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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Blu-ray Review)

31 Mar, 2017 By: John Latchem

Street 4/4/17
Box Office $531.43 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action 
Stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker.

The story of Rogue One was born in the title crawl of the original “Star Wars” in 1977 — the exposition about the Rebels stealing the Death Star plans during a great battle.

Nearly 40 years later, that was the story Disney decided upon for the first of its standalone “Star Wars” spinoff films since acquiring the Lucasfilm brand in 2012. These movies are meant to expand upon the lore hinted at in the numbered “episode” films, which relay the story of the Skywalker family. A Han Solo origin movie is slated for 2018.

The story of how Rogue One came to be is told in a nine-minute featurette on the Blu-ray’s bonus disc — from a pitch by VFX wiz John Knoll (co-creator of Photoshop) based on that line from the original film that piqued his curiosity. Stories about the production of Rogue One caused quite a stir among fans while the film was being made, with rumors of extensive re-shoots portending a potential disaster at the hands of director Gareth Edwards (he of the 2014 Godzilla reboot). And certainly, much of the footage in the film’s trailers is nowhere to be found in the final film. But none of that really matters, as the end result is a triumphant adventure that evokes the spirit of the original trilogy.

The film is certainly layered with its share of fan service and nostalgia, stocked with cameos from familiar characters. Calling this a standalone film does it somewhat of a disservice, since it really serves as a prequel that ties directly into the events of the original film, which has since been dubbed Episode IV: A New Hope. Many of the connections with existing continuity are pointed out in a four-and-a-half-minute “Rogue Connections” featurette, though intrepid fans should still scour the Internet for a full list of Easter Eggs (a few links to the TV show “Star Wars Rebels” are left out, for example).

The character played by Forest Whitaker is actually a freedom fighter who first appeared on the “Clone Wars” cartoon show. And there’s also some connective tissue to Episode III, which helps bridge the prequel and original trilogies and would make additional stories told from this era a welcome prospect (alas, fandom’s pleas for Ewan McGregor in an “Obi-Wan on Tattooine” movie are as yet unanswered).

Plus, Darth Vader shows up in a pivotal scene to demonstrate just why he’s earned a reputation as a fearsome Lord of the Sith.

The story of how the Rebels captured the Death Star plans has been told several times before in contradictory tales. The old “Star Wars” radio drama told the story from Princess Leia’s point of view. Video games let fans themselves steal the plans. The Wookieepedia page about the topic is longer than some Wikipedia entries about serious real-world issues. All of that was wiped away by the Disney takeover, leaving Rogue One to provide the canonical account of how it was done.

Rogue One is also a bit of a deconstruction of a “Star Wars” movie, allowing Edwards to infuse his own style while maintaining the franchise’s traditional story structure. There are visits to exotic new worlds, a holographic plea for help on a desert planet, a deadly threat from the Empire and a furious space battle at the end. But Rogue One feels more like a war movie, looking at the Rebellion from a different angle — squabbling bureaucrats who aren’t sure what to do against overwhelming evil, gritty agents on life-and-death missions, and soldiers whose actions only differ from Stormtroopers in the sense that they aren’t wearing white armor.

At the center of it all is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a drifter whose father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) was recruited by the Empire years ago to help build the Death Star. Now, as the planet-destroying weapon nears completion, Galen sends a warning to his daughter about the evil about to be unleashed upon the galaxy, with instructions to deliver to the Rebellion about how to destroy it. To have any chance of exploiting the weakness Galen hid within the battle station, the Rebels need to steal the Death Star plans from a fortified Imperial facility. Along the way, they just might learn what it means to fight for freedom after all.

Rogue One looks spectacular, and the new characters are a lot of fun, particularly Alan Tudyk as the droid K-2SO, Diego Luna as the morally suspicious Rebel agent Cassian, and Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen as newly minted warriors connected to an ancient Jedi temple.

The movie also generated buzz by resurrecting Peter Cushing to play Grand Moff Tarkin, though the actor died in 1994. The visual effects used to re-create his likeness (and another age-appropriate classic character) are a rather remarkable achievement, even if our brains are telling us to look for the illusion. There’s a six-minute featurette on the Blu-ray devoted just to this process (it's a bit expanded from the sizzle reel that has been making the rounds on YouTube).

In all, the bonus disc includes about 74 minutes of behind-the-scenes material, including some fan reactions at the film’s premiere. Most of the videos are structured around profiling certain characters, giving the actors who play them a chance to reflect on their relationship to the franchise they’ve just joined.

What’s not here are any deleted scenes, or indeed any sense of any alternate version of Rogue One ever existed, which runs contrary to the almost daily reports hitting the Internet these days. There’s also no director’s commentary, which may indicate there’s a beefier home video version in the works down the line (similar to how Disney released different versions of Star Wars: The Force Awakens months apart). For now, the 3D version of Rogue One is available only with exclusive versions of the Blu-ray at Target and Best Buy.

About the Author: John Latchem

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