Top 10 Favorite Movies Of 2017

Top 10 Favorite Movies Of 2017

Say what you will about 2017, but it did deliver many excellent films. Critically it was one of the most fascinating years in recent memory. Instead of only drooling over the usual Oscar-bait, critics praised superhero movies like Wonder Woman while many upheld the horror-comedy Get Out as the best film of the year. As a result, the interests of yours truly actually aligned with many of the critics this year. While it was a refreshing change of pace, certain movies did or didn’t resonate with me like they did with the critics. Here are my top 10 favorite movies released in 2017 (minor spoilers ahead for some films):

10. Thor: Ragnarok

thor ragnarok #1
‘Thor: Ragnarok’ [Credit: Marvel Studios]
Director Taika Waititi reshaped the narrative around Thor films through his bizarre, quirky, improvisational style. Despite the change in approach, Loki still stole the show with his charm, sarcasm and intricate character development. Tom Hiddleston’s approach to the character somehow works every time he appears, but all the other actors clearly got on board with Waititi’s vision as well and made it a reality. The movie finally embraced the cosmos outside Earth and Asgard through the weirdness of Sakaar, complemented by the hilarious Korg and Jeff Goldblum’s callous Grandmaster.

The movie didn’t live up to its complete potential, though, as it sometimes sacrificed important plot points or character moments for laughs. Important information about Surtur and Ragnarok is eclipsed in the beginning by Thor making dumb jokes. Beneath the humor, the film contained an intriguing theme about whitewashing history. Hela’s motivations and backstory relied heavily on this theme and the fascinating revelation that she and Odin built the empire of Asgard off the blood of other worlds before Odin banished Hela and changed the narrative. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t dive into this theme enough. But Waititi’s fresh approach works well overall, and provides excellent development for Thor, Bruce Banner/Hulk, Loki, and Valkyrie heading into Avengers: Infinity War.

9. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women’ [Credit: Annapurna Pictures]
Following the sensational success of Wonder Woman, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women shares the fascinating tale of creation behind the iconic and more popular than ever superhero. The relationships between Professor William Marston, his wife Elizabeth, and their protégé Olive are deeply moving. Their story demonstrates the raw beauty of human love when stigmas are lifted. Audiences care about their relationships on a personal level, and seeing how their dynamics and personalities shape core elements of Wonder Woman allows audiences to care about these characters even further. Amidst their relationships, academia, feminism, BDSM, and the invention of the lie detector all play integral roles in creating Wonder Woman.

One narrative drawback in the film is that it feels like audiences are shown that William loves Elizabeth and Olive, Elizabeth loves William and Olive, and that Olive loves Elizabeth. However, the audience is really only told that Olive comes to love William and never shown this. This makes their dynamics and relationship less believable, but it ultimately doesn’t detract too much from the film’s many strong elements.

8. Coco

After a few sub-par entries in recent years, Pixar showed they were back on their game with Coco. The imaginative story delivers a celebration of culture, family, and music. The Land of the Dead is a visually breathtaking setting. Creative, meaningful concepts like the customs area and rules of who can and can’t pass over root the Land of the Dead in stellar world-building. Against this backdrop, Pixar brings the family-friendly humor but also explores deeper concepts like the role collective memory plays in shaping legacies and the identity of future generations. But there’s just as much emphasis on the impact of an individual’s memories on legacy and identity. There’s also a pretty shocking, dark twist in the film’s third act that directly influences the film’s exploration of memory. Above all the film is a diverse celebration of culture, family, and music and the healing power of these elements on memory.

7. Beauty and the Beast

‘Beauty and the Beast’ [Credit: Walt Disney Studios]
Disney’s live-action remake acts as a homage to the 1991 animated film while incorporating a variety of fresh elements. One of the best examples is how a key bonding point between Belle and the Beast is their love for reading. This was touching in the 1991 film when Belle teaches Beast how to read and as he embraces the wonders of reading  the two characters find another meaningful bond with each other. This is made even better in the new film through their shared, intellectual passions as already voracious readers. Scenes in the library, where they both read independently or to each other at the dinner table and on the castle grounds honor the previous film while adding new, rich layers to the current story.

Emma Watson plays Belle perfectly through sharp intellect, charm, and fierce bravery. Characters like LeFou and Maurice become more nuanced instead of just existing as caricatures. Luke Evans is the perfect individual we never knew should play Gaston, capturing the character through the strongest singing performance in the film. The likes of Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, and Dan Stevens provide mesmerizing voices that help to bring the beloved characters and classic story to life like never before.

6. Get Out

‘Get Out’ [Credit: Universal Pictures]
Get Out is the rare movie that has a strong idea behind it while the execution of that idea in the film is just as strong. The idea that we don’t live in a post-racial world isn’t mind-blowing, but it is an essential truth that needs to be explored. Jordan Peele’s horror-comedy delves into the facade of a post-racial world, and the ugliness lurking behind such lies. The delightful blend of thrilling, creepy, and hilarious elements make Peele’s approach to tackling these ideas equally entertaining and thought-provoking. Through the gradual buildup, arguably the most shocking film twist in 2017, and the violent ending, the suspense never falters. It’s a movie that’s completely engaging from start to finish, and will stick with audiences long after they see the film.

5. War for the Planet of the Apes

‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ [Credit: 20th Century Fox]
By developing character and theme instead of spectacle, this science-fiction prequel trilogy always seemed to be way better than it had any right to be. The concluding chapter in the trilogy continued this success with perhaps the strongest entry yet. Instead of a drawn-out explosive fight between apes and humans, the movie hones in on Caesar’s misguided revenge plot. Like a tragic Shakespearean figure, Caesar is a brilliant, now broken leader, seeking revenge with the futile hope it will heal his many losses. The film particularly excels in quiet moments of beauty and tragedy, all asking the audience what it truly means to be human. The moment in which the mute human child Nova asks Maurice if she is an ape is both poignant and uplifting. The final, wordless confrontation between Caesar and Woody Harrelson’s villain exposes the thin line between their two species and provides insight into what humanity really looks like. It’s heavy stuff, made a little lighter by Steve Zahn’s Bad Ape.

4. Blade Runner 2049

It’s difficult to continue the story of a classic, especially after garnering thirty years of critical acclaim. Blade Runner 2049 manages to not only act as a worthy sequel, but it provides compelling world-building and further enhances the overall narrative. Through visually stunning cinematography and a soundtrack that perfectly captures the mood, the film explores the question of what it really means to be human. Building on the original Blade Runner, Replicants tend to act more humane than humans, leaving the audience to ponder what genuine humanity is at all. Ryan Gosling’s character K has rich development that subverts the “chosen one” trope. His relationship with Joi acts as a poignant and sometimes amusing insight into the relationships modern day individuals share with their prized technological devices. Harrison Ford’s Deckard is used the perfect amount, providing depth and a redemptive arc that enriches his overall character. There are more twists than in the original film, though the sequel lacks some of its predecessor’s rich ambiguity. This is partly rooted in Jared Leto’s performance as the underdeveloped villain Niander Wallace. But overall the core themes and characters are thought-provoking enough and the film beautifully made to outweigh such drawbacks.

3. Wonder Woman

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‘Wonder Woman’ [Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]

Blending together elements of mythology, history, and superhero origin stories, Wonder Woman became one of the most entertaining and important movies of the year. Gal Gadot’s sensational performance nailed all aspects of the character, along with an inspired supporting cast. Audiences finally got to experience a female-led superhero movie brimming with heart, humor, and epic sequences. The emphasis on mythology and the World War I setting gave the film a unique feel that is grounded with traditional elements of a superhero origin story. It is a refreshing break from the brooding angst of recent superhero films, particularly in the DCEU. In an age where darkness and cynicism often reign both in entertainment and reality, Wonder Woman is an uplifting breath of fresh air.

2. Logan

X-Men films are often constrained by their massive ensembles, leaving many compelling characters unexplored in a race to an explosive battle in the third act. Logan prevented this issue by focusing on the characters of Logan, Charles Xavier, and Laura. The character-driven story leads to the best X-Men film of all time as the three protagonists and their relationships are explored in-depth. Logan and Charles struggle to find their places in a world that has moved on from mutants, haunted by the sins of their pasts. Both men find purpose through Laura, a mutant child who is fierce with her powers, but in desperate need of guidance and companionship. They form a kind of dysfunctional family as Laura learns what it means to not just survive, but to embrace the gift of life.

This journey with Laura allows Charles and Logan to not only find purpose, but to finally confront their demons and complete their incredible character arcs in service to the future represented by Laura and her young mutant friends. The brutal fight scenes, the dysfunction between Logan and Caliban and a dementia-plagued Charles, and the quieter scenes between Logan and Charles and Laura all play equally well. Ultimately, the film exemplifies the beautiful and chaotic mess of life that Logan, Charles, and Laura all learn to embrace in different ways.

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ [Credit: Walt Disney Studios/Lucasfilm]
The core reason The Last Jedi is so divisive among fans is the very reason the film should be applauded. Rian Johnson dared to make bold choices and take substantial risks with his approach to the film. He deconstructed what audiences should expect from a Star Wars film. Instead of seeing constraints placed by the existing films and canon, he saw opportunities to expand the universe and test the characters in refreshing ways. This doesn’t just mean shocking twists. It means challenging the misconception from both characters and audiences that Luke Skywalker is a perfect legend. It means challenging the idea that Rey’s destiny relies on her lineage. It means characters figuring out how to resolve a situation when their desperate, half-baked plans fail to save the day. It means pushing the boundaries of the abilities wielded by Force-sensitive individuals, and the beliefs that govern their decisions.

Carrie Fisher delivers one of her all-time best performances in what will tragically be her final appearance as Leia. Her steadfast leadership in impossible situations, wry humor, palpable spirit, and an overdue use of a certain power serve as a beautiful testament to both Leia and Carrie Fisher herself. Mark Hamill sells Luke’s complex and ultimately satisfying journey, an arc that doesn’t destroy the character but that challenges his core identity when he feels like he’s failed the galaxy and the people he cares about most. Learning from his mistakes and with the help of an old friend, Luke experiences some of his greatest development yet with the decisions he makes in the film’s final act.

Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver are fantastic as well, selling the unlikely bond that forms between Rey and Kylo Ren as they channel their raw power and struggle to find their place and purpose in the galaxy.  They are equally as compelling at portraying how their characters grapple with the mind-blowing consequences of the bond they sought for different reasons. Of the brand new characters, Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo is the standout. Soft-spoken and reserved and appearing more feminine than other Resistance members, she challenges both characters like Poe and the audience to rethink what makes a true leader and hero. This is a lesson that both audiences and characters need as there’s far more to successful heroism and leadership than jumping in an X-Wing and blowing stuff up. With the aid of lightspeed, Holdo also owns one of the film’s most epic moments.

The movie isn’t perfect—such as Captain Phasma being wasted again—but overall The Last Jedi is the most captivating and bold movie of 2017 from start to finish.

If you enjoyed what you read, check out more of my writing on Screen Rant:

What’s your favorite movie of 2017? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

Top Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios/Lucasfilm


Will The Ghost Crew Meet Cassian And K-2SO In ‘Star Wars Rebels’ Season 4?

From Lando Calrissian to Ahsoka Tano, Star Wars Rebels excels at weaving a rich array of Star Wars characters into their narrative. Fans reveled in the inclusion of Rogue One characters in Season 3, such as Saw Gerrera and Mon Mothma, both of whom are set to return in Season 4. With Star Wars Rebels entering its final season, and the show’s timeline growing even closer to the events of Rogue One, the potential for including more Rogue One characters definitely exists. Two fan favorites — Cassian Andor and K-2SO — have the most potential of Rogue One characters to meet the Ghost crew in Season 4 with their integral roles in the Rebel Alliance.

Yavin 4 Sets The Perfect Stage For Meeting

Audiences already know from Rogue One that Cassian and K-2 are staples of the Rebel Alliance and frequent the base on Yavin 4. The  Season 3 finale and Season 4 trailer show the Ghostcrew is now headed to Yavin 4. Cassian has been in the fight against the Empire since he was 6 years old and, due to his crucial position in the Alliance by the time of Rogue One, it’s a sure bet he’d already be on Yavin 4 during the time of Season 4.

It’s unclear how long K-2 has been part of the Alliance, though an upcoming comic book will likely clarify that. Unless the timing is super close to the beginning of Rogue One — which is unlikely based on K-2’s familiarity with the Alliance and repertoire with Cassian in the film — K-2 is just as likely to be frequenting the Yavin 4 base around the time of Star Wars Rebels Season 4.

There are countless ways Cassian and K-2 can cross paths with the Ghost crew once they land. Cassian could even be an individual to whom they report in greater detail what happened at the Battle of Atollon. While Cassian and K-2 could meet all members of the Ghost crew, in terms of longevity, the characters they’re most likely to meet and maintain relationships with are Hera and Chopper, who are at Yavin 4 during the time of Rogue One.

K-2 interacting with Chopper and AP-5 would be absolutely hilarious, and he would refuse to take any crap from the sometimes immature Zeb and Ezra. Dedicated to defeating the Empire and restoring what they’ve destroyed, Cassian would likely be most interested in meeting the Jedi among the Ghost crew: Kanan and Ezra.

Kanan and Ezra in 'Star Wars Rebels' [Credit: Disney-ABC TV]
Kanan and Ezra in ‘Star Wars Rebels’ [Credit: Disney-ABC TV]

Would Cassian Mistake Chirrut For A Jedi If He’d Already Met Kanan And Ezra?

After Cassian witnesses the blind Chirrut Imwe battling Stormtroopers on Jedha, he asks Baze Malbus if Chirrut is a Jedi. This makes sense when watching Rogue One, as the Jedi have mostly become the stuff of myths and legends due after Order 66. Chirrut’s dialogue concerning the Force and his unique fighting style would logically make Cassian wonder if the Guardian of the Whills is a Jedi.

While this makes sense in the context of Rogue One and Star Wars canon up to that point, it is highly unlikely that Cassian would mistake Chirrut for a Jedi if he’d already met Kanan and Ezra. Chirrut is impressive and his belief in the Force powerful, but he is not a Jedi. If Cassian has met Kanan and Ezra, seen them use the Force, and wield their lightsabers, Cassian should recognize Chirrut is not a Jedi.

If their meeting is written well, Cassian could meet Kanan and Ezra without seeing them use their powers or even knowing they’re Jedi. There likely won’t be any fighting on the Rebel base, so there would probably be no need for Kanan and Ezra to use their powers, so Cassian would never know their identity. There’s no need for Kanan and Ezra to announce they’re Jedi ,or for members of the Rebel Alliance like Bail Organa to inform Cassian.

There’s also the possibility that Cassian and K-2 could meet some but not all members of the Ghost crew. From a writing standpoint, there are many storylines to resolve, and from an in-universe standpoint, there are endless battles to be waged in the fight against the Empire. Both options could lead the Ghost crew to split up more than ever before. This began last season when Sabine chose to stay with her family on Mandalore, intent on uniting her war-torn home world.

This season, some of the Ghost crew could head to Lothal to liberate the planet from the Empire, while others combat the ongoing threat of Grand Admiral Thrawn. If Kanan and Ezra go to Lothal, Cassian and K-2 could still meet other members of the Ghost crew like Hera and Zeb.

Cassian’s Fulcrum Status Could Lead To A Mission With The Ghost Crew

Just because the Rebel Alliance base is on Yavin 4 and Cassian, K-2 and the Ghost crew will logically all be there this season doesn’t mean it’s the only place these characters can meet. Just like Ahsoka and Kallus, Cassian is also a Fulcrum agent. With Ahsoka’s fate still a mystery, and Kallus getting his cover blown at the end of last season, Cassian could very well become the key Fulcrum agent in the show. As an undercover agent, he could easily be assigned to help the Ghost crew infiltrate an Imperial base or a planet occupied by the Empire.

Cassian could even be assigned to help the Ghost crew in their mission to liberate Lothal. Cassian’s sniper skills and K-2’s piloting skills could be utilized for that mission. K-2 would also be well-suited for such a mission thanks to his knowledge of the Empire and ability to blend in as a former Imperial droid.

Even more intriguing is the possibility that Cassian and K-2 work with the Ghost crew without them realizing who Cassian and K-2 are, or that they’re part of the Rebel Alliance. The Ghost crew received critical information from an unknown Fulcrum agent in Season 3 before learning the information came from Kallus. They’d been actively fighting Kallus without realizing he was Fulcrum and on their side, which helped further Kallus’s deception towards his Imperial peers. A similar situation could arise with Cassian and K-2 in order to maintain their cover within the Empire.

Commander Sato and the Ghost Crew receiving information from Fulcrum in ''Star Wars Rebels' [Credit: Disney-ABC TV]
Commander Sato and the Ghost Crew receiving information from Fulcrum in ”Star Wars Rebels’ [Credit: Disney-ABC TV]
With all these pieces aligned, it would be a missed opportunity to not introduce Cassian and K-2SO into Star Wars Rebels and have them meet the Ghost crew. Such inclusion can provide more specific insight into what Cassian and K-2 did for the Rebel Alliance before Rogue One, particularly concerning some of Cassian’s morally questionable actions that still haunt him. Creating a meeting between these characters can further the fascinating connectivity in canon and another meaningful link between Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels.

Season 4 of Star Wars Rebels premieres Saturday, September 23 on Disney XD.

Do you think the Ghost crew will meet Cassian and K-2SO this season?

‘The Clone Wars’ To No Longer Leave Netflix June 7th

‘The Clone Wars’ To No Longer Leave Netflix June 7th

I was watching the #CloneWars episode “Witches of the Mist” featuring Darth Maul’s brother Savage Opress (yep, you read that correctly) when a little notice appeared in the upper left hand corner of my computer screen. The notice informed me that The Clone Wars is only available on Netflix streaming until June 7th. Fortunately this has changed as of June 6th as there is no longer any indication of the removal from Netflix streaming.

The Clone Wars is an animated television series that takes place after Attack of the Clones and before Revenge of the Sith. Overall fans responded positively to the series. For many it continues to be the highlight of the prequel era. While certain story arcs and characters became a bit ridiculous at times, ultimately The Clone Wars serves as an integral and beloved piece of Star Wars canon. Whether you’re new to the show or a longtime fan here a few story arcs to watch ASAP.

The Mortis Trilogy

This trio of episodes in season 3 is arguably the most bizarre and imaginative story arc. That alone makes it worth watching, but it also provides profound insights into the nature of the Force itself. Obi-Wan, Anakin, and Ahsoka find themselves stranded on Mortis, a planet featuring beings unlike anything they’ve ever encountered before. While the Anakin-Ahsoka relationship is important to the arc and the story will be more meaningful if you understand their relationship up to this point, you can still follow and appreciate the story without watching every single episode that precedes the arc. I dare say no more, only that this is a set of episodes that not only have major ramifications for the prequels era and the original trilogy, but could even work to influence the sequel trilogy.

Season 3

Episodes: “Overlords” “Altar of Mortis” “Ghosts of Mortis”

The Onderon Quartet

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Saw Gerrera in ‘Rogue One’ (left) and ‘The Clone Wars’ (right) [Credit: Lucasfilm]
Before shouting “Lies! Deception!” in Rogue One, Saw Gerrera fought to liberate his homeworld Onderon from Separatist control during the Clone Wars. Discover Saw’s origins and where the earliest seeds for the Rebel Alliance were sown in a story arc that questions the costs of fighting for freedom.Season 5Episodes: “A War on Two Fronts” “Front Runners” “The Soft War” “Tipping Points”

Order 66 Arc

How did the clone troopers turn so easily on the Jedi they fought besides for years? How did no one anticipate such an elaborate betrayal? These questions that bugged me growing up are answered through the story of clone trooper Fives and how he nearly uncovered Order 66. This also serves as an arc that allows you to get to know the clone troopers as individuals you care about with unique personalities.

Season 6: The Lost Missions

Episodes: “The Unknown” “Conspiracy” “Fugitive” “Orders”

Yoda Arc

Imagine a series of episodes starring Yoda discovering how to become a Force ghost that incorporates why he he later chose Dagobah for exile. This is that story, following Yoda through adventures that further explore the deepest facets of the Force.

Season 6: The Lost Missions

Episodes: “The Lost One” “Voices” “Destiny” “Sacrifice”

yoda arc
[Credit: Lucasfilm]
There are plenty of terrific episodes and story arcs that I haven’t mentioned. Regardless of your Clone Wars exposure up to this point, these are the arcs I recommend to all Star Wars fans. Before Netflix next turns to the Dark side with threat of removing the show from their streaming service again, embrace these story arcs whether you’re a longtime fan or newbie of The Clone Wars.

4 reasons a Luke-Leia reunion is needed in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

4 reasons a Luke-Leia reunion is needed in Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Luke Skywalker and Leia Organa are at the heart and soul of Star Wars. The Last Jedi promises to give us more Luke and Leia than The Force Awakens.

Seeing more of these characters isn’t enough, though. We deserve to witness a reunion between these two characters. Here are three reasons why this reunion needs to happen:

1. Last Carrie Fisher appearance, last time this can happen

The first reason is the most depressing and practical one. Due to Carrie Fisher’s tragic death and Lucasfilm’s decision moving forward this is the last Star Wars movie in which Carrie Fisher will appear. She will not appear in Episode IX. The incredible chemistry between Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill is one of the countless features that continue to make the original trilogy wonderful to watch. The Luke-Leia relationship is integral to everything Star Wars and in a story that so prominently revolves around these characters, we need to see them reunite, and we need to see that chemistry rekindled one last time.

2. Denied a Luke-Han reunion

The Leia-Han reunion in The Force Awakens due to the deep nostalgia and multi-faceted emotions developed over years of loving those characters nearly brought me to tears. Even during re-watches my heart still blooms with anticipation and love every time I watch the scene. Years had passed for both the characters and actors, but the chemistry and deep bonds still remains strong in all the scenes they share.

Thanks to Kylo Ren we were denied a Luke-Han reunion even though their relationship also features much nostalgia and emotion. There’s something comforting in the fact that the last onscreen meeting of Luke and Han is celebrating on Endor at the end of Return of the Jedi. But I still can’t help feeling a little bitter that these two characters didn’t get to meet. This new trilogy is about balancing the old with the new. The Force Awakens did a great job of this overall but it will be a major failure of the trilogy if we are denied not only a Luke-Han reunion, but a Luke-Leia reunion as well. That we never see Luke reunite with Leia or Han onscreen after Return of the Jedi is something I can’t accept.

3. The Force connection

Part of what makes the Luke-Leia relationship so special is their connection with the Force and how they’ve used it to communicate with each other. The scenes in Empire Strikes Back where Luke and Leia use the Force to communicate on Cloud City and Leia resuces and when Leia knows Luke didn’t die on the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi are iconic moments.

In a story that revolves so heavily around the Force, and the growing Force abilities of Rey and Kylo Ren, that connection should be further explored. Both Leia and Luke have changed in many ways but their Force abilities remain strong and that can have a significant impact on both Rey and Kylo Ren.

4. The Skywalker Saga

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the eighth chapter of the Skywalker Saga. Luke and Leia are a foundation of the Skywalker family and what makes the story of the Skywalker family so compelling. Quite simply, it makes no sense to continue this family’s story without the two characters reuniting. We need to see them grieving Han’s death, reconciling with the actions of the younger Skywalker (Kylo Ren), and use friends and allies both new and old in order to save the galaxy once more.

Help us experience a Luke-Leia reunion. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, you’re our only hope.

Why the Star Wars prequels are better than you realized

Why the Star Wars prequels are better than you realized

There is plenty to dislike about the Star Wars prequel trilogy, including but not limited to Jar Jar Binks, podracing, stilted dialogue, and the sort of creepy relationship between Anakin and Padme. However, on this May the Fourth I’d like to throw some love toward the oft-maligned Star Wars prequel trilogy. While these films are inferior to the original Star Wars trilogy and even the newer films, they do contain value and enjoyment that should not go unrecognized.

  1. Palpatine’s manipulations:
  • One of the best parts of the prequel trilogy is witnessing how Palpatine became the all-powerful Emperor we first met in Return of the Jedi. His transition from senator of Naboo to Supreme Chancellor of the Republic to Emperor of the Galactic Empire is impressive, but what’s most fascinating is how he manipulated the galaxy in order to make his ambitions a reality. For example, the Naboo-Trade Federation conflict which is basically the plot of The Phantom Menace is entirely engineered by Palpatine in order to become Supreme Chancellor. Many pan The Phantom Menace and there are valid reasons to do so. The narrative seems too tied down by specifics of trade routes and trade law. But that’s sort of the point. When sent to negotiate with the Trade Federation, Qui-Gon Jinn remarks that “I sense an unusual amount of fear for something as trivial as this trade dispute.” The conflict is supposed to be complicated in confusing and even tedious ways as that’s part of Palpatine’s plan, tricking the galaxy into focusing on these details and falling prey to his schemes while failing to see the bigger picture. Qui-Gon senses this idea but not the specifics.
  • If you re-watch The Phantom Menace seeking to understand every facet of Palpatine’s plan surrounding the Naboo-Trade Federation conflict and how it’ll allow him to become Supreme Chancellor, the movie becomes infinitely more intriguing and complex. Not only does Palpatine manipulate both sides of the conflict but he also has to readjust his plan several times due to unexpected resilience and success from Queen Padme Amidala, her allies, and their retaliation against the Trade Federation’s invasion of Naboo. This does not negate the less favorable aspects of the movie such as podracing and Jar Jar Binks. Yet, watching The Phantom Menace through the lens of understanding every step of Palpatine’s manipulations does make the movie better than you realized. The same holds true for Attack of the Clones. Engineering the Naboo-Trade Federation conflict catapulted Palpatine into the position of Supreme Chancellor. In Attack of the Clones he engineers the Clone Wars and manipulates the Jedi Order, Republic, and the Separatists. Such manipulations provide payoff and consequences for the major events in the prequel trilogy’s best film Revenge of the Sith such as Order 66, the emergence of the Galactic Empire ruled by Palpatine as an all-powerful Emperor, and the rise of Darth Vader.
  1. Fresh elements that enhance the rest of the Star Wars universe:
  • Despite the faults of the prequel trilogy, one can’t deny the imagination and freshness it brought to the Star Wars universe. These films showcase the Jedi Order at the height of their power, a critical piece of the Star Wars universe that no longer exists by the time of the original trilogy and the newer films. Seeing numerous Jedi running around with lightsabers and engaging in epic lightsaber battles is awesome to behold. Beyond lightsabers, calmer scenes like Yoda teaching the younglings in Attack of the Clones provide unique insight into the philosophies of the Jedi Order and how they were put into action. The same holds true for Jedi council meetings and conversations between individual Jedi. Scenes such as these help us better understand Obi-Wan and Yoda and their interactions with Luke in the original trilogy. 
  • In addition, the prequel trilogy introduces planets like Coruscant, Kamino, and Mustafar, all beautiful to behold and unlike any Star Wars planets we’ve seen before or since. All play a critical role not only in the prequel films but in other pieces of the Star Wars universe. For example, one of the most exciting connections in Rogue One is seeing Darth Vader’s castle on Mustafar, a thrilling connection only made possible by the events of the prequel trilogy. 
  • As creepy as the Anakin-Padme relationship is at times, it is a fresh and actually very literary approach to romance in the Star Wars universe and serves as a key foundation of Anakin becoming Darth Vader. Check out this blog post to better understand the thinking behind the Anakin-Padme relationship and why it actually works better than you thought:
  • The lightsaber duel and final meeting between Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi in A New Hope is already incredible but the prequel trilogy provides further insight and understanding that makes the scene even more powerful (largely thanks to Ewan McGregor’s incredible performance as a younger Obi-Wan). This is yet another disappointment of The Phantom Menace that it barely provides any development between Obi-Wan and Anakin. The development of their relationship only occurs in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
  • The prequel trilogy explains many of the original trilogy’s unanswered questions including but not limited to how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader, how the Galactic Empire formed and Emperor Palpatine came to power, the relationship between Anakin and Obi-Wan Kenobi before Anakin became Darth Vader, how the Jedi Order went from prominent galaxy-wide guardians of peace and justice to only Obi-Wan and Yoda in exile, the story behind the mother of Luke and Leia (Padme) and her relationship with Anakin. Part of the problem is that most of the answers don’t come until Revenge of the Sith, easily the most exciting and emotional of the prequel trilogy films. Fascinating as Palpatine’s manipulations are, it’s still a bit much of a slow-burn development in the prequel trilogy’s first two films. Yet you need the events of The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones and every step of Palpatine’s manipulations in order for the consequences and answers in Revenge of the Sith to make sense.

Ultimately what prevents the prequel trilogy from standing alongside the original trilogy or even the newer Star Wars films is that they fail to capture the motif of the unordinary individual becoming extraordinary. The journey of unlikely heroes is critical to the heart of Star Wars. The original trilogy gave us a whiny farmboy who became a Jedi Knight integral to defeating the Empire and bringing balance to the Force, and a self-centered smuggler who became a general and hero of the Rebellion. The Force Awakens gave us a lonely scavenger and desperate ex-Stormtrooper who dared to stand against the First Order. Rogue One gave us a reprogrammed Imperial droid with a sarcastic sense of humor and a blind man clinging to belief in the Force despite the overwhelming oppression throughout the galaxy and near-extinction of the Jedi. Both individuals, along with several others, sacrificed themselves and everything they had to get the Death Star plans to the Rebellion. Such journeys from unordinary to extraordinary resonate with audiences, most of whom leave mostly unordinary lives.

In the prequel trilogy the main characters are already extraordinary when we meet them. Obi-Wan is already an accomplished, wise, and powerful Jedi. Padme already rules a planet through a nature both fierce and graceful. Even as a young boy Anakin is already extraordinary through his unparalleled connection with the Force, already making him a masterful pilot and mechanic.

The chemistry-fueled humor is also lacking in the prequel trilogy. Despite heavy drama, the original trilogy and newer films contain humor that feels very human and is driven by the incredible chemistry between the characters. The Phantom Menace doesn’t really have any of this as the humor revolves around the annoying Jar Jar Binks. Attack of the Clones just really doesn’t have any humor, the worst part being that watching Yoda duel Count Dooku is probably the most humorous part of the movie. Revenge of the Sith finally provides the chemistry-fueled humor with the dynamics between Anakin and Obi-Wan during the Battle of Coruscant, helping to start the best of the prequel trilogy on a high note.

I definitely like the original trilogy and the newer films more than the prequel trilogy. However, I truly believe that the prequel trilogy does contain a lot of value, enjoyment, and serves a critical role in Star Wars canon. 

May the fourth be with you. Always.


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Star Wars: The Last Jedi Trailer and Celebration Panel thoughts

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Trailer and Celebration Panel thoughts

It started out as a great day because I had no work and could sleep in. It became an incredible day as I watched the Star Wars: The Last Jedi panel at Star Wars Celebration in Orlando. Through the livestream we learned of many fascinating tidbits from the movie, witnessed the movie’s stunning promotional poster, and most importantly GOT TO SEE THE FIRST FREAKING TRAILER FOR THE LAST JEDI GAHHHHYESSSS! I may be a tad bit excited. Check out the trailer and poster and then check out my thoughts below.

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My favorite element of all these thrilling reveals is confirmation of Luke Skywalker’s prominent role in The Last Jedi. This is by no means a surprise but the confirmation is still so satisfying, particularly hearing the character’s first dialogue in film since Return of the Jedi in 1983. And with that dialogue came the most meaningful part of the new trailer where Luke says “I only know one truth. It’s time for the Jedi to end.” This is mind-blowing and filled with so much potential, but also makes me really happy because it largely confirms my thoughts when the title was first unveiled in January (refresh your memory by reading that blog post:

Arguably more important is that today not only confirmed Luke’s prominence but also teases the complexity of his character. Daisy Ridley hinted during the panel that meeting Luke and the beginning of their relationship is akin to meeting one of your heroes with high expectations and struggling to reconcile those expectations with reality. We see Luke training Rey (the visual representation of this training in the trailer is beautiful and further augmented by the music of John Williams) but as teased, it’s largely not going to be what Rey expects. Will Luke be initially resistant because of what happened when he trained the new generation of Jedi? Or will he immediately agree to train her, but only as a Force-wielder that is something different than Jedi which will be hard for Rey to reconcile? In The Force Awakens When Finn tells Rey that BB-8 is carrying a map to Luke Skywalker, Rey says “Luke Skywalker? I thought he was a myth.” The myth continues to grow for her throughout the movie as everyone seems to believe finding Luke is the answer to stopping the First Order and the terror they’re spreading throughout the galaxy. If Luke is unwilling to jump into galaxy-saving mode, that alone could be enough to cause Rey to struggle with reconciling her expectations with reality as she sees that the man behind this heroic myth may not be the benevolent, all-mighty savior she imagined.

It’s not difficult to imagine the difficult state of mind Luke is in following everything that has happened and the inner conflicts he is surely struggling to work through. Even when Luke asks Rey about her understanding of the Force in the trailer he responds by addressing that it’s much more complex than she realizes. The poster further represents the complexity of the Luke Skywalker we will be reacquainted with. He may be training Rey now and attempting to navigate the path that will bring balance to the Force and the galaxy even if that ends the Jedi for good. Yet, he is still somewhat responsible for Ben Solo’s fall to the Dark Side and the subsequent destruction of the new generation of Jedi and the rise of the First Order (much to learn we still have concerning these matters).

The excitement revolves heavily around Luke Skywalker right now, but that is not all we gleaned today. I loved learning that Kelly Marie Tran is playing Rose, a maintenance worker in the Resistance. We’ve known for a while that Benicio Del Toro, Laura Dern, and Kelly Marie Tran would play new characters in The Last Jedi. It’s gratifying to learn who Kelly Marie Tran is playing, to hear about the character not only from the actress herself but also from director Rian Johnson and to see the first official picture of the character. While the premise of the character may initially sound a bit underwhelming, Tran’s infectious enthusiasm immediately makes you excited for the character. Johnson furthered this excitement by talking about how he remembered watching the Star Wars movies as a kid and experiencing Luke’s journey from an unordinary farm boy to this extraordinary hero. He went on to explain that Rose embodies that as a character who goes from a somewhat unordinary role to becoming an unlikely but extraordinary hero. That is one of the most important motifs in Star Wars, a key facet of what made so many love the original trilogy (how Luke and Han went from being so unordinary and unimportant to being so extraordinary and important) and why The Force Awakens resonated with many as well (Rey and Finn undergo similar journeys in this sense). Through a character like Rose, Star Wars continues to deliver one of its strongest elements through the journey of unordinary to extraordinary. I’m also excited about Rose because her character will add more depth and understanding to the Resistance. Even after The Force Awakens and novels like Star Wars: Bloodline which explained the initial creation of the Resistance, there is still a great deal we don’t know about the organization. Getting to know a character like Rose who isn’t in charge like Leia or their best pilot like Poe Dameron will be fascinating to see and help us better understand the more common individual associated with the Resistance. Check out our first look at Rose:

Kelly Marie Tran as Rose.

Other tidbits we learned today and thoughts about the trailer and poster:

  • While the trailer largely focuses on Luke and Rey, I’m glad the trailer also briefly reacquaints us with the core characters introduced in The Force Awakens (Kylo Ren, Finn, Poe, BB-8) without giving much away. It’s the perfect kind of tease that shows the characters we’ve loved for a while and characters we’ve only recently started to love in new situations without revealing too much of what those situations are.
  • I’m glad we saw a glimpse of Kylo Ren and his volatile red lightsaber but were denied a glimpse of his whole face in both the trailer and poster. I don’t want to see the full extent of the damage Rey inflicted on him physically until the movie is released. That his mask is destroyed also speaks volumes about his character development from the beginning of The Force Awakens until now.
  • I wish we’d seen more of Leia in this trailer (we only get a shot of the back of her head). I know Luke is the original trilogy character the movie will focus on the most, but I hope she will still play a very prominent role and she should as she still leads the Resistance. With Carrie Fisher’s passing and the beautiful but heartbreaking tribute video released at Star Wars Celebration yesterday, I wanted to see more of her. I also would’ve liked to see Chewbacca and C-3PO in the trailer. I’m worried about Chewie coping with the loss of Han.
  • When it comes to the First Order, I’m not only glad Kylo Ren was featured in the trailer but that Captain Phasma was featured as well. I hope she plays a much more significant and menacing role in this film compared to The Force Awakens. Also, I feel it was a good call to not show Snoke in the trailer. While I expect to see more of his character in this movie than The Force Awakens and to learn more about him, it’s important to maintain that sense of powerful mystery cloaking his character. For now, let the First Order’s terror manifest itself through the likes of Kylo Ren, Captain Phasma and, General Hux. It should gradually build toward the ultimate terror of Snoke, similar to how we experienced the likes of Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin terrorizing the galaxy far more before Emperor Palpatine in the original trilogy. Rian Johnson also teased that while the loss of Starkiller Base is huge for the First Order, they still had a major victory with wiping out the power of the New Republic and that we will see them taking advantage of that chaos right off the bat. I’m definitely looking forward to that and seeing the baddies perform evil deeds without relying on a planet-killing machine like the first or second Death Star or Starkiller Base.
  • The inclusion of the new ships kicking up red dust is also great as it shows something new, exciting and important added to the more familiar elements and characters of Star Wars. It’s important for Star Wars to retain the classic elements that define the franchise while continuing to incorporate fresh elements. Those ships are a great example of this and the uncertain future of the Jedi and the Force teased in this trailer is another fresh, meaningful direction the franchise is taking.
  • The gorgeous, haunting poster clearly represents the darker tone of this film and hints at the complex struggles Luke, Kylo Ren, and Rey are all struggling with. Finn, Poe, Leia and other characters will still be super important, but this movie really belongs to these three characters, and their struggles which heavily revolves around the Force.
  • It was a huge day for Star Wars! What are your reactions and thoughts to today’s numerous reveals? Share your thoughts in the comments below or on social media!
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Should Maz Kanata be in the Han Solo movie?

Should Maz Kanata be in the Han Solo movie?

Should Maz Kanata be in the Han Solo movie?

In Star Wars: The Force Awakens we are introduced to Maz Kanata, an individual that is knowledgeable about the Force and influential among smugglers and pirates. Han Solo brings Rey, Finn, and BB-8 to Maz in order to help them reach Leia and the Resistance. However, Maz’s greater purpose lies in her ability to push Han, Rey and Finn towards the paths they need to take in addition to providing the storied lightsaber of Anakin Skywalker and Luke Skywalker. While Maz’s connection to the Force, how she acquired the legendary lightsaber and other mysteries will unfold in Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Star Wars: Episode IX, there may be another opportunity to learn more about her in the Han Solo film slated for December 2018.

Why Maz Kanata SHOULD be in the Han Solo movie: Han decides to take Rey, Finn and BB-8 to Maz because she is an “old friend” who can safely help them reach Leia and the Resistance. But we still don’t have any concrete backstory of how Maz is an “old friend” of Han and Chewbacca. It’s not difficult to imagine Han and Chewbacca frequenting Maz’s “watering hole” during their smuggling days. It’s a similar scene to the Mos Eisley cantina where we first met Han and Chewbacca in Star Wars: A New Hope. The Han Solo movie could provide insight into this backstory and more importantly, explain why this “old friend” could be trusted. There is no issue with the timeline either as Han tells Rey and Finn that “She’s run this watering hole for a thousand years.” She may also have connections with Lando Calrissian not only because of his history as a smuggler and pirate, but also because of Luke’s lightsaber. I suspect Maz’s acquisition of the lightsaber may connect with Lando as the lightsaber was last seen when Darth Vader sliced off Luke’s hand in Cloud City on Bespin. Remember, Bespin is the world where Lando ran his operation and where we met him in the first place. Lando is also going to play a significant role in the Han Solo movie and could provide a meaningful connection to Maz.

As discussed in my initial blog post about the Han Solo movie ( his character development and story arc from A New Hope to The Force Awakens feels pretty damn complete which is why I’m a bit skeptical about the standalone movie. But one element of his story that remains incomplete is the history he and Chewbacca have with Maz prior to The Force Awakens. In a universe where all stories are connected in a cohesive canon, incorporating Maz Kanata can provide further continuity and a rich connection between the standalone and Skywalker Saga films.

Why Maz Kanata SHOULD NOT be in the Han Solo movie: Maz has deep connections and knowledge of the Force. However, in A New Hope, despite everything he’s seen in the galaxy, Han rejects the existence of the Force. While Maz surely doesn’t espouse her knowledge of the Force to all her patrons as she did to Han, Rey, and Finn in The Force Awakens, it is difficult to reconcile that someone so connected to the Force would closely associate with someone who rejects its existence entirely. Then again, in a time period where Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader seek to eliminate anyone Force-sensitive, Maz has reason to keep an extra low profile. Her actions in The Force Awakens largely stem from realizing that Rey is Force-sensitive and that Rey, Finn, and Han are critical to resisting the latest manifestation of the Dark Side: The First Order. Regardless, in order for Han’s lack of belief in the Force in A New Hope to still make sense, it may be most logical to steer clear of Maz Kanata in this story.

What do you think? Should Maz Kanata appear in the Han Solo movie? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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