Extra, Extra: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

You've all seen the movie and will be buying this anyway, but are the extras worth your time?

As sales of physical discs (Blu-ray and DVD) decline, the idea of bonus features becomes less and less essential for new, mainstream films. There will always be a market for library titles with extensive retrospective commentaries and documentaries (see: Criterion, Scream Factory, etc), but for new films it's a dying trend. "Extra, Extra" is an attempt to encourage the studios not to give up on us disc champions, by mostly skipping over the film itself (which you can find reviews for anywhere) and focusing on the bonus features they were kind enough to include. Viva la physical media!

After a torturous wait of three months and change, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is finally on Blu-ray, so you can relive the nostalgic memories of fifteen weeks ago without shelling out theater ticket prices. I am being sarcastic, of course - the film is still playing on hundreds of screens and just last weekend ranked 15th on the box office chart. For a movie that is currently the 7th highest grossing film of all time (no inflation), that seems like a rather quick turnaround to home video even by modern standards, so I think it's safe to say that we can expect a more jam-packed edition coming later this year. After all, that's what they did with The Force Awakens, which was also released in the first week of April only to come out with new bells and whistles in November, in time to soak up holiday sales and also help promote Rogue One. And gee, what do you know, Episode VIII: The Last Jedi is coming out this December!

Yes, I'm a bit cynical about these practices; I'm not even the world's biggest fan of the franchise and I have somehow managed to buy the first six films about four times each, and if I ever want the commentary for Force Awakens I guess I'll have to buy that again, since I'm a dummy who bought the first release. But even with all that in mind, I jumped at the chance to get an early copy of Rogue One, because I thought it would make for an interesting "Extra, Extra" installment, given the film's high-profile (and blatantly obvious) reworking. With eleven featurettes running the gamut from the film's original conception to its premiere, surely the elephant in the room would be addressed, if not directly but at least between the lines? Perhaps we'd see behind the scenes footage of scenes that didn't make the cut? 

Alas, those looking for "dirt" will be disappointed. As far as the bonus features are concerned, this was the smoothest sailing production of all time, because despite the film's massive success (and obviously pleased audiences), there isn't as much as a single mention of reshoots*. Also absent is Tony Gilroy, who is the credited co-writer and was the director of the reshoots, taking over for (sole credited) director Gareth Edwards. There is only a single mention of Gilroy to be found in its 70 plus minutes of bonus material, and needless to say he doesn't even get to offer his two cents in interviews as the entire cast, Edwards, co-writer Chris Weitz, story creators John Knoll and Gary Whitta, producer Kathleen Kennedy, etc, etc. Even if you weren't aware of any of the film's restructuring, you might notice Gilroy seems to be the only primarily credited member of the film that doesn't appear. Granted, there's no law saying that a studio has to give us the whole story on a Blu-ray, but when the film's production woes were so high profile, it almost feels shady that Gilroy doesn't get to offer promotional sound bites like his colleagues.

But hey, if you don't care about how the third act might have gone, or why like 90% of the film's first trailer doesn't appear in the movie, and just want the movie (which I do enjoy, by the way) and a few traditional featurettes to make your purchase worthwhile, then I am happy to report the disc is a satisfying one. All of the bonus features are housed on a second disc, allowing the maximum bit space for the film itself - obviously, it looks terrific and the 7.1 sound will be a good candidate for home theater testing (or showing off) for the foreseeable future (for those who may not have read previous "Extra, Extra" columns - I only fully dive into A/V quality if there's a problem or if it's a new restoration of a previously released disc, because otherwise we can assume in this day and age that the major studios know what they're doing). Several languages are available for both the audio and subtitles, and there is also a descriptive audio track, for the folks who watch modern Star Wars movies for the rich plots and characters, not the space battles and FX.

As mentioned, the actual bonus features are on a second disc, which gives you a menu listing "The Stories", "Rogue Connections", and, for some reason, "Info", which is merely the familiar warning about how whatever the people say in the interviews is their own thoughts, not the opinions of the studio or their partners. Why this needs to get its own menu (and why it's even there at all on a disc that is devoid of anything like an opinion), or why it's called "Info", is beyond me. As for "Rogue Connections", it's a fun little four and a half minute reel that highlights a number of the film's in-jokes and easter eggs, such as how that Droid from Hoth shows up floating behind Jyn and Cassian during a scene on Jedha, and how Rian Johnson (Last Jedi's director, for anyone reading this who might not be aware) has a cameo as one of the technicians on the Death Star. It's also where you'll find that sole mention of Gilroy, as his voice is the one we hear arguing with Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) when he comes up with the "Rogue One" call sign/title. 

That leaves "The Stories", which is a collection of ten featurettes that you can "Play All" as a 65-70 minute documentary. Most of them focus mainly on the characters and the actors playing them, so if you don't care much about that sort of thing the ones to watch are "A Rogue Idea", "Visions of Hope", "The Princess & The Governor" and "Epilogue", as they're the ones that focus on the film's inception, production, and aftermath. Knoll dominates "A Rogue Idea", which starts with his background of how he got involved with ILM (as a teen, he visited their Van Nuys office in 1978 and got to see Empire models being built!) and worked his way up the chain over the years until he became one of their head VFX supervisors. It's here where we learn that the film's plot stemmed from an idea he had years ago and (nervously) pitched it to Kennedy when the idea of doing stand-alone anthology films was first brought up, and that it seemingly went through a lot of development before Edwards and the writers were involved. We're also treated to some early character sketches, which largely differ from the ones they ended up using - the group originally had an alien among their number, which made me smile as while watching the movie the first time I wondered why the group was so human-centric when the rebellion involved any number of races. As for Edwards, he got the gig primarily based on Monsters (not Godzilla), and proves his adoration for the series with 2005 photos showing him visiting the original films' Tunisian shooting locations for his birthday. 

"Visions of Hope" is the one that I wish ran longer (they all run 6-8 minutes), as it only briefly tackled something that was an issue in the prequels - how to make the look of the film fit with what existed when they have the capability to do so much more. There's a funny bit where Edwards points out that the grills on the original Stormtrooper masks were merely stickers to give the illusion of such a design, and how that sort of thing might have been fine for back then but nowadays, with 4K and high-def and all that, it would be noticed right away. "The Princess & The Governor" might be the one people skip right ahead to, because as you can probably tell from the title it showcases how Tarkin and Leia were brought to "life" with digital trickery and stand-ins - there's priceless footage of both Guy Henry (who says he's not doing an impression, but merely trying to get the "essence" of Peter Cushing) and Ingvild Deila (Leia) sitting on set with New Hope on their iPad, watching closeups and trying to mimic their movements/expressions best they can. Of course, neither actor knew how goddamn creepy their on-screen replacements would look (Tarkin looked OK in his first shot, but as the film progressed he looked more nightmarish to my eyes), so maybe they wouldn't have bothered with the effort if they knew it wouldn't ultimately mean much - if Tarkin was doing cartwheels around the room I wouldn't be as unnerved as I was just looking at him talking. As for "Epilogue", it's mostly footage from the premiere, with a very sweet moment featuring some Asian fans saying how happy they were to be represented so well in this new film (indeed, Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang are the first major Asian characters in the series, with previous ones being cut entirely out of the film or limited to all-but-anonymous pilots and such).

The other six pieces focus on the primary characters, though some of them double up. "Jyn: The Rebel" seems to be the longest, featuring Felicity Jones doing stunts, talking about her character, etc., with Edwards adding that whenever he feels like he has the hardest job on the movie, he has to remember that Felicity's is harder, given that she had to carry the film (and that film being the first in the series to not focus on the Skywalker family or include any returning characters in major roles). "Cassian: The Spy" is fun because you get more insight into Diego Luna's character than the film itself offers, and the fact that Luna is Mexican is also highlighted (by Pablo Hidalgo, one of the Lucasfilm story execs), as Star Wars is hugely popular there but the series has lacked a Mexican character of note. Along with the sentiment for the Asian fans on the "Epilogue" piece, I couldn't help but wonder if they should have had an entire piece focusing on how the film has shown more diversity than the series has offered thus far, and how it's hopefully a sign of things to come.

"K-2SO: The Droid" is probably the most comical piece, as it has priceless footage of poor Alan Tudyk wearing this goofy rig that gives his co-stars the right eyeline to look at, before they rethought their approach and gave him a pair of stilt-shoes so that his actual face would be in the right spot. But whatever version of his motion-capture costume he's wearing, it's never not amusing to watch footage of the scenes being shot, as the other actors are in full costume and he's running around looking like he's wearing a Nascar outfit made out of Lego. And he compares his experience to that of his droid predecessors, saying how even though K-2 was a digital creation (not a costume like C-3PO) he still wanted that natural chemistry and interaction with his co-stars, as opposed to just being the voice behind a tennis ball they had to look at for five months (and it pays off; it's one of the most flawless all-digital characters I've ever seen). "Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills" kicks off with Yen and Jiang both revealing that their kids were even more excited than they were that they'd be in a Star Wars film (per Yen, his son said "You're finally cool!"). And, like Cassian's piece, you get a bit more background for the two characters, who despite being the most memorable new additions are probably the least developed in the film itself. 

It's also here where I'll note - hopefully unnecessarily - that you shouldn't watch the bonus features before seeing the film. They might be on the fluffy side, but they weren't designed as promotional pieces, and they do often spoil the characters' fates. And in turn, I'll be doing the same here, so skip the next paragraph if you haven't seen the film.

"Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary" showcases Ahmed and Forest Whitaker talking about their characters, and Ahmed interestingly says that one of the first things he shot was his death scene, though naturally it's unclear whether or not it was the SAME death scene we saw. As Film Crit Hulk pointed out in his column, his backstory as a pilot has zero bearing on his role in the narrative, so this would have been a good place to highlight some of the changes, as it's very possible that he might have died, you know, being a pilot at some point, instead of blowing up trying to push a button. Saw Gerrera is an interesting character for the film as he originated in the Clone Wars animated series (and was created by Lucas, who otherwise had little involvement with the film's story), so this is a good one to watch for those who, like me, don't pay much attention to the "extended universe" stuff and wasn't privy to Saw's significance beyond what we learn in the film itself. Whitaker also interestingly points out that his breathing apparatus was a fun way to get the audience wondering if he'd go Dark Side or not, as it makes him sound a lot like a certain iconic villain.

Speaking of Vader, the final character driven piece is simply called "The Empire", and it showcases the former Anakin as well as Krennic, the film's primary villain and the one that I wish we could see again in other movies. Not only is Ben Mendelsohn a great actor who I can happily watch in anything, but I love the idea of a typically evil Empire guy who also kind of comes off as that asshole at the office who complains about his superiors behind their backs and doesn't know his place (my favorite scene in the movie is probably when he visits Vader and tries to grovel, something Vader has no patience for and starts force choking him just to shut him up). Oddly it's also where Galen Erso is highlighted, even though he's a good guy and is played by Mads Mikkelsen, which means he should get his own hour-long piece to just do whatever he wants, instead of sharing it with others. Oh well. Vader's inclusion is saved for last, and is more promotional than the others, focusing mainly on the cast/crew geeking out about the fact that he was even in the thing.

Ultimately, I'd say the bonus features are probably for casual fans of the movie, not hardcore ones who (we can assume) will be better served later with the special-er special edition. In this day and age, 70 minutes' worth of supplements is certainly nothing to dismiss, but this is Star Wars! If there were a five-hour piece on some unnamed rebel pilot there would be people who would happily watch it and only complain that it wasn't longer. But Force Awakens' disc offered twice as much content (including deleted scenes) on its first bow before adding even more stuff (plus a commentary) later, so it's hard not to feel like Rogue One - which I think is a better overall film, honestly - is getting stiffed a bit. Perhaps it's because so much of the content they would normally include (i.e. deleted scenes) would make the "thing that cannot be mentioned" too hard to avoid? I assume we can count out ever getting an Edwards commentary track unless they want to admit that he wasn't the only one calling the shots (or if they want to just let the track go silent for the final forty minutes of the film), but perhaps a few of the actors can be rounded up for one? It seems like Luna and Tudyk have great chemistry based on the few moments' of behind the scenes footage we see of them together, so perhaps that can be fun even if they're under instruction not to mention anything they shot that had to be thrown away or was directed by someone else. Or perhaps this is all we'll get, because as a non-Episode entry it might not be as "worthy" of the double/triple/etc.-dipping that we've come to expect from these films. Luckily, as long as you just want a little extra butter on your bread instead of another whole slice, this release does right by the people who mainly want the film, with enough of a behind the scenes look to prove that despite whatever issues may have occurred behind the scenes, the cast and crew were all dedicated to delivering a Star Wars film that series' fans would enjoy.

The release also has a DVD for your sad cousin who hasn't upgraded to Blu-ray yet.

* The teasers/trailers for the film itself are absent from the bonus features as well, further burying that missing footage to our memories. But this is no conspiracy, as recent Disney discs very rarely include the film's own marketing material - Force Awakens didn't have them on its releases, either.

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