s audio options include 7.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio lossless, along with English Descriptive Audio, and 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes in both French and Spanish (subtitle options include English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish). The 7.1 mix’s clarity and dynamics are excellent. It has a nicely wide but also intimate front soundstage, with terrific LFE support, and the surround activity is thankfully more aggressive here than was the case with The Force Awakens Blu-ray – completely appropriate given that this is essentially a war film. There’s great sound design at work here, with wonderfully smooth and natural panning, but impressive precision too. Dialogue is clean and Michael Giacchino’s score is well presented in the mix. Another thing that’s noticeable is that all of the subtle atmospheric cues stand out a bit more at home – creature sounds, intercom calls in the Rebel base, etc. This is, once again, a reference quality experience. Just watch and listen to the space and ground battle sequences in the final act! It’s a very satisfying mix indeed, with lots of sonic bite and bluster.
The wide-release version of this title offers a BD bonus disc of 1080p HD extras, including the following:
- A Rogue Idea (9:00)
- Jyn: The Rebel (6:16)
- Cassian: The Spy (4:14)
- K-2SO: The Droid (7:43)
- Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills (6:20)
- Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary (8:35)
- The Empire (8:18)
- Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One (8:24)
- The Princess & The Governor (5:49)
- Epilogue: The Story Continues (4:15)
- Rogue Connections (4:31)
The content totals about 74 minutes in all. If you’ve seen The Force Awakens on Blu-ray (see our review here), you know exactly what to expect, but this material has an even less unifying approach. I like the look of it, the style of it, but the depth is sorely missing. It’s got interesting moments here and there (some of which have already been dolled out to various websites as promotional clips), but unfortunately nothing is covered in any real substance. It’s all 5 minutes on this, 5 minutes on that, 5 minutes on the other thing, and yet the pace still feels languid at times. This is the kind of glossy material you’ll find on the Star Wars.com website, appropriate for that purpose (and perhaps satisifying for casual viewers) but not for a truly engrossing Blu-ray special feature experience. Nor is the overall content particularly comprehensive. There’s no audio commentary. There are no trailers. There’s also no deleted scenes or alternate sequences... and we know there should be a lot of such material, finished with VFX or not. Disney and Lucasfilm really badly need to bring in a veteran outside Blu-ray producer to create their special feature content going forward – not just farm it out to the EPK team in-house – and they need to start creating it with die-hard and dedicated Star Wars fans in mind, not just for promotional purposes. There’s a great documentary experience of the making of this film that could be created, but it’s not here. Of course, you also don’t get the Blu-ray 3D version of the film – that’s been served out to Target and Best Buy as retailer exclusives. The Target version also has a pair of additional exclusive featurettes on a bonus DVD disc: Inside the Creature Shop (6:02) and Digital Storytelling (4:31). What does all of this mean? By any standard, this special edition is disappointing. Even compared to the very first DVD release of The Phantom Menace it’s disappointing. Disney has somehow managed to make the production of a damn fun film seem utterly boring... and that is not an easy thing to do. It also means that, as was the case with The Force Awakens, there’s obviously a Blu-ray double-dip coming. So buyer beware. In any case, the wide-release version does includes the film on DVD too and there’s a code for a Digital HD version on an insert in the packaging.
Rogue One is an unexpectedly great film, ranking behind only the original Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back in this franchise. It was a damn fun experience at the cinema and it’s a thrill to finally enjoy at home, a viewing environment that unique benefits this installment, even if Lucasfilm badly needs to re-think its approach to creating Blu-ray special features. In any case, Rogue One represents a fine start to their “A Star Wars Story” movie series. It’s hard to imagine they can all be this good but, we’ll enjoy this one to the fullest.
- Bill Hunt