For those (like me) who were extremely dissatisfied with the three prequel movies which now exist as Episodes 1, 2, and 3, Rogue One feels like the prequel that Star Wars: A New Hope always deserved.
The Production: 4/5
A mix of the new and the familiar gives Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One a curiously unique place among the Star Wars universe. With a fresh group of characters who become thrillingly ingratiating during the two-plus hour film, Rogue One has the obvious feel of a Star Wars movie with all of the expected tropes such an endeavor demands while at the same time seeming a fresh path across familiar terrain to keep viewers engrossed about the fates of characters we’ve come to know and care about.
Situated in the years before the events of A New Hope, Rogue One finds the quasi-orphaned Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) determined to learn the fate of her father scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) who has been conscripted by the Empire to build a Death Star, a weapon that can destroy entire planets with one fatal strike. Falling in with a scrappy bunch of rebels who see the Death Star in action, Jyn is recruited to join other Alliance rebels who want to try to capture Galen and learn all there is to know about the destructive weapon. Unknown to her, however, rebel force team leader Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) has been ordered to shoot to kill Galen while Empire Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is also at a point where Galen isn’t of any further use to them either. A hologram of a message from Galen to his daughter explaining his motivations for his actions and the path to the destruction of the Death Star change the entire scenario of the Alliance’s endeavors even though the majority of the Supreme Council are not in favor of any further action against the Empire. Jyn, Cassian, and a few others willing to make the ultimate sacrifice decide to take action on their own, calling their ship Rogue One.
The original story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta based on some writing in the opening crawl of A New Hope has been adapted into a screenplay by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, and these writers have made sure to offer a mix of the old and the new to keep everyone happy with this newest Star Wars confection. Yes, all of the expected ingredients are present: Storm Troopers, the Death Star (with three examples of its destructive power, all of which make for mighty screen spectacles), the outer space dogfights as the Alliance’s home base is inevitably under attack, allusions to The Force which we see only occasionally in practice by one of the appealing new characters in the story – the blind Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) with his partner Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), light sabers, and Darth Vader at his most venal. But it’s the new characters and their stories which hook us quickly and carry us along for the topsy-turvy ride. The new droid in town isn’t a cowering, didactic C3-PO clone but rather K-2S0 (voiced by Alan Tudyk) who has more of a warrior mentality amid his quick calculations on their percentage chances for victory and defeat, and the growing attachment between it and heroine Jyn Erso makes for an interesting side trip amid all the planning and battles. Director Gareth Edwards keeps things moving constantly, often suggesting a kind of boots-on-the-ground World War II-style movie showing the grunts rolling up their sleeves and getting the rebellion underway without the sanction of the higher ups in the Alliance and in palm tree-shrouded locations which look nothing like the battlefields in any previous Star Wars film. Though Vader always looms in the background (and Governor Tarkin is likewise present with actor Guy Henry in body and some clever CGI work to help us recall the late Peter Cushing in the role), the real villain of the story is the grasping Orson Krennic determined to put an end to the rebels his way, and the struggle to thwart him is as absorbing as in any of the most successful Star Wars films.
Felicity Jones was a felicitous choice for the film’s protagonist. Not a superwoman nor an unbeatable foe, she uses her natural pluck and determination to get things done and wins us to her side very quickly. Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor remains an enigma for a great deal of the movie until he decides to use his own ideas about right and wrong to make a decision which ultimately pairs him with the other motley crew of rebels. Riz Ahmed as an Alliance defector who becomes the rebel pilot has an engaging presence which along with Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang’s appealing characters gives us a rebel contingent that we can all easily root for. Forest Whitaker has only a few scenes as revolutionary Saw Gerrera who acts as a kind of guardian angel for Jyn, but he’s most effective as is Mads Mikkelsen as Jyn’s father around whom much of the early part of the movie spins. Ben Mendelsohn doesn’t overdue the villainous grimaces and gestures as Orson Krennic. Alan Tudyk is priceless as droid K-2SO. Jimmy Smits has a rather forgettable moment or two as Bail Organa.
3D Rating: NA
Reference quality all the way, the theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1 is faithfully rendered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is exceptionally crisp and inviting, and color delineation couldn’t be bettered with realistic skin tones. Contrast has been applied with constancy and aplomb, and black levels are rich and deep with excellent details to be seen in the shadows. The movie has been divided into 49 chapters.
A 3D version of the film is being offered as a retailer exclusive at Target and Best Buy but was not sent for review.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound design is exactly the sort of sophisticated mix that one expects from today’s sci-fi extravaganzas, and few (outside those who would rather have Atmos or DTS:X) will feel disappointed. Dialogue has been beautifully recorded and has been placed in the center channel. Michael Giacchino’s background score gets full spread through the fronts and rears along with the split atmospheric effects which often whizz across and through the soundstage.
Special Features: 4/5
All of the bonus material is located on a separate disc in the set.
The Stories (1:08:58, HD): ten featurettes which take the viewer from the conception of the idea for the movie’s story to the film’s premiere. Commenting on the film’s production, characters and their portrayers, sets, costumes, and special effects are producers Simon Emanuel, Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, John Knoll, Jason D. McGatlin, and Kiri Hart, writer Chris Weitz, production designers Doug Chiang and Neil Lamont, art director Gary Tompkins, costume designers Glyn Dillon and David Crossman, director of photography Greg Fraser, and actors Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, and Alan Tudyk. The ten featurettes, which may be watched individually, are as follows:
- A Rogue Idea
- Jyn: The Rebel
- Cassian: The Spy
- K-2SO: The Droid
- Baze & Chirrut: Guadians of the Whills
- Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot and the Revolutionary
- The Empire
- Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One
- The Princess & the Governor
- Epilogue: The Story Continues
Rogue Connections (4:31, HD): a brief look at various Easter eggs planted through the movie pertaining to previous Star Wars adventures.
DVD/Digital Copy: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
For those (like me) who were extremely dissatisfied with the three prequel movies which now exist as Episodes 1, 2, and 3, Rogue One feels like the prequel that Star Wars: A New Hope always deserved. It blends into the fabric of that movie with ease and yet stands on its own as a rousing and involving adventure tale (though viewers not familiar with at least A New Hope may have trouble with allusions to a world others will be intimately familiar with). Reference quality picture and sound and a separate disc of bonus material make up an appealing package and garner a strong recommendation.