“Save the Rebellion! Save the dream!” -Saw Gerrera
So at Christmas there was this little movie that no one had ever heard about that took the world by storm…just kidding! Another Star Wars movie came out last Christmas and dominated the box office and it appears as though that will be true of every holiday season for the foreseeable future. This one was a wee bit different in that it was the first Star Wars stand alone tale. A film about those pesky rebel spies who stole the Death Star plans and set off that whole rebellion thing that we caught up with in 1977. The tone was different. There was less force. Rumours of panicked reshoots had fans worried that the resulting film might be a mess. Thankfully, though imperfect, Rogue One somehow served up even more nostalgia than The Force Awakens and made an obscene sum of money. Now it’s on Blu-ray. You likely already know if you’re going to buy it. But, let’s do a review anyways.
So…plot After a little prologue to set things up, we’re introduced to Felicity Jones’ noble nogoodnik who is broken out of an Imperial prison camp by a gang of Rebels. She’s told that she was snapped up to help rescue her father (Mads Mikkelsen), the man who designed the Death Star. Predictably, the truth is more complicated than it seems, but never mind that now. She’s partnered up with Diego Luna’s Rebel intelligence officer who brings the brooding and a droid (Alan Tudyk) who brings some comic relief. They slowly gather up a ragtag team of unlikely heroes including an Imperial defector (Riz Ahmed), a blind monk (Donnie Yen), and his sharp shooting buddy (Jing Wen). Together the gang bond n’ go through some troubles leading up to the big mission. On the darker side of the equation, Ben Mendelsohn plays a brutally career oriented Imperial officer who helps get the Death Star into fighting shape under the terrifyingly watchful eye of a dude named Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, natch).
Bringing in Gareth Edwards to direct singled a shift in tone from previous Star Wars adventures. While the movie is ultimately bubble-gum entertainment, the tone is a little darker. There’s not at much humour and virtually no force-fuelled magic. Instead, it’s a tale of outsiders struggling to beat a hostile totalitarian regime. Politics slip in through the deliberately diverse cast toppling a supremacist regime (not to mention the fact that the difference between freedom fighters and terrorists is essentially point of view). There’s certainly a little extra meat on the bones of this Star Wars feature, even if it sacrifices many of the usual franchises staples in the process. The characters aren’t nearly as playful or memorable as most entries in this franchise, dialogue can be clunky, and the pacing isn’t exactly a relentless race to the credits. Things take perhaps a little too long.
Yet, it’s hard to care once the final forty-minute heist climax arrives. Edwards likes to slow burn his movies into delirious action finales. The cross-cut action climax of Rogue One is filled with so much giddy Star Wars magic that it makes up for every fault that precedes all the pretty explosions. The scale and choreography are on a level only a blockbuster as massive as Star Wars could provide, while fan service piles on at an extraordinary degree. Sure, you can complain about the CGI revival of old characters all you want, but when Star destroyers are crashing into each other and Vader is chopping down rebels on a vividly recreated classic set, all you can do is smile and be grateful for the fact that the folks at Lucasfilm care about the Star Wars legacy as much as the fans. There will come a time when this Star Wars revival jumps the shark and folks may well point to the low points in Rogue One as the first cracks in the armour. When that day comes, I’ll complain like the rest. For now, it’s impossible to do anything but replay all the glorious beauty shots in this big ol’ Star Wars sized hit and feel nothing but giddy gratitude.
So, first up it pretty much goes without saying that the Blu-ray presentation of Rogue One is stunning. Disney knows how to transfer their blockbusters to 1080p. So every image pops with color depth and detail. Sets, costumes, props, and effects can be studied endlessly by dorks who feel so inclined (and they will). The lossless audio recreates one of the most thunderously overpowering blockbusters of 2016 at home and when the movie finally takes off at the end, you can be sure that your neighbours will know exactly what you’re watching. It’s a showpiece disc. Obviously. What else was going to happen?
Now, when you open up the Rogue One Blu-ray and see a second disc devoted to special features, you might find yourself thinking, “Oh great! I haven’t been duped into a double dip. This thing will be loaded with special feature.” Well, not so much. Aside from a fairly pointless five-minute featurette that promises to reveal all the connections between Rogue One and previous entries in the franchise (then barely scratches the surface), all that this disc contains is a single documentary about the production. Granted it’s 70 minutes long and well produced. But still…you can’t help but assume there will be another Rogue One release just in time for the holiday season. That’s just the next new Star Wars tradition, I suppose.
Still, the 70 minute documentary is nothing to sniff at. Unfortunately, over half of the running time is dedicated to all the main cast members describing how they got the role and what Star Wars means to them. That material is nice, but since one of the main criticisms against Rogue One was that the characters lacked depth it feels like a bit of a waste of running time. Also, there’s certainly no mention of the notorious reshoots and radical re-edits of the film that took up so much internet bandwidth last fall. Co-writer (and rumoured co-director) Tony Gilroy isn’t even interviewed amongst all the other screenwriters and everyone discusses the last minute Darth Vader slasher scene as if it was always part of the design. It’s a bummer, but no billion dollar product like this will admit flaws. That’s just not realistic. This is no Scream Factory release after all.
Thankfully, the doc does provide an intriguing look into the Lucasfilm architecture that Kathleen Kennedy has created. The best material comes from long time ILM effects artist John Knoll and Kennedy’s impressively diverse story team talking about how they cracked Rogue One and turned it into the first stand alone Star Wars adventure. The group is clearly immensely passionate about the franchise, as is superfan director Gareth Edwards and the team of design and effects artists interviewed in the doc. There’s a palpable love of Star Wars coming from everyone involved and some wonderful in depth looks into how the team recreated old sets and costumes from 1977 while still finding ways to add new designs unique to this story. If nothing else, the doc proves that Rogue One is a the grandest piece of Star Wars fan fiction every produced and one that connected with millions of similar minded nerds all over the world.
Does this deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
This might not be the definitive Rogue One Blu-ray that will be released, but it is one that will make you love and appreciate the geektastic war movie even more than you did before. And really, what more could you, Disney, or Lucasfilm want from this disc?
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