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  • Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Blu-ray Review

    Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

    Director: Gareth Edwards

    Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Jiang Wen & Forest Whitaker

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    During a time of ruthless Imperial rule, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story finds an unlikely band of heroes headed by the daring Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything) and rebel spy Cassian Andor (Diego Luna, The Terminal) as they plot to steal the coveted plans to the Empire’s most destructive weapon, the Death Star.  Ben Mendelsohn (Una), Donnie Yen (Ip Man), Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange), Alan Tudyk (Frozen), Jiang Wen (The Sun Also Rises) and Forest Whitaker (Arrival) costar.

    Marking the first of many planned stand-alone films in the popular sci-fi saga, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story delivers an action-packed and emotionally riveting tale based on a crucial footnote, often referred to but never explored in the film universe on such a profound scale.  Following the murder of her mother and capturing of her scientist father (Mikkelsen) fifteen years ago, Jyn Erso, resorting to petty theft and anything else to survive in the war-ravaged world the Empire has fashioned, is rescued from incarceration by rebels with an imperative message from her thought to be dead father, Galen Erso.  Using his brilliance to design the Empire’s most invaluable weapon for total domination, Galen alerts Jyn of the Death Star’s near completion and its sole vulnerability.  Aided by rebel officer Cassian Andor and the series’ most hilariously blunt droid to date, K-2SO (Tudyk), to retrieve the elder Erso in an effort to assist the Alliance, Jyn must scour distant and dangerous worlds, confront old foes and ensure the plans to the Death Star are captured in a mission built entirely on hope and outnumbered by the odds.  

    A far riskier endeavor than its previous Episode-connected installment, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story forges on with an adventure, visually and thematically, engrained in the spirit of Lucas’ franchise-starting wave of films.  Grittier and focusing on a new breed of unlikely and richly diverse heroes that come together to aid Jyn’s deathly mission, the prequel to A New Hope flourishes with stunning visual effects and a groundbreaking achievement that resurrects the deceased Peter Cushing’s likeness to reprise his role as Grand Moff Tarkin.  As strong and appealing as these new rebels including, the determined Jyn and blind Force believer Chirrut Îmwe (Yen) are individually, their chemistry as a unit lacks and is a far cry from the charming connections seen between the stars of George Lucas’ original trilogy.  While character development issues, also present in his 2014 Godzilla reboot are repeated here, Director Gareth Edwards handles the wealth of the narrative with a steady hand and an obvious appreciation for the detailed universe.  Complimented by a distinct yet familiar score by Michael Giacchino (Tomorrowland, Doctor Strange) that seamlessly taps into John Williams’ beloved themes and featuring the most viciously exciting appearance by Darth Vader on film yet, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, although leading to an unavoidably predictable finale, is a thrilling journey into the galaxy’s past that stands strongly on its own merits.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.39:1 aspect ratio.  Immaculately handled, the digital photography detailing the various planet landscapes and colder color textures seen early in the film make for a flawlessly crisp picture.  Furthermore, skin tones are naturally preserved with the deepest of black levels observed during high-flying space battles, death trooper armor and of course, Darth Vader’s iconic garb.  A picturesque high-definition experience on all fronts, the Force is triumphantly strong with this transfer.  Equipped with a fittingly perfect DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that delivers dialogue with the swiftest of precision, Michael Giacchino’s swelling score boldly supports the spectacular visuals while, the whizzing sounds of TIE fighters, X-wings and explosive laser blasts all make reference-worthy statements on the track.

    Respectably stocked and presented on a separate disc, supplements found under The Stories banner include, A Rogue Idea (9:00) that finds ILM’s John Knoll discussing how he came up with the film’s concept that would ultimately launch the Star Wars stand-alone projects, Jyn: The Rebel (6:16) explores the lead character’s traits and backstory with insight from Actress Felicity Jones, Cassian: The Spy (4:14) hosts Actor Diego Luna as he discusses Cassian’s own complexities being a hero against immeasurable odds, K-2SO: The Droid (7:43) details the technical process bringing the droid to life through Alan Tudyk’s performance, Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills (6:20) digs deeper into the characters’ backstories and the Chinese superstars playing them, Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary (8:35) finds Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and Riz Ahmed reflecting on their very unique roles as an extremist rebel leader and Imperial pilot gone rogue while, The Empire (8:18) gives a revealing look into the film’s antagonists, Visions of Hope: The Look of Rogue One (8:24) explores the production’s challenge with making a film that could visually fit into the realm of the original trilogy’s appearance, The Princess & The Governor (5:49) sheds light on the impressive movie magic that brought a younger Princess Leia and Governor Tarkin back to the big-screen and Epilogue: The Story Continues (4:15) finds the filmmakers and cast reflecting on the experience with footage from the film’s world premiere included.  In addition, Rogue Connections (4:31) points out all the Easter eggs and references to other films in the Star Wars universe found in the film with a DVD edition and Digital HD Code concluding the bonus feature offerings.

    Following up on the momentum of The Force Awakens, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story successfully charts a new course in a universe of stand-alone features that overwhelmingly soars on its first flight.  Minor character development hiccups aside, the prequel invites viewers back to a familiar world, this time told via strangers eyes, who win the affections of its audience through compelling performances and mesmerizing visual effects.  While its ultimate destination may be easily foreseen, the journey and near-impossible mission at hand is as exciting as one could hope for from a new chapter in the Star Wars universe.  Unsurprisingly, Disney’s high-definition presentation is a lavish-looking, reference worthy example of excellence with a serviceable amount of supplements bested only by its own Target exclusive release containing additional on-disc content and a 3D presentation.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available April 4th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Vanessa Marshall & Tiya Sircar

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Returning to a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two reconvenes with the crew of the Ghost as they continue their pursuit for freedom under the rule of the Galactic Empire.  As young Ezra continues his own Jedi training under the disciplined Kanan, the rebels find themselves increasingly targeted by new threats from the dark side causing them to forge alliances with others on their journeys.

    Rustling the feathers of the feared Galactic Empire, Darth Vader, aided by fellow Inquisitors, make the capture of the Ghost crew a priority in this action-packed sophomore season of Star Wars Rebels.  With risks increasing and danger constant, the combative freedom fighters join forces with former clone trooper Captain Rex, much to the discontent of Kanan whose reminders of the doomed Clone Wars are far too fresh to initially trust Rex.  Establishing unlikely friendships and trusted alliances with those fighting mutual causes, the Ghost crew’s missions to aid those suffering around the galaxy is met with lethal force from a double threat of new Inquisitors (voiced by Philip Anthony-Rodriguez and Sarah Michelle Gellar respectively).  Richly conceived and crafting even stronger character developments, the second season of Star Wars Rebels finds common themes of teamwork and resisting responsibility central to the proceedings as Ezra’s continued Jedi education and conflicted emotions inch the character forward on his journey of self-discovery.  With appearances from fan-favorite characters including, Ahsoka Tano (who becomes a crucial ally to the rebels), Emperor Palpatine and Princess Leia who the crew aids on a secret mission, Star Wars Rebels continues the turbulent trials of the Ghost when Zeb must work with the evil Agent Kallus in order for both to survive a hostile planet while, the spunky Chopper takes kindly to an Imperial droid during a location scout for a new rebel base.  Unquestionably more intense than its debut season, Star Wars Rebels ups the ante with an epic conclusion involving Kanan, Ezra and Ahsoka discovering a living Darth Maul at a sacred temple with the powers of the dark side tempting the young Padawan like never before.  Intensely cinematic, humorous and wildly exciting, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two raises the bar once again with its grandiose storytelling taking our characters into new and potentially darker territories in the future to come.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents all 22 episodes of Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two with 1080p transfers, sporting 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  As colorfully crisp as any theatrically released animated feature, Star Wars Rebels delights with flawless black levels and exceptional detail touches in backgrounds, spaceship interiors and uniquely layered costumes.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, dialogue is well exchanged with the high speed pursuits of spaceships and lightsaber battles adding robust touches to the show’s sound effects.  Special features on Disc 1 include, Rebels Recon (43:31) where Star Wars Correspondent Andi Gutierrez acts as your guide in this 1-6 episode breakdown of the season.  Sneak Peeks at Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (1:43) are also included.  Next up, Disc 2 continues Rebels Recon (49:09) coverage on episodes 7-14 while, Disc 3 concludes Rebels Recon (37:27) on the season’s remaining episodes.  In addition, Connecting the Galaxy: Rebels Season 2 (3:30) takes a look at the season’s unique references and hidden easter eggs with the Blu-ray exclusive featurette From Apprentice to Adversary: Vader VS. Ahsoka (6:08) finds Executive Producer Dave Filoni discussing the season’s epic showdown between the former teacher and apprentice.

    An intergalactically epic followup to last year’s explosive debut season, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two exceeds expectations and pushes the quality and emotion of episodic animation within the Star Wars universe.  Continuing to be Disney XD’s strongest and most throughly engaging program, Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment weaves the power of the Force with their praiseworthy presentation.  While supplements could surely be more plentiful, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two easily earns a true Jedi’s recommendation.

    RATING: 4.5/5

    Available August 30th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season Two can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Elstree 1976 (2015) DVD Review

    Elstree 1976 (2015)

    Director: Jon Spira

    Starring: Various

    Released by: MVD Visual

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Documenting the lives of those behind the countless masks and helmets of George Lucas’ original sci-fi phenomenon, Elstree 1976 centers on the diverse personalities of the bit actors and extras that would ultimately comprise the film’s vast galaxy and how their lives have since been affected being apart of its global impact.  

    Spearheaded through a Kickstarter campaign, Director Jon Spira’s (Anyone Can Play Guitar) love letter to the unsung beings that donned heavy makeup and increasingly difficult to see through headwear in the original Star Wars are interviewed to divulge their unique tales landing fleeting yet, generally memorable roles in arguably the greatest blockbuster of all-time.  With many barely grasping the scope of what they were associated with at the time, Elstree 1976 allows each subject to reveal their early beginnings, long before the acting bug took hold.  Emerging from all walks of life across North America and overseas, the selection of interviewees spend considerable time sharing personal childhood memories and their earliest ambitions, providing a deeply rich portrait of each speaker.  Surprisingly, the film’s non-Star Wars related moments prove to be the most engaging as each subject’s candidness makes them solidly grounded and sympathetically relatable.  Featuring David Prowse (Darth Vader) and Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett of Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back) as the more prominent talking heads of the documentary, Elstree 1976’s other participants including, Derek Lyons (Temple Guard / Medal Bearer), Angus Maclnnes (Gold Leader) and John Chapman (Drifter), although loquacious in their interviews, have such “blink and you’ll miss them” appearances in the original film that their insight grows tiresome quickly.  

    With many of the participants no longer in the business, Elstree 1976 winds down with an interesting overview of the thriving Star Wars conventions that many of the film’s costumed players attend for financial means.  The interviewees discuss at great length the politics of their appearances and what they consider in bad taste when other unsung extras join the circuit to make a quick buck themselves.  No matter how minuscule their roles may have been, the subjects of Elstree 1976 hold warm memories of their once in a lifetime experiences onset yet, the overwhelming majority of the interviews related to Star Wars are never deeply interesting with the documentary suffering as it drags itself to a conclusion.  A well-intentioned salute to the background players that comprised both sides of the Force, Elstree 1976 is hardly a definitive document on Lucas’ runaway hit but, contains several worthy interviews that Star Wars devotees will find of interest.

    Shot digitally, Elstree 1976 is presented with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that appears as acceptable as can be.  Restrained to tight closeup style interviews, colors are presented adequately while, film clips from several films and onsite footage from autograph conventions also appear with ease.  Equipped with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, the controlled settings of each interview allows for perfectly audible dialogue levels to be captured.  In addition, an optional Dolby Digital 2.0 mix has also been included.  Unfortunately, no special features have been included.

    Earning the adoration of fans worldwide for their brief but, endearing appearances, Elstree 1976’s willingness to shine an honorary light on Star Wars’ many costumed characters and the men and women behind those faces is a gracious notion yet, one that stumbles with one too many monotonous asides.  While the film’s earliest moments prove most interesting, only dedicated fans of George Lucas’ sci-fi saga will take interest.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available June 28th from MVD Visual, Elstree 1976 can be purchased via MVDShop.com, Amazon.com and other fine retailers.

  • Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles DVD Review

    Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles

    Director: Michael Hegner

    Starring: Eric Bauza, Michael Dangerfield, Anthony Daniels, Trevor Devall, Heather Doerksen & Tom Kane

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Continuing the Lego-centric adventures of a galaxy far, far away, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles finds young Luke Skywalker carelessly pitting his friends into the clutches of the Empire.  In order to strengthen Luke’s training, Master Yoda and the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi unearth the Holocrons which possess the secrets of the Jedi.  With the Dark Side not far behind, Darth Vader seeks to claim them.  Assisted by superclone Jek-14 and Luke’s faithful friends, the Rebels will stop at nothing to outwit the Empire.

    Following the prequel set episodes of its first season, the newly titled Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles takes place during the Galactic Empire welcoming Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and other memorable characters from George Lucas’ original trilogy into the fold.  Unproven in his abilities, Luke Skywalker and his friends narrowly escape certain doom signaling Yoda and the ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi to strengthen Luke’s Jedi training.  With the previously hidden Holocrons withholding the secrets of the Jedi now unearthed to guide Luke, Darth Vader and his endless troops make their retrieval a top priority.  Traveling to the familiar locales of Tatooine and Hoth, Luke, Han, Leia and their loyal droids are assisted by superclone Jek-14 to ensure the Empire never possess the sacred Holocrons.  With exciting battle sequences and its tongue firmly planted in cheek, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles provides viewers with an engaging four episode saga pitting Skywalker’s from both sides of the Force on a quest for a desired MacGuffin.

    Charmingly animated in the style of beloved Lego blocks and a jovial sense of humor allowing itself to poke fun at Star Wars fandom, the sophomore season surpasses its predecessor in story and laughs.  While the entire four episode season is accounted for, viewers will be disappointed with the lack of the program’s third episode, “Attack of the Jedi”, also noticeably absent in season one’s home video release.  Based in the prequel era and hardly disrupting the continuity of season two’s episodes, the disappearance of “Attack of the Jedi” still stings for fans longing to own the complete series.  Technicalities aside, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles remains a comically crafted effort that young Padawans will appreciate most.

    Digitally Mastered and preserving its 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles packs bold colors and impressive detail in textures as well as the reflective surfaces of its droid characters.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, dialogue is always crisp while Composer John Williams’ thrilling music and the show’s wide variety of sound effects never disappointing.  Special features include, an Alternate Ending: “Clash of the Skywalkers” (1:50) and Sneak Peeks (3:37) at upcoming home video releases for Tomorrowland, Aladdin Diamond Edition and Inside Out.

    RATING: 3/5

    Available September 15th from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers. 

  • Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One Blu-ray Review

    Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One

    Director(s): Various

    Starring: Freddie Prinze Jr., Taylor Gray, Steve Blum, Vanessa Marshall & Tiya Sircar

    Released by: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment

    Reviewed by Mike Kenny

    Set before the events of the original 1977 film, Star Wars Rebels centers on a crew, each individually affected by the Galactic Empire, but determined to change things for the better.  Led by Kanan Jarrus (Freddie Prinze Jr., Scooby-Doo), the crew befriends Ezra Bridger (Taylor Gray, Bucket and Skinner’s Epic Adventures), a teenage con artist with abilities of the Force to aid them in their rebellion against The Inquisitor (Jason Issacs, Peter Pan) and the Empire.  Vanessa Marshall (Young Justice), Steve Blum (Transformers: Rescue Bots) & Tiya Sircar (The Internship) also comprise the vocal talent.  

    Capturing the excitement and thrills of George Lucas’ original saga, Star Wars Rebels finds the galaxy disrupted following the rise of the Empire.  Focusing on the earliest origins of the Rebel Alliance, a crew, led by Kanan Jarrus (Prinze Jr.), does what they can to disrupt any further damage committed by the Empire.  Circulating the galaxy aboard their starship known as the Ghost, Kanan, along with Hera (Marshall), Zeb (Blum), Sabine (Sircar) and their spunky droid Chopper, crosses paths with the orphaned Ezra Bridger (Gray) struggling to survive, before welcoming him into their motley crew.  Stealing from the Empire in order to aid civilians, the low-profile crew quickly find themselves targeted by The Inquisitor (Issacs), a soulless henchmen of the Empire tasked with hunting surviving Jedi’s.  Conflicted with keeping his Jedi status a secret while training Ezra in the ways of the Force, Kanan must confront his destiny in order to restore balance to the galaxy.  

    With iconic characters including, Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, Yoda and Lando Calrissian making guest appearances, Star Wars Rebels propels Disney’s first tackling of the franchise into a hyperspace of adventure and nonstop action.  Highlighting a period of the saga never cinematically seen before, the debut season delights viewers with topnotch CG animation and well crafted tales that develop characters of continuously growing appeal.  Co-created by Simon Kinberg (X-Men: Days of Future Past), Dave Filoni (Star Wars: The Clone Wars) and Carrie Beck, Star Wars Rebels takes the very best elements of the sci-fi phenomenon fans have come to love and developed a new chapter of weekly adventures of equal worth.  Returning viewers to a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars Rebels is an animated spectacle giving audiences young and old restored hope that the Force is very much back.

    Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment presents Star Wars Rebels with 1080p transfers, each bearing 1.78:1 aspect ratios.  On par with Disney’s respected animated releases, Star Wars Rebels greatly impresses with vibrant colors and nicely detailed textures while, black levels remain inky and pleasing throughout.  Equipped with Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, dialogue is audible and consistent, if not slightly underwhelming.  Meanwhile, action sequences with tried and true lightsaber sound effects and starship blasts along with the show’s Williams-esque music provides suitable boosts to the soundscape.  While not quite as impactful for such an adventurous show of its ilk, the mix is more than sufficient.  Located on Disc 1, special features include, Rebels Recon (36:10) providing behind the scenes insight into several episodes of the season and Sneak Peeks at Star Wars: The Force Awakens (1:52) and Aladdin Diamond Edition (1:19).  In addition, Disc 2’s supplements include, Rebels Recon (45:02) providing more in depth looks at the remaining episodes of the show’s debut season while, Rebels Infiltrates Star Wars Celebration (4:03) gives viewers a brief look at the events hosted this past year in Anaheim, CA in this Blu-ray exclusive featurette.  Furthermore, Star Wars Rebels: The Ultimate Guide (22:05), Rebels Season 2: A Look Ahead (7:06) and four promotional shorts - The Machine in the Ghost (3:02), Art Attack (3:02), Entanglement (3:02) and Property of Ezra Bridger (3:02) - round out the season’s bonus features.

    In Disney’s first attempts at restoring balance to the Force, Star Wars Rebels succeeds in delivering enthralling new tales centered around original characters that have quickly become fan favorites amongst Star Wars enthusiasts.  Matched with high-octane action and stellar animation, this prequel series has deservedly morphed into Disney XD’s must watch program.  Arriving with all 15 episodes of its inaugural season and a respectable batch of bonus features, Star Wars Rebels shines on Blu-ray proving the Force has indeed been awoken for the best.

    RATING: 4/5

    Available now from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, Star Wars Rebels: Complete Season One can be purchased via Amazon.com and other fine retailers.