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Rogue One | Film & 4K Blu-ray Review

Film: A

If I'm being completely honest, Rogue One has been one of the most enjoyable films for me in the Star Wars franchise. While it can't top the originality and well-developed interactions between the characters of the Original Trilogy (OT), it is one, if not the most, exhilarating and exciting entry in the franchise, except perhaps for The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi (that's a lot of hot takes in one sentence, I know). While it is obviously set within the same universe, and the bulk of it seems to be happening mere days before A New Hope, they feel like completely different films, almost oposites in tone, in fact. And that's what sets it apart from the rest. Whereas A New Hope is very light and easy going in terms of its galactic adventure despite its war themes, Rogue One takes it extremely seriously, making it perhaps the grittiest entry in the universe.

In a galaxy far away, Lyra, Galen, and their daughter Jyn, are hiding from the Galactic Empire. Galen was one of the top scientists developing a weapon of mass destruction for the Empire, the Death Star. He has effectively defected from his post, running away and hiding, taking his family with him after realizing the destruction and gloom which the weapon would bring to the galaxy. Unfortunately, the Empire has found them, and at the last second Jyn has managed to hide while her mother is killed and her dad is taken away. Years later, she has become a selfish but skilled thief who is only trying to survive unnoticed under the political rule of the Empire. While the Rebellion is doing everything they can to gain an advantage over the Empire, they realize Galen can provide valuable information to help destroy the Death Star before it is completed. Cassian, a Rebel, is sent to make contact with Jyn in an effort to rescue her father. At the same time, a pilot has defected with an important message from Galen. They manage to intercept the pilot and Jyn sees the message from her father. While she thinks they are on their way to rescue him, Cassian receives orders to kill him to prevent the Death Star from being completed.

Perhaps the greatest strength of Rogue One is its ability to have a number of main characters who are basically antiheroes while still making us care for them. They are not the Solo-type antiheroes who have fun and do not take themselves too seriously while scheming others, mind you, but rather, antiheroes who have become so due to the oppression and loss they have suffered throughout their lives, living within a broad spectrum of grey moral areas. Even so, the script manages to make us invested in their lives and efforts to stop the Empire. And despite those ambiguous moral decisions they make throughout the film, they help to carry the tone of the film very well and they also reinforce the war themes and its effects on people which the script explores with good subtlety.

The story is a bit low on character development when comparing it to the other films in the franchise, but that's something that keeps Rogue One from becoming a perfect film rather than an excellent one. There are rumblings, however, that the studio asked the director to cut a chunk of footage to keep the running time shorter, making some of the character development end up on the cutting floor. Even then, there are brief but excellent moments of character development throughout the film. They add up nicely so that at the end you really feel how everyone has changed despite the insurmountable odds and depressive atmosphere of the Empiric oppression, greatly reinforced by the top-notch acting of basically everyone playing the main characters. The standout is Felicity Jones, playing a bitter Jyn who has lost all sight of hope and purpose until she is drawn into the political conflict once again. It's not all doom and gloom, however, with K-2SO (an android with a twist) providing some nice sarcastic humor, and actually helping to bring out to the surface the more humane and sensitive side of Cassian and Jyn, who are perhaps the most bitter of all the characters in the story. The humor can feel a tad bit forced a couple times, but thankfully it does not ruin the grittiness of the film, and the sarcastic nature of it goes well with the more serious tone, allowing the audience to breath and relax on occasion.

These antiheroes and their morally-ambiguous actions are all woven tightly within exhilarating action, suspense, character interactions, and that aforementioned humor. Gareth Edwards really has a good feel for keeping everything at a neck-breaking pace without sacrificing much substance. He is also very precise at incrementing the tension and stakes little by little as the story progresses, with everything exploding, literally and figuratively, during the climax. By the end, it is such an overwhelming mix of emotions, from edge of your seat suspense, to action mixed with drama and fan favorite moments, that I very specifically remember having to hold back my reactions to keep myself from freaking out in the middle of the theater the first time I saw it. I have seen it a few more times, and even though it is emotionally exhausting, it still feels very rewarding and satisfying, even providing more weight to one of the most important plot elements of A New Hope. The film also has an excellent score, amazing cinematography, and other great technical and artistic qualities that I just do not have time to explore here. Either way, it should go without saying that it is one of my favorite chapters in the Star Wars franchise. Despite having a very different tone and take on the universe, it is highly rewarding, and despite the generally good ratings I'd still say that it is somewhat underrated.

I think this is pretty self-revelatory. The water droplets, stitching, the grain, and even the white gradations look better on the 4K transfer.

Picture: 4.75 / 5

Rogue One hits the 4K disc format with an outstanding 4K transfer that makes excellent use out of most of the expanded qualities available on the higher format. It is just short of reference-quality, mainly due to the stylistic choices in the cinematography and color grading, but even then, I doubt anyone will have anything justifiable to complain about. Shot entirely on the ARRI ALEXA 65 Camera (and actually being the first feature film shot entirely on it), fine detail is exquisite throughout. Textures on clothing and uniforms, sand, vegetation, and even on CGI objects like spaceships are impressive throughout, and combined with the cinematography, they are quite jaw dropping at times. The first time the Death Star is revealed, it blends with outer space as its tiny lights scattered about show impressive definition against the dark backdrop of the weapon. The scene towards the end when one of our main characters dies on the beach, shows tiny pebbles of sand on his face with a level of detail that I pretty much only see on transfers derived from 4K-restored film negatives. Given the camera (which can shoot up to 6K), the Ultra Panavision 70 lenses used, and the resolution it was delivered at (4096 x 1716 which is basically 4K), the high level of detail is not surprising. And looking back, Gareth Edwards and cinematographer Greig Fraser were essentially breaking ground by making the first film shot entirely on such a detailed and higher-end camera.

The movie had grain added in post-production, and it makes the whole picture look very filmic and cinematic while also complimenting the gritty and darker tone of the story with exceptional results. The grain can be a bit heavy at times, but it does not rob away from anything in the picture, and on the contrary, I think it makes everything on the screen look better and more stylized, not only due to the added grain, but also due to the lenses which up until then had only been used to shoot on film, thereby paying tribute to the Original Trilogy by capturing such high levels of fine detail while harking back to the more classic film format with the grain and old-school camera lenses. All the while combining all that with a more modern and darker tone for the intended grittier style. And thanks to the higher resolution, the grain also ends up looking better resolved and more refined, resulting in a more authentic look that looks quite outstanding on bigger displays.

Look at the hair strands on the left-most side and the wrinkles and pores on his face.

HDR is impressive as well. It is worth noting that all the other Star Wars films in the franchise have had a max display luminance of 1000 nits, and this is the only one that was mastered with a max luminance of 4000 nits. While this does not necessarily mean it is the one that has the most use of higher dynamic range, it very well might be, as from beginning to end the picture shows a very wide gap between its darker and brighter objects where appropriate while not compromising either end of that range or anything in between. Different light sources pierce the dark interiors with impressive results, be it in the cell where Jyn is imprisoned towards the beginning of the movie, the teal lines of the geo data in the background of the dark control room where she is trying to convince the Rebels her father designed a weakness in the Death Star, different explosions and sparks, or the various reflections of the suns on the spaceships and androids. It makes the picture pop, with very punchy contrast. Shadow detail is great, and gradations in the brighter objects are never lost, with plenty of textures and patterns visible despite the higher brightness. The rainy scene when Jyn is trying to save her father shows an outstanding array of black levels as the great majority happens in very low-light conditions, and yet, everything is visible and easy to make out without making the elements look artificially brighter.

The only reason why this does not get a reference-quality score is that wider color is pretty much non-existent. It is not a fault of the transfer at all, as by design the whole picture stays mostly in shades of white, darker grays, and blue. There are a few exceptions such as the red garments of Chirrut, or the almost teal-looking water on the beach during the last act, but for the most part the colors are appropriately monochromatic. Compression is practically perfect with no visible artifacts whatsoever. On the whole, the picture is one of the most impressively cinematic transfers I have seen in quite a while, complimenting the visuals and outstanding cinematography extremely well, making it perhaps the best transfer that is also the most stylized in the Star Wars franchise.

Notice how some of the stars disappear in the 1080p transfer. Also look at how more defined the grain and textures on the structure are, including the pole of the small red light towards the bottom left of the screenshot.

Audio: 4.75 / 5

On the whole, the track is quite excellent, and just a bit shy of being demo-worthy. Clarity is outstanding, be it voices, the score, or the various sci-fi effects. Dynamic range is pretty broad as well, with a nice separation between the high, mid, and low frequencies. The bass (low frequencies) hit quite nicely, adding some good heft and punch to the various action sequences with explosions, shootings, and crashes. Surrounds are also in constant use, be it with ambiance effects like voices and chatter, rain, or more discrete objects like spacehips flying from various directions or the different shootings, kicks, and punches during fighting sequecnes. It sounds very realistic, or as realistic as this much sci-fi can possibly sound.

While the 7.1 bed of this Dolby Atmos mix sounds quite outstanding, the heights are moderately used. Make no mistake, you'll hear them in key moments such as when the Death Star is first used on the moon and the structure where Jyn and her allies are starts to crumble and crack, as well as when the debri on the planet threatens to engulf their spaceship as they make a hurried escape. Other moments include lightning from the storm when they find Jyn's father, or some of the spaceships flying above you. On the whole, however, height effects sound a bit restrainded given the on-screen action, and I'd argue the Dolby Atmos mix on the 4K disc of Revenge of the Sith sounds more impressive than this one. That's not to say it's dissapointing at all, quite the opposite, in fact. It's just that it comes up just a bit short of being demo worthy for a 3D sound mix.

Pretty self-revelatory. The grain is finer on the 4K disc, and the details on Vader's clothes and gadgets are more detailed.

Bonus Features: 3.25 / 5

All of the special features are included on the standard blu-ray. There is not any new bonus content compared to the previous standard release, but what was already there is still pretty decent:

Each is somewhat short, totaling to just over an hour of extra content, but they do cover a lot aspects of the film, including pre-production, production, the story, and discussions about the characters.

Overall: Must Own

While it is arguably not the best entry in the Star Wars franchise, it is nonetheless one of the most exciting and satisfying stories in the universe. Gareth Edwards has taken what most would consifer a McGuffin from A New Hope and used it to create a whole backstory for it complete with great characters and their sometimes dubious moral decisions which greatly capture and enhance the war themes and grittiness of the story. It is, at least in my opinion, an outstanding artistic and technical achievement, which thankfully this 4K transfer does excellent justice to. Were it not for a few stylistic choices, this would've ended up as demo material for both its Picture and Audio. And despite my minor reservations with both, I would not be surprised if people used this disc to show-off their systems. The cinematography coupled with the high-end cameras, analogue-y lenses, and added grain make it one of the most unique but beautiful transfers I've seen on the format. And while I thought the Dolby Atmos track could have used the height layer a bit more, everything else about it is oustanding. That coupled with a pretty decent amount of bonus content, makes this something everyone should have in their collection, especially if you like Star Wars.

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NOTE: The screenshots above (including the ones from the slider comparisons) were converted from 10 bit HDR to 8 bit SDR. Since I am still playing around with tone-mapping to convert the 4K versions to SDR, the highlights and colors in the pictures should be taken with a grain of salt.

Review Equipment:

Display: LG OLED77C9 TV | 7.1.4 Sound: Denon AVR-X4400H, Sony Stereo (used as an amplifier), Klipsch: RP-440C, RP-250F x 2 (fronts), RP-150M x 4 (surrounds), RP-140SA x 4 (ceiling heights), R-10SW | 4K Disc Players: Oppo UDP-203 (Region Free & Dolby Vision), Panasonic DP-UB820 | Streaming Player: Apple TV 4K | Video-Game Systems: Xbox One X, PS4 with PSVR, Valve Index VR, & Custom Built PC (ROG MAXIMUS XI HERO, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 SUPER, Intel Core i9-9900K Processor, 32GB RAM, 1TB SSD) | Remotes: Logitech Harmony Elite Remote Control with Hub and iPad App