Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)2017 (March 31, 2020)
Studio(s)Lucasfilm (Walt Disney Studios)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: C-
“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire…”
These words are, of course, familiar to every Star Wars fan from the opening crawl of George Lucas’ original 1977 film classic. It’s also the inspiration for—and indeed the very essence of—Rogue One, a prequel one-shot that finally tells the story of the Rebels’ first victory against the Empire. That story begins with a young woman named Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), whose scientist father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen) was taken years earlier and pressed into service helping to finish construction on the original Death Star. Years later, when the Rebel Alliance finally learns of this nearly-complete super weapon, they seek Jyn out in their darkest hour, hoping she’ll help them to track down her father and find some way to save their endangered cause.
In many ways, Rogue One represents the best of both worlds as a Star Wars film. It features a new story, with fresh and diverse characters, yet still feels familiar and bridges the gap for new audiences to the original trilogy. It’s fascinating to see a film set in this universe with a decidedly Zero Dark Thirty tone—it’s essentially a special ops mission. As much as we’ve all come to love tales of Jedi and Sith, it’s also great to finally get a glimpse of what life is like for the everyman in the Empire’s shadow. If anyone doubted that Star Wars could survive without Skywalkers, that doubt has now been laid to rest. There are many good performances here, but special notice must be given to British actor Guy Henry, who captures Peter Cushing’s essence and mannerisms as Grand Moff Tarkin with great success. Certainly, he was assisted by digital wizardry, but the performance is all Henry’s and he nails it. Alan Tudyk also shines as K-2SO, a kind of comic anti-C-3PO, despite the fact that he’s an entirely CG character. And it’s hard not to love any film that includes Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen, especially when the latter is playing a Zatoichi-inspired character. There are—as you’d expect of a film that ends where A New Hope begins—many connections to the original trilogy. Speaking personally though, no two thrilled me more than appearances by Gold Leader and Red Leader (played by Angus MacInnes and Drewe Henley), thanks to some unused outtake footage from 1977 and a digital assist from ILM (MacInnes actually came back to record new lines for the cameo). If Rogue One has any drawback, it’s that we don’t get to spend enough time with the main characters to know them very well. Nevertheless, their collective sacrifice feels genuine, so much so that your experience of re-watching A New Hope is enhanced by new knowledge of the personal cost paid to enable its events. Rogue One moves at a steady pace, its final act is simply magnificent, and the film saves its best for last, offering what is arguably the finest Darth Vader scene in the entire Star Wars franchise.
Rogue One was captured digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 6.5K) on Arri Alexa 65 cameras with Panavision APO and Hawk65 anamorphic lenses and finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate in the 2.39:1 scope aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD (and for Disney+), the film was graded for high dynamic range (only HDR10 is available here, but the Digital presentation offers Dolby Vision). The 4K image is absolutely spectacular, with gorgeous clarity and contrast. The colors are vibrant and accurate, which you can see immediately in the subtle sweep of hues on planet surfaces viewed from orbit. Image detail is crisp and well-defined, without ever appearing edgy. The texturing is terrific, visible in the ring particles of Jyn’s homeworld and later in the rock formations of the Jedha desert, the Death Star’s surface, and the stonework of the Rebel base on Yavin IV. Contrast is impressive too, with deep blacks and good shadow detail. The HDR adds a measure of richness and nuance to the palette, deepens the shadows, and allows the highlights to be genuinely eye-reactive (peak brightness is set at a surprising 4000 nits, per the disc’s metadata). It’s also worth noting that the higher datarate afforded by the disc (it averages about 60 Mbps) means that it bests the Disney+ stream (of 15-25 Mbps) by a wide margin with a noticeably more dimensional image. Not only is this a reference quality presentation, it’s easily the best looking of all of Disney’s new Star Wars 4K releases. The climactic space battle over Scarif is a jaw-dropping visual experience.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is English Dolby Atmos, with English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, and French, Spanish, and Japanese Dolby Digital Plus also available (subtitle options include English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, and Japanese). The clarity and dynamics of this mix are excellent, especially once you turn it up a bit. The soundstage is nicely wide, but also intimate sounding, with strong LFE support and aggressive surround activity. Subtle atmospherics abound—creature sounds, intercom calls in the Rebel base, etc. The height channel use in the Scarif battle is thrilling, as X-Wings and Y-Wings swoop and dive all around the Rebel fleet and shield gate. Panning and movement are smooth, dialogue is clean and natural, and Michael Giacchino’s score is presented with lovely fidelity. This is a great surround sound experience. Note that the included movie Blu-ray offers 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 Descriptive Audio, and French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.
Disney’s 4K package is a 3-disc set that includes the film in both Ultra HD and 1080p on Blu-ray (literally the exact same disc released back in 2017). The package also offers a Bonus Blu-ray of extras, but there’s no new material—all of it is carried over from the previous release. (Both Blu-rays are coded for Regions A, B, and C.) Here’s a breakdown of what you get:
DISC ONE – 4K MOVIE
There are no extras on the 4K disc.
DISC TWO – BLU-RAY MOVIE
There are no extras on the Blu-ray movie disc.
DISC THREE – BLU-RAY EXTRAS
- The Stories: A Rogue Idea (HD – 9:00)
- The Stories: Jyn: The Rebel (HD – 6:16)
- The Stories: Cassian: The Spy (HD – 4:14)
- The Stories: K-2SO: The Droid (HD – 7:43)
- The Stories: Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills (HD – 6:20)
- The Stories: Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary (HD – 8:35)
- The Stories: The Empire (HD – 8:18)
- The Stories: Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One (HD – 8:24)
- The Stories: The Princess & The Governor (HD – 5:49)
- The Stories: Epilogue: The Story Continues (HD – 4:15)
- Rogue Connections (HD – 4:31)
Again, that’s the exact same bonus disc that was included in the previous Blu-ray. It’s essentially EPK material, sorely lacking in depth. There’s no audio commentary, no trailers. There’s no deleted, extended, or alternate scenes (and we know there should be lots of them). One day, someone might produce a great feature-length documentary on the making of Rogue One, but certainly won’t find it here. Sadly, the two additional featurettes from the 2017 Target-exclusive Blu-ray 3D release—Inside the Creature Shop (6:02) and Digital Storytelling (4:31)—are also not here (they were found on a bonus DVD). The good news, however, is that when you redeem your Movies Anywhere Digital code (on a paper insert in the packaging), the two featurettes are available there. Of course, you also don’t get the actual Blu-ray 3D version of the film—the Target edition is long out of print, but you can still get a UK all-region Blu-ray 3D here on Amazon.
Rogue One is an unexpectedly great film and a fine entry in the short-lived Star Wars anthology series. It was a damn fun experience at the cinema and it’s a thrill to finally be able to enjoy the film at home in full native 4K. From the standpoint of sheer picture and sound quality, Rogue One is the highlight of Disney’s new 4K Ultra HD releases (even if its special edition content is disappointing). As such, this disc is not only recommended... it’s absolutely not to be missed.
- Bill Hunt
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