Monday, April 3, 2017

BLU-RAY REVIEW: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


Note: This review contains some spoilers of the film’s plot.

THE SET-UP
A band of rebels take on an impossible mission to steal the plans to the Death Star. Stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, and Forest Whitaker.
Directed by Gareth Edwards.

THE DELIVERY

Given the unenviable task of kicking off a series of standalone Star Wars films outside of the Skywalker saga, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had its work cut out for it. With so much scrutiny and high expectations surrounding the film, few expected Rogue One to live up to the buildup.

With director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, Monsters) providing a very different approach, Rogue One has a darker tone and a rhythm far different from the “episode” films. A cast of new characters is supplemented with some choice cameos from the original trilogy, grounding the film solidly in the Star Wars universe we know, while striking a unique vision. It’s Star Wars for a new, more mature generation.


In telling the story of the rebels who steal the plans to the Death Star, Edwards takes some notable departures from the Star Wars standard, in both style and substance. Some of those changes may have been too much, as we know the film underwent major changes and reshoots. The trailers only hint at some of those changes, as a number of shots and scenes did not make the final cut. I will admit it isn’t fair to judge the film by what was and what may have been. It does, however, likely explain the film’s inconsistencies.

The first half of the film seems disjointed, jumping back and forth between the different locales in an uneven tone. Forest Whitaker is woefully underutilized, and his interrogation scene with Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) seems out of place and unnecessary.

Once the band of Rebels assembles and sets out on a mission to retrieve Jyn’s father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the film really gets going. It leads to a strong third act and a finale that is both bittersweet and exhilarating.

The cast is particularly strong, but given the story, few truly get the chance to connect with the audience and make a lasting impression. Felicity Jones does well as Jyn, managing to shift a character from cynical loner to hero in a short time. Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO steals nearly every scene he is in, providing the comic relief in an otherwise solemn film. Donnie Yen has the best time of it, adding a new element to the Force mythology with the film’s most interesting character.


The inclusion of original trilogy characters Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Princess Leia were a necessary and welcomed element to the film. Yes, the CGI recreation of Tarkin is a bit distracting, but only because you know Peter Cushing is dead and what you are seeing isn’t real. It is, however, stunning to see just how good the CGI is in rendering human figures. I found Leia’s recreation, however, jaw-dropping. What a fantastic way to end the film. Some of the other additions could be dismissed as mere fan service (hello, Ponda Baba), but it's all forgivable fun.

Rogue One doesn’t quite find its footing until halfway through, but it marks a distinct and bold vision of the Star Wars universe. Oh, and did I mention that fantastic ending?  

VIDEO AND AUDIO
The Rogue One Blu-ray sports a fantastic high definition transfer. There is some superior detail here, but there is also some artificial grain added at some points to add to the vintage, gritty look. Colors are often muted, except for the finale on Scarif, where the bold colors of the beach setting ring true. The audio is a 7.1 DTS-HDMA mix with some great surround sound and excellent clarity. There is good separation in the channels, and some floor-rumbling bass.


SPECIAL FEATURES
Bonus features are included on a separate Blu-ray disc, and are essentially eleven featurettes about the making of the film. I personally had hoped for more extensive features. What is provided gives a solid look at the film’s creation, and provides plenty of interviews with all involved.

Under a subsection titled “Stories,” ten of documentary featurettes cover the major characters and elements of the movie. They can be viewed individually or as a whole documentary, running a total of 1 hour and 9 minutes. The final featurette, “Rogue Connections,” is listed separately and covers the film’s easter eggs.

The disc’s extras are as follows.

*“A Rogue Idea” featurette. John Knoll discuss how he conceived and pitched the idea of Rogue One. The creative team at Lucasfilm also discusses the hiring of director Gareth Edwards. Edwards also talks about his personal connection with the films. Pictures from his trip to the Skywalker homestead in Tunisia is a nice touch. Running time: 9:00

*“Jyn: The Rebel” featurette. Felicity Jones talks about her character. Fun fact: Felicity consulted Wookieepedia for research on the film. Running time: 6:16

*“Cassian: The Spy” featurette. Diego Luna provides some insight into the complicated Rebel he portrays. Running time: 4:14

*“K-2SO: The Droid” featurette. John Knoll, who created K-2SO, discusses the character’s development. K2’s unusual personality and sarcasm is explored by Alan Tudyk, who provided the voice and motion capture. Running time: 7:43

*“Baze and Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills” featurette. The duo of Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen are featured here, and how they brought the Force to the Rogue One storyline. Fun fact: the children of both Yen and Wen are big Star Wars fans, and encouraged their fathers to do the film. Running time: 6:20

*“Bodhi and Saw: The Pilot and the Revolutionary” featurette. Riz Ahmed and Forest Whitaker discuss their characters. In a fun bit, we also get to see the many unsolicited auditions Ahmed sent to director Edwards, even though he had already won the role. Running time: 8:35


*“The Empire” featurette. Actors Mads Mikkelsen and Ben Mendelsohn, screenwriters Gary Whitta and Chris Weitz, as well as director Gareth Edwards all discuss the Empire’s role in the film. Guy Henry, who portrayed Tarkin, also provides some fantastic insight into the character. Of course, the inclusion of Darth Vader in the film is discussed. Running time: 8:18

*”Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One” featurette. Doug Chiang (Co-production designer) discusses the look of the film, including the influence of original trilogy designer Ralph McQuarrie on the film. Running time: 8:24

*“The Princess and the Governor” featurette. This fantastic featurette shows how the visual effects team recreated Carrie Fisher and Peter Cushing for the film. It’s a fascinating thing to see. Running time: 5:49

*“Epilogue: The Story Continues” featurette. The premiere of Rogue One is covered, and the cast and crew discuss the future of the Star Wars saga. Running time: 4:15

*“Rogue Connections” featurette. Some, but not all, of the film’s cameos and Easter eggs are covered here. Running time: 4:31

*Digital Copy. A code for a digital version of the film, compatible with iTunes, Ultraviolet, and Disney Movies Anywhere, is included.

THE BOTTOM LINE: ROGUE ONE STRIKES A BOLD, DARK VISION
Rogue One is dark, gritty, and more mature than previous installments of the Star Wars saga, but it retains plenty of the entertaining elements that made the original films great. If you choose to watch it right before watching A New Hope, they tie-in together surprisingly well. Episode IV provides a much lighter, hopeful tone in contrast with Rogue One. As it should.

BLU-RAY SPECS
Release Date: April 4, 2017
Running time: 133 minutes
Rating: PG-13
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Audio: English 7.1 DTS-HDMA, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish, French
Special Features: “A Rogue Idea” featurette; “Jyn: The Rebel” featurette; “Cassian: The Spy” featurette; “K-2SO: The Droid” featurette; “Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills” featurette; “Bodhi and Saw: The Pilot and the Revolutionary” featurette; “The Empire” featurette; “Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One” featurette; “The Princess and the Governor” featurette; “Epilogue: The Story Continues” featurette; “Rogue Connections” featurette, and a Digital Copy. 
Label: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

Click here to order Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on Blu-ray from Amazon!

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