From Lucasfilm comes the first of the STAR WARS stand-alone films -- ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY, an epic adventure. In a time of conflict, a group of unlikely heroes band together on a mission to steal the plans to the Death Star, the Empire's ultimate weapon of destruction. This key event in the STAR WARS timeline brings together ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things, and in doing so, become part of something greater than themselves.
When Disney bought Lucasfilm from dear old Uncle George, we knew we were in for an intense increase of Star Wars related activity. Not only were we going to get a new trilogy that would pick up after the closing "Chub Chub" Ewok party of Return of the Jedi, we were also going to be hit with side stories within the Star Wars universe. 2016 saw the first of these, the radically different but still Star Wars at heart Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. While Rogue One rests firmly within the story of a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, it feels like a fresh, new, and exciting spin on the classic sci-fi/fantasy material we've known and loved for 40 years.
The evil Galactic Empire is on the cusp of finishing their grand weapon, the Death Star, a space station capable of causing massive planetary destruction and putting an end to the Rebellion. When the work stalls, project manager Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) requires the help of former chief scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson) to finish the job. Unable to resist the will of the Empire, Galen is forced to comply.
Years later, the Rebellion hears of a defecting Imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed) carrying a secret message from Galen. The Rebellion must find his estranged criminal daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) in order to find this pilot and confirm the message from her father. Partnered with spy Cassian (Diego Luna), his reprogrammed droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), and former Jedi Temple guardians Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), Jyn learns that her father secretly left a fatal flaw within the Death Star. Now all they have to do is steal the plans and get them in the hands of Rebellion if there is to be any hope for peace and tranquility in the galaxy.
Ahead of the big April 4th Blu-ray release, we were given a Digital HD copy of the film to review the film and technical merits of this digital release. As our own Shannon T. Nutt will be doing the honors of a good and proper disc review, I'll leave him to be the official voice of the film's successes.
As for this Preview Review, my take on the film is an overall positive one. While I absolutely loved and adored The Force Awakens, it was a film designed and implemented to maximize fan nostalgia for the Original Trilogy. And that was a great bit of fun. It was nice to dip a toe into those waters and swim around in some old memories of the glory days of Star Wars before the Prequel Trilogy existed. It was a nice way to lay the groundwork for Episode 8 and Episode 9, but it didn't really do a whole lot "new" with the Star Wars universe.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story smartly places itself in between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. There is a bit of familiarity, some notable bits of fan service, but the film feels like a fresh and gritty exploration of the Star Wars galaxy, unlike anything we've seen before. We get some new characters, reintroduce a few old ones, and tell a side adventure that was only eluded to during the events of A New Hope. While there are a few story stumbles here and there, the front end of the film is a bit rough around the edges, the film's last half is the exciting new and intense material Star Wars fans have been clamoring for. Taking on the approach of a spy thriller/war film, Rogue One stages some particularly intense battle sequences that don't involve acrobatic lightsaber duels. This is full blasters and bombs wartime carnage that has never been seen before in a Star Wars film, and it's glorious.
Godzilla and Monsters director Gareth Edwards is at the helm of this venture, bringing a unique and engaged eye to the show that feels grounded while enjoying the familiar whimsy of spaceships zipping around firing off laser blasts. That said, this wasn't quite a perfect outing. In the lead up to the theatrical release, Rogue One was hip deep in an ocean of rumors about extensive reshoots with some stories stating that Edwards had even been removed from the project altogether. While I don't know the full extent and validity of these rumors, you can feel the reshoots. The early scenes of the film have a rushed, almost incoherent quality as characters and locations are quickly introduced and the audience is thrust into a convoluted story about a defecting pilot with a secret message. Thankfully the film finds its footing and the last half of the film is nothing but payoff in suspense, drama, and thrilling battle sequences. I would have enjoyed more time getting to know these new characters so we could care for them and even love them a bit, but as it rests, this is still pretty good. It's not the total and complete knockout I was hoping for, but Rogue One proves there is a lot of power left in The Force and there is plenty of potential for more of these side adventures.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Rogue One blasts its way onto home video in this Blu-ray/DVD/Digital release from Disney/Lucasfilm. The two 50GB Blu-rays and dual-layer DVD come housed inside a standard blue eco-LITE Vortex keepcase, with the bonus Blu-ray disc on the left and the main movie Blu-ray stacked on top of the DVD disc on the right. An insert (sealed with a peel-back layer) containing a code for a digital version of the movie is also included. A slightly embossed slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase slick slides overtop the case.
When you first put in either movie disc, it will ask users to enter a language selection before continuing (the bonus feature disc's only language is English, although there are subtitle options). None of the discs in this set are front-loaded with any trailers or other advertisements. There are no front-loaded materials on the Blu-ray bonus disc. The main menu of the Blu-ray movie disc has a blue-colored tinge to it, with a rotation of stills of the main characters along with footage from the movie playing in the background. Menu selections are horizontally placed across the bottom of the screen.
In addition to this combo pack release, there are a number of retailer exclusives fans of the movie may wish to consider for purchase. Best Buy is offering a steelbook version of the movie, which also includes a 3D Blu-ray disc, something not included in the standard combo pack. Target also has the 3D disc in their exclusively packaged release, which also includes bonus materials not found elsewhere. Finally, Walmart has their own exclusive cover, but their release doesn't include the 3D Blu-ray, although it does include exclusive Galactic Connexion chips from Topps.
The Blu-rays in this release are region-free.
Rogue One was shot digitally on the Arri Alexa 65, and the 1080p transfer here is taken from a 4K digital intermediate of the movie (which makes one wish Disney would release this title in 4K, but they've yet to take the jump to that format). The movie is presented in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio.
I rarely begin my video reviews by talking about a transfer's black levels, but feel the need to in this instance, as they're simply fantastic here. They're rich and inky deep throughout, which is a huge help considering how many scenes in the film (such as those at the Rebel Base or aboard Star Destroyers) are either dimly lit or feature a lot of dark backgrounds. Shadow delineation here is excellent, and there are no issues with noise creeping into the background of shots.
I was thoroughly impressed with the color reproduction here, and viewers won't have to wait long to see what I'm talking about. Look at those lush greens of the plant life in the opening scenes on Jyn's homeworld and then juxtapose them with the brilliant blues seen on the tropical world of the movie's final act. Details are pretty good here, although it was obvious to me that, despite being shot digitally, the filmmakers strived to give Rogue One as much of a filmlike look as they good, to match with the other theatrical releases (well, at least the non-prequels).
Presented in its proper 2.35:1 aspect ratio, I viewed this Digital Release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story in 1080p HDX via Vudu's streaming service. While this is certainly an incredible looking film featuring impressive details, terrifically rendered CGI elements, and bright, bold colors, this HDX outing - like most streaming experiences - is not the ideal way to view this film. Contingent on fluctuating download speeds, the overall image quality was quite good. Details came through with terrific clarity. Black levels were deep and inky providing a terrific sense of depth and dimension. Colors aren't quite as bright and bold as previous Star Wars films provided, but instead, reflects this dirtier, grittier new exploration of a galaxy far, far away. Flesh tones look healthy and accurate - for the human characters anyway.
Unfortunately, the experience wasn't a flawless one. While my internet speeds are top tier, my internet provider (who will go unnamed here) allows other members to leech wifi from other members within range. I fell victim to that and subsequently, my viewing experienced suffered clarity loss. To that end, I can not wait to get this beauty on Blu-ray. I'm sure Shannon will go into greater detail about how great this film looks in his review. As this film was shot digitally and originally mastered in 4k, the Blu-ray should be an absolute visual delight. Hopefully one day soon we'll also get a good and proper UHD 4k release because Rogue One: A Star Wars Story begs for that sort of treatment.
The main audio track here is an English 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio one, and I know there are a lot of you out there waiting to see what I thought of it. While I was perfectly happy (indeed, I gave it top marks) with the track on the Blu-ray release of The Force Awakens, I know there were a lot of complaints out there about the lack of "weight" that it provided, with weak LFE reproduction and a general lack of "oomph" when it game to things like explosions, laser blasts, etc.
I'm happy to report that's not an issue this time around – and, trust me, I was paying attention to see what the bigger moments in the film provided. The use of lasers in the movie have that hefty, powerful feel to them that you're hoping for, and explosions in the movie are deep and rumbling. Disney/Lucasfilm seems to have heard the complaints and perhaps even erred on the side of providing a little too much, but it's hard to imagine anyone will be disappointed by this track – unless, of course, one wants to complain about the lack of Atmos here, an audio format that Disney/Lucasfilm still doesn't support on home video, despite the fact that this movie was released in theaters with an Atmos track.
As for other aspects of the 7.1 track, there's a great deal of directionality and use of the rear speakers throughout the movie. I'm not sure it ever feels fully immersive, but there are a number of impressive sequences in the film – most notably the short battle on Jedha and, of course, the movie's big climatic battle – including the fun scene that everyone seems to love featuring Darth Vader. There were no noticeable dropouts, glitches, or other problems with the audio, and dialogue is clear, well-rendered, and properly mixed with the rest of the track.
In addition to the 7.1 lossless track, there's also 2.0 English Descriptive Audio, along with 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks in French and Spanish. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish.
VUDU delivers a Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 for its HDX release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and it's pretty good. Dialogue comes through crisp and clear without any issues and maintains a solid front/center presence. Sound effects and scoring from Michael Giacchino help build a good sense of atmosphere and space. The big battle sequences and the space dogfights are the moments when this mix truly shines. When those X-Wings start zipping in and around the shield generator, you really feel like you're in the action. Levels are also perfectly set so crank that audio and let the show rumble.
However, in this form, I didn't feel the sense of immersion that the theatrical Dolby Atmos track provided, or the sort of experience that the upcoming Blu-ray's DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix should deliver. This Dolby Digital Plus 7.1 mix more or less just covers the bases. It gives you a sense of surround activity during the calmer conversational moment, but it doesn't provide the same level of side and rear thrust one would naturally expect. The big explosive action sequences sound pretty great and those front and side channels do get a good workout. Again, like the video, this could have been a result of less than ideal connection issues. Overall this is still a pretty solid audio track.
The bonus features listed below are available both on the Blu-ray release and digitally. Additional bonus features will be offered with the Target exclusive release, so keep your eyes peeled for Shannon's review of that. What's been made available is a solid collection of short, but informative, bonus features covering everything from the individual characters and their respective actors to the look of the film to digitally recreating Governor Tarkin. On the Blu-ray release, all the bonus materials except one, "Rogue Connections" are under a menu selection titled "The Stories". Why they seperated a single (and short) bonus feature from the rest is anyone's guess.
A Rogue Idea: (HD 9:00) This is a quick look at John Knoll's initial pitch and the hiring of Gareth Edwards idea featuring interviews with Kathleen Kennedy and various other Lucasfilm major players.
Jyn: The Rebel: (HD 6:16) We get a quick introduction to Felicity Jones' character and the various attributes that make her unique and set her apart from the other characters within the film.
Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills: (HD 6:20) Actors Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang talk about the audition process and landing their respective roles and their experiences filming.
Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot and the Revolutionary: (HD 8:35) This is a quick look at the characters played by Riz Ahmed and Forest Whitaker and their place within this story and past events.
Cassian: The Spy: (HD 4:14) A very brief look at Diago Luna's character.
K-2S0: The Droid: (HD 7:43) This is a fun look at Alan Tudyk's robot character, the motion capture work he did. It's pretty clear they let the guy improve a lot of his deadpan humor.
The Princess & The Governor: (HD 5:49) This is a very brief but interesting look at how they digitally recreated two integral characters digitally. The stuff covering Guy Henry's recreation of Tarkin is particularly impressive.
The Empire: (HD 8:18) This is just a quick run through of all the dastardly diabolical bad guys making up the primary evil Imperial players.
Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One: (HD 8:24) I honestly wish this segment was an hour longer. Part of what made Rogue One so fun and unique was that it looked so different from the other films while still appearing somewhat familiar.
Rogue Connections: (HD 4:31) This is a very quick look at all of the tangent tidbits that connect this film with other events in the Prequel Trilogy and the Original Trilogy.
Epilogue: The Story Continues: (HD 4:15) This is a quick look at the premier of the film with some bits with fans and the key production crew.
I may not have loved Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but it's definitely an enjoyable ride and brings something new and fresh to the Star Wars universe. It's the sort of entry fans expected to see from the Prequel films. It's not perfect, but it's incredibly entertaining and undeniably a Star Wars film. As far as digital releases go, this is pretty decent but not as great as how an uncompressed Blu-ray image and audio package is going to look and sound. Considering the Blu-ray and the Retailer Exclusives come with this very same Digital HD release, you're better off purchasing one of those sets. So get those pre-orders in while you can!
This Digital HD release is good and Recommended -- click HERE to buy on Amazon Instant Video -- but it very shortly won't be the best package available.
For the ultimate home cinema experience, we Highly Recommended you order the Blu-ray!
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.