- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2017

The drama about the rebel scum who helped bring down an Empire jettisons from a blockbuster theatrical run to home entertainment rooms in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 134 minutes, 2.39:1 aspect ratio, $39.99).

Director Gareth Edwards and his team crafted a somber and emotional masterpiece last year tied to a key mythology thread in the “Star Wars” canon.

Specifically, taking place between “Revenge of the Sith” and nearer to “A New Hope,” the film relays a potential suicide mission — to steal the Death Star plans — conducted by a melting pot of ragtag mavericks in the spirit of such classics as “The Dirty Dozen,” and “The Guns of Navarone.”

Most intriguing of the characters is the group’s ultimate leader Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of the scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) who helped design the plans for the destructive Death Star.

Others on the team include Rebel Alliance operative Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), Imperial cargo pilot defector Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a blind Jedi wannabe Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) and an Imperial enforcer droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) that is reprogrammed to work with the Rebellion.

Along the way, they rankle the ire of classic villains such as the Grand Moff Tarkin (a digital recreation of late actor Peter Cushing was applied like an animated death mask over actor Guy Frank) and Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones), as well as the real Death Star project leader Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).

Not only does the film offer great characters and war-style action scenes (reference the Rebel assault on Scarif), but “Rogue One” offers a buffet of nostalgia for the serious “Star Wars” fan.

I won’t spoil all of the surprises, but a few include an appearance by Clone Wars veteran Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), Darth Vader at his castle in Mustafar relaxing in a Bacta tank, and Jyn bumping into Doctor Evazan and Ponda Baba (the pair that challenged Luke Skywalker in the Cantina bar).

Additionally, the film acts as a bit of a travelogue for the “Star Wars” universe taking viewers to a myriad of planets including an Imperial labor camp on Wobani, a Force holy city on Jedha, the Kyber Crystal mining facility of Eadu, an Imperial security facility on Scarif, and the very familiar moon of Yavin 4, headquarters to the fledgling Rebel Alliance.

With an obvious passion for the source material by all involved, top-notch performances and fantastic special effects, “Rogue One” is a harrowing journey of courage and self-sacrifice that both devotees of a galaxy far, far away and movie lovers will appreciate

High on high-definition: “Rogue One’s” debut on Blu-ray allows fans to soak in, both aurally (via a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack) and visually (via a 1080p digital transfer culled from a 4K master), the most intricate designs of the war-worn and tattered “Star Wars” universe.

For example, the first appearance of a Star Destroyer will cause an audible gasp due to its enormity, stark clarity and a booming musical score.

Specifics to also admire include the rusted underbelly of the Imperial cargo ship (with paint chipped off), an AT-AT kicking up in the sand during a beach assault, the dirt granules on a Stormtrooper’s scuffed helmet, and the well-aged and textured rebel fatigues.

And, blowing up the city on Jedha is a visual and aural symphony of destruction, a rolling wave of fiery plumes and rubble creating a wave of colors, dust and rumbling as it consumes the land and ancient structures while rolling into the home theater space like a small nuclear bomb exploding.

Now, unfortunately, the high-definition is so good that it nearly ruins some of the special-effects magic used to resurrect a few characters.

Specifically, Grand Moff Tarkin looks slightly non-lifelike now and more like a dynamically animated human in Pixar’s “Ratatouille.”

However, Princess Leia’s appearance fares much better, possibly because of her limited screen time and limited facial motions.

Despite that minor annoyance, I can only grit my teeth and wonder what the film might look like if Disney got aboard the 4K UHD bandwagon.

Best extras: With the illusive optional commentary track from Mr. Edwards not to be found, viewers must settle for 11 featurettes offering a total of 73 minutes of background on the movie.

Most of them focus on the genesis of the new characters with abbreviated segments devoted to Jyn, Cassian, Baze, Chirrut, Bodhi, Saw Gerrera and the droid K-2SO (the anti C-3PO) as well as the Empire villains.

Interviews throughout the pieces feature all of the primary cast and such notable production staff as: Mr. Edwards; Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy; executive producer and visual effects supervisor John Knoll; “Star Wars” story guru Pablo Hidalgo; screenwriter Gary Whitta, director of photography Greig Frasier; senior art director Gary Tomkins; production designer Neil Lamont; and computer graphics supervisor Andrew Booth, to name a few.

Additionally, a much-too-short segment called “Rogue Connections” looks at some of the mythology from the film culled from past “Star Wars” movies such as the Robotank (from “Revenge of the Sith”), an Imperial Droid (same model in “The Empire Strikes Back”), and the game Dejarik using real and not holographic pieces (originally seen in “A New Hope”).

Alas, I could have used more. Viewers are not treated to any deleted or extended scenes, not even an infamous gag reel.

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