(Just so we keep things straight, I wrote the movie review for this release, but because a certain retailer, I won’t drop names, but it rhymes with Wrest Wry, didn’t ship my copy till the 3rd, I had our main man Beav deliver the rest of the review. He’s the man. You know it. I know, I just wanted to give him props for bailing me out.)
The Movie (3.5/5)
I was all in on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I bought tickets as soon as they were available. I read the prequel novel, Rogue One: Catalyst, and later the novelization of the film itself, written by James Luceno and Alexander Freed respectively. I saw Rogue One three times in digital 2D at the local multiplex. So, when I come out and present my take on this billion dollar grossing, Academy Award nominated movie, just know what I say is out of love, not malice. At the end of the day, I would still give one of my kidneys to join the ranks of X-Wing pilots racing towards the Death Star, or to hold a lightsaber and become a Jedi knight. Rogue One is a great piece of the overall Star Wars pie. It is not however, a totally effective movie, one that can easily stand on its own legs, and I think that’s only sort of a problem. Hear me out.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the tale of the team behind the theft of the original Death Star plans. At the center of the story is reluctant heroine Jyn Erso; hardened by years of violence and rebellion, she is recruited by the the Rebel Alliance against her will, and assigned a mission to track down her father, Galen Erso, by rebel leader Mon Mothma. The mission send herself and rebel captain Cassian Andor in search of a pilot who carries a message from Galen Erso, Jyn’s father. The quest to find that message sets off a chain of events that pits Jyn and Cassian, as well as reprogrammed Imperial Security Droid K2SO, and Guardians of the Whills Baze Malbus and Chirrut Imwe against the full might of the Imperial war machine as they must find Galen Erso and uncover the plans to the Empire’s ultimate super weapon, the Death Star.
Rogue One is one of many films that follows the traditional three act narrative structure. Each one hinges on a major action sequence, and each one in an ideal world should not only establish new elements of the plot, but include sufficient character development and pacing to allow for a seamless transition from act to act. Unfortunately for Rogue One, only one act seems to hit those marks, making for an entertaining, but hollow and uneven experience for those who want to dig deeper into the Star Wars cinematic universe.
The film’s first act engages the hyperdrive almost immediately, establishing a large cast of characters and locations in a rapid fire manner. In a matter of half hour or so, we see a prison planet, a floating spaceport stuck between two asteroids, a desert planet, a mountain planet, and the rebel headquarters, Yavin 4. We meet the entire cast of the Rogue One team, a number of villains and side characters, most of the Rebel Alliance government, and an entire faction of rebel extremists led by Saw Gerrara, a character previously created for the Clone Wars television program. It’s incredibly overstuffed to the point where almost all of the main characters of the film come off as one dimensional and uninteresting due to some particularly ineffective writing that just sort of lazily throws them all together without adding any meaningful depth to make them feel important or even particularly human. There are glimpses of what this portion of the film was supposed to be, with obvious parallels to occupied warzones that exist in our world today, and some vague commentaries on the nature of terrorists cells and their motivations, but it gets buried under a disturbing lack of exposition in favor of bouncing us around to different planets like a pinball. It serves the production designers and visual effects team interesting things to do, but it erodes the foundation of the movie.
I think a lot of my issues with act one of this story lie in the fact that so much of the story at this point weighs on the shoulders of the Saw Gerrara character, who is so painfully underdeveloped and bizarre that it becomes hard to sympathize with him or understand his motivations when he deals with Jyn, or with Imperial defector Bodhi Rok. He jumps to wild conclusions, makes crazy accusations, and even pulls out the now overused mind-rape trope of science fiction films to help him interrogate his captives. It doesn’t help either that Gerrara’s character is decimated even further by one of Forrest Whittaker’s worst performances, one in which he completely over acts to the point where he’s nearly comedic. Because of this, when he makes an important decision near the end of the act, it doesn’t have any dramatic weight, and makes you relieved to know the film is moving on from this character.
It’s second act, which moves our team of rebels to a new location, attempts to remedy some of the glaring holes left in the emotional cores of our characters, particularly with Jyn Erso and Cassian Andor, but for every ounce of character motivations and traits explored with our main leads, we get a sequence in which our main villain, Orson Krennic, just kind of temper tantrums around when things don’t go his way. It makes him less of a convincing or interesting villain, and more of a disgruntled bureaucrat who has his panties in a bunch. It also attempts to connect Jyn to her father, but rather than give us a meaningful moment between the two, the screenwriters rob us of that moment in the most unfulfilling way through what is otherwise a thrilling display of the Rebel Alliance’s military force. In the major action sequence, which takes place on some random planet called Eadu, we do get a glimpse at how the team dynamic is beginning to build, as members begin to push back against each other, and figure each other’s quirks out, but it feels like it still favors spectacle over substance, which is never good for effective storytelling that takes itself this seriously.
Rogue One really grows into itself however, as the third act kicks into high gear and the team sets out to actually steal the Death Star plans. It drops a lot of the Erso family baggage that dragged down the early moments of the film, and really develops a purpose. As Jyn, Cassian, and crew set out to steal the Death Star plans from an Imperial stronghold, and the rebel fleet makes its appearance in full force, a switch gets thrown and the movie becomes straight Star Wars magic. It becomes 40 minutes of straight triumph, as X-Wings zoom in to relieve the desperate situation for troops on the ground, and massive starships begin to engage Star Destroyers above the planet. The action is fast paced, incredibly fluid, and recalls the kind of excitement that hasn’t been felt in a galaxy far, far away since 1983 when Lando and the gang took out the Second Death Star in Return of the Jedi. It manages to craft a sense of realistic peril as Jyn and Cassian move behind enemy lines to steal the plans, finally creating situations in which the fates of these characters actually start to matter. It follows the classic Star Wars line of thinking – the best way to bring the characters together is to split them apart, and give them each an interesting task rather than marginalize some of them in attempting to achieve a single goal.
As the film builds towards its explosive climax, it becomes both terrifying and sadistic, which dampens the mood a little, but not enough to derail the third act’s infectious energy and sense of urgency as they manage to skillfully connect Rogue One to A New Hope is just about the coolest way possible. The last ten minutes of the film do an incredible job at not only establishing the terrifying power of the Death Star and the full force of the Empire in motion, but also at creating one of the most powerful moments of fan service I’ve ever come across in my years of franchise film consumption.
Rogue One, above grumps aside, is a movie full of incredible visual effects and a style that brilliantly pays homage to the production values of A New Hope. Aside from the amusingly horrible turn from Whittaker as Saw Gerrara, the cast, which features Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, Diego Luna as Cassian Andor, Alan Tudyk as K2SO, Ben Mendelsohn as Orson Krennic, Donnie Yen as Chirrut Imwe, and many more, deliver fun, convincing performances that really help to sell you on this piece of the Star Wars puzzle. Once they finally become the team that the marketing and trailers sold us on, their performances definitely amount to something special, a sum greater than all of their previous parts.
I could go on for hours about Rogue One; I could probably write a page alone about the film’s score, which was hastily written at the last minute by composer Michael Giacchino, or about how half the film’s exposition is locked behind the wall of the Catalyst prequel novel, which has more characterization to its name in its first 100 pages than all of Rogue One, but know this: Rogue One is slow on the draw, and weak in terms of meat on its bones, but at the end of the day, even imperfect Star Wars is Star Wars. You’re going to watch it, love it, hate it, dissect it, whatever you want to do with it and still smile as the credits roll. It may take a while to dig it up, but it still manages to capture some of that 1977 magic, even if it is covered under a layer of interesting production choices and some bizarre directing and acting. It’s not a great standalone experience, but as a bigger piece of the pie, it does just fine.
The Video (5/5)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was shot using the Arri Alexa 65 camera in its native 6.5K resolution mode using the same updated set of Ultra Panavision 70 lenses that Quentin Tarantino used on his most recent film, The Hateful Eight. The picture and all special effects were mastered in full 4K resolution with a final aspect ratio of 2.35:1 for theaters. The film is presented here in its native aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in 1080p resolution.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story looked absolutely beautiful on my home television. Presenting extremely crisp and vivid colors in every scene, including the darker toned, and more serious scenes; this film absolutely shines in 1080p. Considering that it had a 4K master, this film would’ve definitely been a great introduction into the world of 4K UHD and one can only imagine how immersive the picture would’ve looked with HDR. However, despite the fact that this isn’t a 4K UHD release shouldn’t deter you from picking up this release as the film really does shine. The overall imagery that’s presented throughout this film allows for a considerably nostalgic feeling as you can tell that the production crew worked to create and maintain a similar feel to that of the original trilogy.
The Audio (5/5)
Packing a huge punch with its DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio track, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story really shines when played through a home theater system. Allowing for the most immersive experience possible, audiences are right there in the middle of the action as the film plays out. There was absolutely no distortion to the audio track whatsoever, and the use of ambient audio in the film definitely added to the overall impact I had while watching this movie tonight.
Special Features/Packaging (4.75/5)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story comes packaged in your standard Blu-ray amaray case. Contained within that case is the Blu-ray copy of this film, the DVD copy of the film as well as a separate Blu-ray disc that contains all of the bonus content. There is a digital copy redemption pamphlet that allows consumers to add the film to their digital collection for on the go streaming. Each disc features various pieces of artwork that’s relative to the film and there is a slipcover that’s been made available with the initial pressing of this film.
The only complaint that I have with the packaging of the standard Blu-ray release is the fact that they decided to stack the Blu-ray on top of the DVD. While Blu-ray discs are more resilient to blemishes than their DVD counterpart, the fact that they stacked the two discs as opposed to using a 3-disc Blu-ray amaray case feels like they definitely cheapened out on the packaging options.
And now for the special features…
A Rogue Idea – Interview with Kathleen Kennedy, president of LucasFilm and thoughts and discussions with the crew who originally pitched the idea for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Featuring various behind the scenes looks from the original trilogy and the teams who worked together in developing the intergalactic scenes that we’ve all grown to love. There’s various discussions and ideas that get tossed around for creating the foundation of the standalone films from those who played a key part in the production of this film, all ideas originating from the opening crawl from Episode IV: A New Hope.
Jyn: The Rebel – A behind the scenes look with Felicity Jones and the impact that the character of Jyn Erso had in her overall performance. Including interviews with various members of the production crew and how they came up with the origin story of Jyn and how they wanted to tell her story.
Cassian: The Spy – A behind the scenes look with Diego Luna and the emphasis the story of Cassian had on his performance in conveying the character. Providing a deeper look into Cassian and the difficult decisions he’s somewhat forced to make throughout his journey.
K-2SO: The Droid – A behind the scenes look with Alan Tudyk and various members of the production crew and how they came to create the character of K-2SO. Using the original C-3PO as the foundation for this character, you gain a further understanding in how they came up with this droid and his overall personality.
Baze & Chirrut: Guardians Of The Wheels – A behind the scenes look with Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang and their characters, Baze and Chirrut. Giving an in-depth look into the characters origin story and their roles in the story that’s portrayed in this film.
Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary – A behind the scenes look with Riz Ahmed and Forest Whitaker and their characters Bodhi & Saw. Providing more of an origin story for these two so we can gain a deeper appreciation for their role in Rogue One.
The Empire – A behind the scenes look into the world that’s portrayed in Rogue One, giving a deeper look into the contrast in sceneries and the connections that each and every character has in relation to the world that’s been created before our eyes.
Visions Of Home: The Look Of Rogue One – Interviews with Gareth Edwards and various members of the design crew and showing their passion in developing the look and feel of every minute detail of the film. Everything from the character costumes to the details of the spaceships, bringing in some of the original ideas that were used in the original movies and how they played a key role in the creation of this film.
The Princess & The Governor – Interview with John Knoll, executive producer and visual effects designer as well as Kathleen Kennedy about the daunting task that was at hand in trying to maintain the original look and feel that Carrie Fisher had in the scene that started at the beginning of Episode IV.
Epilogue: The Story Continues – Interviews with the production staff and footage from the worldwide premier of Rogue One and the excitement that’s shared not only among the cast and crew, but the fans and the general audience. The impact that this film series has had on everyone involved.
Separately From The Short Stories
Rogue Connections – A brief look at the connections between various aspects of not only this film, but all of the films that are in the Star Wars franchise.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Region Coding: A (B and C are untested)
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC (33.98 Mbps)
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (48kHz, 24-bit)
French (Canada): Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps)
English SDH, French, Spanish
Original Film: 134 minutes
As long as you can either put up with, or comfortably ignore its many issues, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is an action packed, well paced return to the legendary Galaxy Far, Far Away…. packed to the gills with fan service and spectacular nods to the Original Trilogy that make it more than worth your time. As expected, based on their previous treatment of The Force Awakens, Disney has given their billion dollar spinoff baby the star treatment on Blu-ray, complete with reference quality 1080p video, planet surface shattering DTS audio, and an entire disc worth of extras just for good measure. On top of that they’ve opted to package the whole deal in a stylish slipcover with excellent art. Fear not; this Blu-ray is perfection, unlike the movie itself!