The reborn Star Wars movie universe continues in exhilarating fashion with this adventure that gives the main Luke/Leia narrative a swerve and feels all the better for it. While 2015's The Force Awakens got somewhat bogged down in rehashing old Star Wars plots and bringing back old cast members, Rogue One always feels fresh and is populated by (mostly) new characters.
As you'll no doubt be aware, the story here takes its cue from the opening text crawl of Episode IV: A New Hope: 'Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire. During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon...'.
We're in prequel territory, then, following events that lead right up to how the franchise began, with Felicity Jones' reluctant rebel trying to track down her father (Mads Mikkelsen), a research scientist brow-beaten into designing the Death Star who claims the new weapon has an inherent flaw.
Along for the ride are Riz Ahmed's defecting Imperial pilot, Diego Luna's Rebel Alliance officer, Donnie Yen's blind fighter (and Force aficionado) and lumbering droid K-2SO, who has a wickedly deadpan sense of humour. Maintaining continuity with Rogue One's mother franchise and keeping Dark Side fans on side are Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin (a CGI Peter Cushing).
With plenty of new characters on screen, this iteration of Star Wars can take a while to get used to, and it helps that the production design harks back to Episode IV and manages to make the film look concurrent to a movie that's 40 years old – albeit with far superior SFX. Director Gareth Edwards proves an inspired choice too, bringing some of the eye for largescale beauty (and destruction) he showcased in 2014's Godzilla.
Set-piece moments, like a Death Star-assisted city annihilation, are wonderfully staged, while the final act, which cuts between a ground-based skirmish, stealth raid on a vault and Rebel v Empire space battle, is perhaps the most thrilling sequence the whole saga has yet delivered.
As the first venture outside of the familiar Star Wars timeline, Rogue One is a triumph. It's also a fine example that sometimes it pays to ignore all the rumours about reshoots and last-minute edits, and wait to judge the finished product.
Picture: This Full HD Blu-ray offers a delightful image, yet one that's a tale of two halves.
From the beginning, Rogue One really embraces its dark side. As Imperial ships approach the planet of Lah'mu in the opening moments, if your display's black levels are set incorrectly you may wonder what's going on. Later, scenes on Jedha appear dark and grubby, as do those at the rainy research facility on the planet Eadu. This is then totally contrasted by the bright tropical look of Scarif (filmed at Laamu Atoll in Maldives), where lush blues and greens feel diametrically opposite to the first two-thirds of the movie. The grade by colourist Mitch Poulson moves from mostly muted tones to searing eye-candy.
Yet even in darker moments there's plenty of shadow detail in the 2.40:1 picture, from the flecks of purple present in Lah'mu's volcanic landscape, and writing on the rocks where the young Jyn Erso is hiding, to the battle-worn clothing of the Rebel crew.
The image has no banding or contouring visible, a miracle considering the dynamic range it is covering. There's a natural sharpness to it, never looking forced or oversharpened. Shadow delineation is natural.
Most of the live action was lensed in Ultra Panavision 65mm and effects-based shots captured on the IMAX wide dynamic range Alexa 65 digital camera. The film was then mastered at 4K. Again, we are left wondering what it would look like on UHD Blu-ray in HDR – we can only hope that Disney will release it in that format sooner rather than later.
Picture rating: 5/5
Audio: This disc carries only a 'vanilla' DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, while the theatrical mix was in full Dolby Atmos. No doubt any re-release on UHD Blu-ray will carry an Atmos track but for the moment it's 7.1. The good news is that you're still in for a sonic treat.
It's truly a full-on experience, from sequences on Lah'mu to the test firing of the Death Star and frenetic final-act battle scenes. Dialogue is well balanced and clear, and the musical score by Michael Giacchino is well integrated, never sounding just stuck on. All channels are consistently used to produce an envelope of sound that puts you right in the middle of the action and never lets up.
LFE is deep and extensive; the destruction of Jedha is a workout for your sub, while the following escape sequence is a tour de force of surround effects placement that will be used as demo fodder for years to come.
Keep an ear out for a Wilhelm Scream or two. This may be a spin-off, but it continues that particular Star Wars tradition.
Audio rating: 5/5
Extras: A second Blu-ray platter is employedto house all of the extras, but we expect most fans will still feel rather short-changed.
In place of a single over-arching documentary, Rogue One instead serves up a collection of 10 behind-the-scenes featurettes. Clocking in at anywhere between four and nine minutes, they mainly focus on the cast and their characters, although there are a couple of more interesting pieces that explore the production design and the digital recreation of a couple of franchise icons. The only other extra is a five-minute video exploring the myriad Star Wars connections and Easter Eggs hidden in the film.
Given all of the reshoots and restructuring the film apparently underwent we were hoping for much more – at the very least, some of the deleted scenes that were glimpsed in the film's trailers, or a chat track from Gareth Edwards
Extras rating: 2.5/5
We say: A barnstorming new addition to the Star Wars universe on a top-quality Blu-ray.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Walt Disney, All-region BD, £25
HCC VERDICT: 4.5/5
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