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Featured Blu-ray and DVD Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

March 27th, 2017

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first in a series of standalone movies movies Disney is planning for the Star Wars franchise. There were some who questioned whether or not audiences would show up to a Star Wars movie if it wasn’t directly part of the overall story. Turns out the answer to that question is yes, to the tune of over $1 billion worldwide. This was nearly 50% less than The Force Awakens earned, but is it also much weaker in terms of quality?

The Movie

The film begins with a prologue that takes place over a decade before the events of A New Hope. Gelen Erso is living with his wife and daughter. Orson Krennic, a director in Imperial Weapons Development, has come to take Gelen back and force him to work on completing a superweapon the Empire has been working on. He refuses, but soon his wife is killed and he is taken away. Jyn, his daughter, manages to hide and avoid detection, until Saw Gerrera comes to rescue her.

Flash forward to just before the events of A New Hope and Captain Cassian Andor learns of a planet-destroying weapon that the Empire is building, and that Gelen has a part in designing it. A cargo pilot, Bodhi Rook, defected and brought a message to Gerrera. The Rebellion needs to talk to Rook, but Gerrera decided the Rebellion wasn’t willing to do what it takes to win, so he left the group under bad terms and might even kill them if they try to make contact again. If only they had someone Gerrera would trust.

That’s where the now-adult Jyn comes into the plot. She’s been living under an assumed name, but was recently captured by the Empire for unrelated crimes. The Rebellion rescues her and takes her to their headquarters. There, Mon Mantha and the other leaders make her an offer. Go with them to meet with Gerrera, who will talk with her, and verify what Rook knows. If not, they will put her back where they found her. So Captain Cassian Andor, a reprogrammed Imperial droid named K-2SO, and Jyn fly off to Jedha to meet with Gerrera.

Once on Jedha, things go south really fast. Before they can even make contact with Gerrera, a band of his men attack an Imperial patrol and they are nearly killed in the chaos. Captain Cassian Andor has to kill some of the attackers to protect Jyn, while Jyn takes out many Stormtroopers before they accidentally walk into another patrol. They are about to be captured, but Chirrut Imwe, a blind monk, protects them and he is in turn protected by Baze Malbus, his mercenary friend. They have no time to celebrate before they are captured, this time by Gerrera’s men. Jyn is able to meet with Gerrera, but at the same time, Orson Krennic arrives at the planet ready to demonstrate the Death Star’s primary weapon.

The action is about to kick off in a spoiler-filled way, so we should end the plot summary there.

The quickest way to review Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is to compare it to the rest of the Star Wars franchise, which I did when The Force Awakens hit the home market. In the previous rankings, I had The Force Awakens tied with Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith and as much as I hate to say it, I need to add Rogue One to that logjam. It feels like a cop out to say, “It’s a tie.”, but after watching the movie several times, I can’t decide which one comes out on top. They are different movies and they have different strengths. For example...

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a war movie and borrows from that genre in a number of ways. The plot is essentially a group of rag-tag soldiers, who are recruited for a suicide mission. You go into this movie knowing not everyone is going to make it out alive and that’s part of what sets it apart from so many other movies that come out these days. You know Batman can’t die in Justice League, because they are already working on another solo film. Although given the behind-the-scenes mess, I think Ben Affleck wishes they would kill off his character. (I’m still excited about the Wonder Woman movie. Please don’t suck. Please don’t suck.) There are plenty of characters that are recruited for this mission and all of them are well developed enough that you actually care about them and worry if they will live or not. I also like the fact that they made the film more morally complicated. Gerrera is part of the good guys, but he’s portrayed as an extremist who is willing to do horrible things in order to win the war. Even Cassian is willing to kill an informant rather then have the mission be compromised. Granted, it is hard to argue with his decision given the situation, but screenwriters usually don’t make their heroes make these decisions. Not everyone liked the knew darker tone this movie brings to the franchise, so keep that in mind. There were enough funny moments and heroic deeds to balance the darker moments, so I don’t think this is a serious issue.

There were some minor problems in the film, including the transitions between the first few scenes, which were a little choppy. It’s like they realized the film was a little long and cut the early scenes a little too tightly and this hurts the flow in the first act. This gets a lot better as the film goes on. The score was also a little intrusive at times. Finally, and this is a major, major spoiler, so be warned, I don’t think they needed to kill all of the characters in the movie. This was the plan from the start, but they were afraid the studio wouldn’t allow it and wrote a happier ending in the first draft. This was changed to the “No one gets out alive” ending we have in the final cut. I think it would have been better if one or two of the new characters lived. Then again, it would have depended on how well the execution was. Having a happy ending that didn’t fit with the rest of the movie would have been much worse than what we had here.

Overall, if you look at the top ten worldwide hits of 2016, I would rank Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as the fifth best film in the top ten. That might not seem like high praise, but it was a really good year for blockbuster films.

The Extras

There are no extras on the first disc of the Blu-ray, not even an audio commentary track, which is disappointing.

Disc two has a multipart, 70-minute making of featurette and a shorter 5-minute look at all of the Easter Eggs in the movie. There are a lot of topics covered in a lot of depth, including the initial idea for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. However, the majority of the running time is talking about the various characters. Most get a featurette to themselves, others share. There is also a look at the special effects used to bring back a couple of characters, as well as a featurette on the overall look and design of the film. It ends with a featurette of the premiere. This is enough for a first-run release, but it is a two-disc set, so I was expecting more.

The Verdict

I didn’t love The Force Awakens as much as most critics, because it was too similar to A New Hope. I really like how Rogue One: A Star Wars Story doesn’t fall for this trap. It is essentially a World War II spy adventure movie set in the Star Wars universe. It starts out a little choppy when it comes to the pace, while the end is more of a downer than it needs to be, but overall it is a worthy installment in the franchise. I’m looking forward to both The Last Jedi and the Han Solo Spin-Off. The extras are solid, but not as good as I was expecting. Even so, the Blu-ray Combo Pack is a Pick of the Week contender.

Filed under: Video Review, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Star Wars, Forest Whitaker, Ben Affleck, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Felicity Jones, Jiang Wen, Genevieve O'Reilly, Valene Kane, Beau Gadsdon