Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

The Disneyfication of Star Wars is going about as well as one could possibly expect, no? After Lucasfilm was acquired for over $4 billion - a bargain, if you think about it - by The Walt Disney Co. in 2012, there was immediate talk of more Star Wars movies in various shapes and forms but fan enthusiasm almost demanded cautiousness. Disney essentially remakes its ideas over and over and rarely invests in new ones, instead buying up other entities like Pixar and Marvel (and Lucasfilm). So far, though, it seems that this particular pairing was a case of Disney playing to its strengths. Following the oft-maligned trilogy of prequels directed by George Lucas, the Star Wars franchise was still extremely healthy yet slightly tainted by a collection of films which ignored the fun and spectacle of the ones that had come earlier. Each had its moments but all came off like they were made by the older, less driven version of the earlier trilogy's architect.

Review continues below

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Disney picked up the baton by doing what it so often does best - celebrating the nostalgia of what came previously. It brought in fresh blood with J.J. Abrams, who pleased both fans and critics, and Episode VII: The Force Awakens (review) became the highest-grossing movie to date, in both the UK and stateside. Did we need more Star Wars movies? Probably not. Did we want more Star Wars movies? Perhaps more than we realized. Though already well into production before the success of The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story continues the brand reinvention by once again reminding its audience why it fell in love with the Star Wars franchise in the first place.

From the start, Rogue One is dark and ominous. The Force Awakens also had a rather foreboding tone to its opening scene, but Rogue One makes good on all of its promises. Set just before the opening crawl of the original Star Wars (aka Episode IV: A New Hope), the picture takes as its inspiration the middle portion of that famous introduction, namely the "Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR" part. It begins with a new villain, dressed in white, standing amid the tall, sweeping grass and confronting Galen Erso (played by Mads Mikkelsen). The ruthless director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) demands that Erso come with him to build the Death Star. The black-clad stormtroopers behind Krennic give Erso little choice, but his wife nonetheless resists while their young daughter takes shelter elsewhere. The younger Erso, Jyn, will eventually evade Krennic and join Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) in the resistance.

As the plot progresses, Jyn - now grown up and played by Felicity Jones - is imprisoned before being rescued by the rebel spy Cassian (Diego Luna) and reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). The details are only slightly convoluted but generally iron out smoothly. The rebels need Jyn to get them to Saw Gerrera, who, in turn, has been sought out by an Imperial pilot who's defected named Bodhi (Rez Ahmed).  Bodhi has a message from Galen Erso about taking down the Death Star. Jyn is the connective tissue between the Rebel Alliance and plans that could destroy the Empire's dangerous planet-sized weapon. Throw in the unlikely team of blind swordsman Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and long-haired assassin Baze (Jiang Wen) and you have the makings of a formidable group in the vein of an ensemble heist movie.

Rogue One works, and that's probably the key takeaway here. As directed by Gareth Edwards, it lacks the overt exhilaration that emanated from The Force Awakens, opting instead for wall-to-wall adventure amid a near-constant tone of melancholy, but the fact that the movie respectfully builds on the saga helps to make it a successful segue between episodes. It was billed as a standalone picture but that's somewhat nonsense, really - a mere convenience since it doesn't feature the Skywalker family. It clearly leads up to Episode IV while paving the way, in real time, for Episode VIII. It works as a distraction and further shading of the canonical universe. Watching Rogue One makes us now feel like we know more about Episode IV, nearly forty years after the fact.

Plus there's the opportunity to bring back Darth Vader in all of his glory. Lord Vader doesn't get much screen time in Rogue One but he certainly wastes none of it. It's been quite a while since one of cinema's most iconic characters was seen in action so it's easy to feel like that end here justifies the means of the rest of the picture. Along with the humor of K-2SO, the brief presence of Vader is what makes Rogue One linger in the memory beyond its credits.

The Discs

This region-free edition from Walt Disney Home Entertainment contains the film on one Blu-ray, extras on another BD, a separate DVD also with the movie, and a code inside for the Digital HD streaming version.

Video is exceptional. Presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, the image looks crisp and detailed. There's so much variety of texture here and it's all reproduced seamlessly. One expects reference-level quality from a release like this and that's what has been achieved here.

Audio similarly astounds in the English 7.1 DTS-HDMA track. The aural effects are bewilderingly good. Michael Giacchino's score sounds perfect - layered, balanced, spread among the channels with care. One could expound on about blasters and x-wings but the point is that this more than hits the mark. An English 2.0 Descriptive Audio track is also included, as are Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, Spanish and French.

A second Blu-ray disc covers the extra features, which add up to roughly 75 minutes in total. The Digital Fix already had a thorough preview of these supplements (here) but I've also detailed them for this review.

"The Stories" is a ten-part piece which can be broken up into individual featurettes or watched consecutively using the Play All function. Interestingly, the reported re-shoots and heavy involvement of credited co-writer Tony Gilroy is completely ignored throughout these extras. The featurettes are as follows:

A Rogue Idea (9:00) - The basic plot of Rogue One was conceived and submitted by a veteran Industrial Light & Magic employee named John Knoll. Here we learn a bit about how that lead to the film as well as getting a chance to meet director Gareth Edwards.

Jyn: The Rebel (6:16) - Actress Felicity Jones shares how she made it through starring in such a massive and anticipated production.

Cassian: The Spy (4:14) - Briefly, we meet Diego Luna, who plays Cassian, and some attention is given to the significance of having a Mexican actor lead a Star Wars movie.

K-2SO: The Droid (7:43) - Alan Tudyk voiced the reprogrammed droid but also was on-set physically acting the part that later got filled in digitally. Here we see footage of this, including Tudyk on stilts or, alternately, with a cardboard cut-out extending from the top of his shirt collar.

Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills (6:20) - Chinese superstars Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen get the spotlight here as we learn, among other things, that Yen suggested Chirrut be blind

The Empire (8:18) - Krennic, Darth Vader, Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso, and even the digital re-creation of Tarkin all are touched on here.

Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One (8:24) - The desire to bridge this film with the earlier entries in the first trilogy is explored.

The Princess & The Governor (5:49) - In a fascinating look at the digitally-recreated Leia and Tarkin, we see the actors who performed the roles only to have their faces replaced by animated versions of the actors who earlier played them. The celebration here is a little too enthusiastic considering how flawed the end results still are.

Epilogue: The Story Continues (4:15) - Footage from the premiere.

There's also a "Rogue Connections" (4:31) option that quickly breezes through references and various appearances found inside Rogue One which recall other parts of the Star Wars universe.

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A melancholy adventure that perks up when Darth Vader cameos, the latest film in the Star Wars universe largely gets it right.


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