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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/4/2017

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/30/2017

I don't know if you know this, but Star Wars is popular. I'm sure that there are those who believe that Disney now, Fox in the past, could have released anything labeled "Star Wars" and people would have flocked to see it. And I bet plenty would argue that some of the George Lucas prequels released between 1999 and 2005 fit that definition of just throwing something up on the screen and seeing if the public responds. But, at least those movies featured familiar characters. When Disney took control of the franchise, they announced that they would produce some movies which were off-shoots of the original stories. The first to arrive is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Are audiences ready for a (nearly) original Star Wars movie?

As Rogue One opens, the Death Star is nearing completion under the guidance of Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelson). Fearing this new super-weapon, the Rebels attempt to formulate a plan to fight back. Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), an Imperial pilot, defects, bringing with him a message from Death Star designer Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen). This leads the Rebels to bring in Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Galen's estranged daughter. The decision is made to team Jyn with Rebel operative Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) in order to retrieve the plans. Thus begins a series of adventures in which Jyn and Cassian visit various Imperial outposts to find Galen Erso and then to retrieve the plans. Mean while, the Death Star is closer to being operational and demonstrating its true power.

Back to our original argument, Disney wasn't taking much of a risk sending a Star Wars movie into theaters. There was a pretty good chance that people would turn up to see it. However, they were undoubtedly gambling by trotting out a movie which features 95% new characters and a new story. We get some cameos by familiar faces, but for the most part, we are meeting a new group of folks. Similarly, other than the Death Star, the locations are new. Is novelty a good thing or a bad thing? Here, it's somewhat challenging due to decisions made by the filmmakers. They have decided to not only throw new stories and new characters at us, but a lot of both.

And this is where Rogue One is going to lose some viewers. We get no less than nine new main characters here. New characters are to be expected, but nine main characters is a lot to take on. To the movie's credit, the movie does a good job of offering easily distinguishable characters (the blind guy, the gun guy, the guy with metal feet (??)). Similarly, one would hope that we wouldn't get a repeat of Tattooine or Hoth, but this movie jumps between several planets during the first 30 minutes and it almost feels as if they are deliberately going out of their way to show that they are doing something new. We are clearly in the Star Wars universe here, and we knew/hoped that the movie would include original material, but it's almost disconcerting how the movie wants to be respected for doing something unique.

Once you get past the fact that this ain't yo momma's Star Wars, the movie reveals that while it's original when compared to the original films, it doesn't have much original to say. While George Lucas' original Star Wars film was influenced by Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, Rogue One feels very much like a World War II movie. We are presented with a ragtag group of freedom fighters who must go behind enemy lines in order to retrieve something or someone. The whole World War II thing is further reinforced by the fact that the costume design of the first film is revisited in the way that the Imperial forces have a real Nazi look. For all of its futuristic weaponry and ideas, this story could have easily taken place in 1943.

So, we've discussed what Rogue One is and isn't, but we've have talked about the ultimate question, which is "Is it any good?". The answer is, sort of. As one would expect, the production design is top-notch. The battle sequences look great, especially the finale, which informs us that beaches exist in the Star Wars world. Again, the movie does a good job of introducing us to a diverse group of characters, some of whom are interesting. The film follows in the footsteps of The Force Awakens by having a female in the lead, and Jyn is an intriguing character, as she's somewhat of an anti-hero. K-2SO steals the show here, as he adds some much needed levity. The problem with Rogue One is that it has no sense of wonder or whimsy. This is just a straight-ahead action movie which happens to take place in space. Therefore, it isn't as engaging as the other (watchable) movies from the franchise. To make matters worse, this is also a very dark film, and when I was finished, I wondered how many parents regretted taking their kids to see it. Rogue One offers some nice action sequences and some well-placed laughs, but it's nothing special.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story should have taken another pass at the Tarkin CG on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing on overt grain and no defects from the source materials. Despite the dark subject matter of the film, the colors look excellent here, especially during the finale -- the greens and blues of the beach look great. The image has a nice amount of depth and the level of detail is notable. I would have loved to have seen this in 4K, but it still looks very good. The Disc carries a DTS-Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action sequences and spaceships provide notable stereo and surround effects. The fight scenes involve detailed sounds, as we can hear individual laser blasts coming from the various speakers. In the same vein, we get good work on sounds coming from off-screen. The subwoofer effects are palpable, and we feel each explosion and jump to hyperspace.

All of the extras for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are found on Disc 2. "The Stories" (68 minutes) is split into ten chapters which focus on various facets of the movie. Five of these focus on the individual characters, while the others look at the film's conception, it's production, and it's overall look. We get interviews with the cast and the creative team, as well as some on-set footage and design concepts. We get a lot of comments here from Executive Producer & Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll. "Rogue Connections" (5 minutes) points out moments in the film which reference other Star Wars movies and small details which seem incredibly insignificant.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long