Star Wars: Episode VI- Return of the Jedi (1983) Review

Return of the Jedi is a mixed bag of decent and amazing. This movie has some of my least favorite parts of this trilogy and some of my most liked moments of the trilogy. It’s a hard placement on my ranking of Star Wars movies. I know a lot of people think this is the best of all of them and some not so much. I always watched this movie after watching Empire but my thoughts back then even as a kid seemed to stay the same as I continued to watch it growing up. I remember always enjoying the last third of the movie when the heroes make it to Endor and the climactic finale starts. I also remember not paying much attention to the beginning with Jabba because it just seemed to drag and wasn’t and wasn’t as exciting until they are about to be thrown into the Sarlaac pit. I enjoyed all of when Luke goes back to see Yoda, but I didn’t like the beginning of them showing up on Endor. All in all I just remember the pacing being a big issue in this movie for me. At the time I was too young to really understand pacing and how important it is to a movie, but as I got older I understood it more and the issue stood out significantly the more I watched. I know not everyone has this feeling and many enjoy it, but that’s just a difference of opinion. I also hadn’t watched this movie in a little while until before doing this review so maybe my thoughts changed? 

It’s always hard to go into a movie with a blank slate in your mind especially when you’ve already seen it numerous times but I tried my best to go into this fresh. With the cliffhanger of Han being frozen and taken away by Boba to deliver to Jabba, I knew that they were going to have to address that. At the time, they weren’t sure if Harrison Ford was going to be back for another movie so they had to end Empire in a way where they would be covered no matter what. It was going to have to be a rescue mission and it begins with Luke sending in C3PO and R2D2 to barter with the slug like gangster. A hologram of Luke shows us a much more confident version of this character. Fair enough, he’s been through a lot at this point and it’s a rightful progression of the character although a little jarring considering where we left him in the previous film. We didn’t really get the development of him from Empire to him in this film. It’s not a big deal but it was a point noted when watching it this time. I then found myself asking “how many people does it take?” The droids go in with no success, then Leia goes in and unfreezes Han but gets caught so she fails, then Luke goes in and ultimately fails until they all escape later on. It seemed a little too much to have someone try to save everyone three times. There’s also a few points that don’t make sense logically. Lando is already there so if the droids barter was successful, does he just walk out and reveal that he was undercover? If Leia is successful in leaving with Han then how do the droids and Lando get out? Now if Luke was successful then it would be easier because they could all just walk out, but that didn’t happen either. Now I wonder, was this Luke’s plan the whole time? Have Leia unfreeze him only to get captured? What if the Rancor killed Luke? Now the rest of our heroes are stuck with Jabba forever. The whole rescue plot just seems convoluted and makes no sense when you think about it. Also, how does Han magically shoot Boba at the right time and in the right spot so that his jet pack goes off and he falls in the pit? Also (again) why would you kill Boba like that so easily? There’s just a lot that doesn’t make sense hence why I’m not a fan of this whole beginning act. There are some good aspects of the beginning like Luke’s new outfit being all black. It’s an interesting contrast to who he is mentally having become a fully realized Jedi Knight and yet the black represents more of the dark side feel. I also like how he force chokes the guard in the beginning. I find it odd that you never see a Jedi do that except in that one scene. I suppose it comes off as being not very Jedi-like to use the force for harm, but I do like that Luke is one of the few Jedi that actually embraces all aspects of the force. He is you could say the first Gray Jedi we’ve seen on screen. I won’t go into the lore of what a Gray Jedi is, but if you look at The Last Jedi, you can see that his teachings and learnings lean more towards Gray Jedi.

It is interesting how less complex this movie is till you get to the final act. After escaping and killing Jabba, they split up so Luke can go visit Yoda and the others go meet up with the rebel fleet. During this we finally get to see the Emperor with Vader as they discuss the new Death Star. Which of course they just had to add another Death Star because they couldn’t come up with something else for them to fight. It couldn’t just be an Imperial fleet or some kind of other super weapon? I guess it would make sense that the Emperor would have other stations built around the galaxy after the success of the first one but unless they started building it before A New Hope than the building time frame doesn’t make much sense. This may be something that’s only harmed by the prequels and might have worked better without the prequels showing the early stages of its creation. Luke finally gets to visit Yoda again to complete his training, but of course Yoda says that there is no more training for him. Okay, so wait a second. Luke hasn’t seen Yoda since Empire where he didn’t complete his training and failed miserably against Vader, and yet he requires no more training after a relatively short amount of time between these two movies. That didn’t make much sense and the reveal of Leia being his sister is kind of cool, but feels like it was just added for the sake of another twist. I do like the death of Yoda, but really all this feels like it happens to no point. Ben tries to explain his lie about Vader being his father, but doesn’t give a very compelling reason. The more I talk about it, the more I start to realize how little sense a lot of this movie makes so far.

Luke finally meets up with the rebel fleet as they work out a plan to take out the Death Star and to defeat the Empire for good! They arrive on the Moon of Endor with Luke almost giving the team away by just existing as they try to sneak onto the planet. Vader has a dumb dumb moment by allowing them to land when he could’ve just ordered the ship to be destroyed, but that goes back to the light side coming out of him. It’s a fair reason that really shows him as a deeper character and sets up his turn for the end of the movie. The speeder bike chase is pretty cool with Luke and Leia and we’re introduced to the native Ewoks. There are a few things I have to say about the Ewoks. I would have preferred to have Wookies in their place like it was supposed to be in the original drafts. They would have been more fearsome and would have made for a far more exciting end fight against the Stormtroopers. With that said, the Ewoks are terribly underrated. All of the times I watched this movie before this time, I always felt like the Ewoks were too cute and not threatening enough for me to care so much about them fighting with our heroes. In all honesty I absolutely hated the Ewoks for the longest time. On this viewing I realized that the Ewoks are scarier when you actually look at their actions. While they are cute little teddy bears, they are actually small fierce little murderers. Their cuteness takes away from what they actually planned on doing to our heroes and gives an idea of how they are as a species on a normal day. They were going to burn our heroes alive and eat them without a second thought. They were savages that decided to help our heroes thankfully and instead fought the Empire and likely murdered and ate the stormtroopers. So we skip the whole C3PO story time and get to Luke telling Leia about their sibling relationship which of course she felt like was true the whole time and then Luke leaves to go face Vader.

The finale. The big climactic war of all wars. There’s really not much to say about this. It’s a great space battle considered by some to be the greatest space battle ever on the big screen with some key moments from Lando who is flying the Falcon. We also get some classic Han moments in the fight on the forest moon and a roll your eyes moment when Leia steals Han’s “I know” moment. The Ewoks somehow completely destroy the surprisingly small fleet of Imperials that went down to the moon. Why would you not send more troops down to completely annihilate them? You literally have so many troops but you only sent a small group that were easily handled by a bunch of murderous teddy bears. Okay, enough of all of that. We get to the part that we actually care more about and that is the finale between Luke, Vader, and Palpatine. For all of you people complaining about The Last Jedi and Snoke’s use in that movie. Newsflash, Palpatine does even less than Snoke. He sits there and tries to lure Luke to the dark side and then tries to turn on Vader and is finally thrown down a reactor shaft and “exploding”. (Since he is alive in The Rise of Skywalker I guess he didn’t actually explode). I guess I’m a fan of this final battle even though it nowhere near matches the duel in Empire. And the father son moments between Vader and Luke is compelling and heartfelt and a great way to end the reign of the Empire. Other than that I actually can’t say much more about this film.

In the end, this movie for me is a disappointing follow up to The Empire Strikes Back. Many loves this movie and many consider it to be the best Star Wars movie of the whole series. I disagree. I don’t see where the elevation in quality is in this film unfortunately and while there are some enjoyable moments that work for me, on rewatch it just doesn’t work as a whole. There’s not as much depth or layers to it or the characters. It also has pacing issues and several logic issues that honestly reeks of somebody trying to do too much. It really just didn’t have as clear of a vision as Empire and A New Hope. Unfortunately this film did not exceed my previous feelings and honestly may have come out lower on my list of these films ranked.

Grade: C+

Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Review

One of the best sequels of all time. My favorite Star Wars movie and my second favorite movie of all time. The Empire Strikes Back for many including me, is peak Star Wars. For the franchise this was uncharted waters of whether or not George Lucas could actually pull off making a successful sequel in an era where sequels weren’t that common especially successful sequels. He took a different route in bringing in a writer to help script in Lawrence Kasdan and bringing a director to direct his vision with Irvin Kershner. The advantage of this was that George was handing over the reins to a new crew to produce his vision but with more technical skill than what George himself has. The Empire Strikes Back ended up becoming the most successful sequel ever at the time and is widely regarded as the better film between itself and the original. It hosts what some would argue being the greatest movie twist of all time and “the last great movie twist”. It also ends on a cliffhanger with many questions left unanswered only to be revealed in another sequel. Ultimately this was a big gamble. Although the first movie ended up being a massive success, there was no guarantee that the sequel would perform as well as the original and ending on a note that requires the success of this film is bold and an incredible success. I actually have more fun with some other movies in this franchise, however Empire has always been my favorite. Does it hold up after rewatch?

This almost a perfect movie in my mind. It’s not your typical kind of sob story or based on a true story drama kind of perfect Oscar movie, but as far as a summer blockbuster goes, this is really the best of the best. This movie takes everything from the first movie and completely elevates it to another level. Going back to my feelings towards the previous movie, I couldn’t quite figure out why I always went to this movie first rather than go to the original to begin my rewatch. I think this is definitely a major reason why. While the original film is very good and a classic and in some eyes the best of the series, it’s this movie that absolutely elevates every aspect and brings us an overall better movie. It has more depth, more character, better action, and more iconic moments. It’s not the big twist that does it for me. It really is the character development and the depth that impact my perception the most. Following a timeskip we are brought back to our heroes who have taken more to their roles in the rebellion. Luke is more confident and not who he was when he first started his journey, but still clearly has much to learn. Han is still the overconfident smooth talking smuggler that is just trying to get away from the rebellion, but his plans are thwarted by his own personal feelings towards Leia. Leia isn’t just your princess in distress, she’s also more confident but with more genuine emotion than she had in the first film. Surprisingly she has more genuine emotion when going back and forth about his and her feelings than she does after watching her homeworld explode. That would be a point for Empire. It gives us these updated version of our characters early on in the film, but needs to set up moments and storylines for them to grow, but before that we open with an awesome action scene on the snow planet Hoth. The rebels aren’t going to win the battle so they begin their escape with Leia going with Han and Luke going on his own with R2.

It took only a few minutes into the movie for us to get Luke’s setup with the ghost of Ben showing himself and telling Luke to go find Master Yoda. While Han and Leia’s storyline sort of just happens, it is good that slowly elevates to being highlight moments for the movie overall. With Luke going to find Yoda, we know we’re going to get time for him to train to become a Jedi which means we’re going to get more depth and information into the Jedi lore. This is immediately and elevation over what we got in the first film. A New Hope set up the groundwork and the mystery, but it was Empire that took that groundwork and solidified a foundation for the Jedi that we know today and fall back on when trying to understand them. There is incredible depth with the symbolism and the meaning behind the meaning in Yoda’s lessons to Luke. Not only for Luke, but for us, this movie teaches lessons of a Jedi and lessons of the real world. A simple line from Yoda “Do or do not. There is not try.” This line alone says so much about perseverance and personal drive to accel at what you do and to keep pushing forward. Not to just do something with no confidence, but instead, if you can feel it to be true than you can do it. That was just one line. While I find some of the other films being good case studies, this one is a case study on a totally opposite spectrum. You could study everything about this movie from each individual line to how certain scenes are executed and interpreted. There are so many layers that you could get a different meaning each time you watch the movie.

This brings us to the “other” story. I say “other” because it’s clearly not as compelling as the Luke arc that is going on opposite of the Han and Leia storyline. They’re trying to escape the Empire because the Hyperdrive doesn’t work so we get some chase and some hide and seek, but all of it is to give time for Han and Leia to have moments to grow on each other more and to develop that deeper relationship. There’s nothing wrong with that because it is a logical progression of their characters from where we left them in the last movie, but I just wish they could’ve had more to do in the middle of the movie. I was never a big fan of the space slug and the bat like creatures in its stomach. This story only gets more interesting when they finally make it to Cloud City followed by a sneaky new bounty hunter. We get introduced to Lando Calrissian (Billy D. Williams) Who may be more smooth talking than Han. It’s a very interesting dynamic and angle to take because with every move Lando tries to pull, we can see the subtle push back from Leia and eye rolling from Han because they now both have those feelings for each other. The first unexpected twist is when we find out that Vader has beaten them there and has made a deal with Lando. It shows how grey this world is where we can have a new character clearly connected to our hero that we feel like we should trust only to unfortunately betray us as soon as we meet him. It’s a perfect way to subvert the expectations of what a character like that would do in a typical movie. This all leads to one of the most iconic and emotional moments in all of history and arguably one if the most memorable moments ever in cinema history. Leia says “I love you.” And Han gives a simple “I know.” It’s improvised and on the surface seems like nothing more than an eye rolling line, but in reality it has comedy and heart in it at the same time. It’s funny because that’s something his character would say rather than “I love you too.” It’s heartfelt because as soon as he says it, you can feel the significance of that love between the two characters. He then is frozen in carbonite and taken away by Boba Fett. It’s amazing to me how much of an impact a character like Boba after can have with little screen time and hardly any dialogue. He’s now one of the most famous characters from the series.

We finally get to the final confrontation. Luke vs Vader. This is where I fell in love with Star Wars. While A New Hope gave us our first lightsaber duel with Ben vs Vader, it was slightly lackluster and made me want more. The duel between Vader and Luke however was absolute gold. Luke was nowhere near the level of Vader at this point as you can see with Vader mostly toying with him the whole time, but he put up a fight and gave what I believe to be one of the best lightsaber duels in all of the series. Obviously not because they were an equal match (because they weren’t) but instead because of the visuals involved. The Ben and Vader fight was more calculated due to their superior knowledge of wielding the laser sword. This fight was raw and gave more untamed ferocity between the two. Luke was fighting with emotion while Vader fought with tamed precision attempting to parry each of Luke’s strike. It was more so a game for Vader who was spending more time testing Luke and attempting to lure him to the dark side. All of this happening with incredible backdrop of that Cloud City carbonite room with its faint orange glow in a mostly dark room illuminated by the red and blue beams of energy from the lightsabers. All of this culminates to an incredibly appealing sequence that only gets deeper as we close in on the finale of the duel. With Luke cornered, Vader finally goes on the offensive and cuts off Luke’s hand. In a last attempt to lure Luke, Vader finally reveals one of the greatest twists in cinema. He is in fact Luke’s father. This performed expertly by Mark Hamill as we see pain and realization sink in with facial expressions alone. He decides not to join Vader and rather leave his fate up to the force as he lets go in falls below only to be saved by Leia and Lando. It’s at this point you start to realize how far our characters have come and what makes this movie so incredible. All of our characters go through in arc in this movie that changes who they are in a compelling manner and leaves us with more questions and even more character growth for the next film. It’s an incredible feat that not many movies achieve off of a sequel. 

The Empire Strikes Back is one of the greatest movies of all time. It’s my favorite Star Wars movie and it’s the most impactful movie on my life. It’s the movie that I remember the most and the one that really solidified my love for the franchise. If I wanted to, I could find issues in this movie but to do that would be to just look for an issue, not blatantly see one. Therefore, I find this to be the least flawed and most perfectly crafted of all of the Star Wars movies. 

Grade: A+

Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope (1977) Review

This where everything started. This is the movie the laid the groundwork for the Star Wars universe we know today. There have been many video essays that cover the excellence of this movie. I do agree that this movie is fantastic and accomplished so much with the struggle it had just getting made. However, unpopular opinion, A New Hope is right dead in the middle of my rankings of all of these movies. As far as quality goes, this movie is a masterwork of all of the technical aspects whether it be editing or sound design, but what my list comes down to is the actual enjoyment factor and the urge to watch it again. It’s a classic and a staple in the history of cinema for everything it was able to do and the boundaries it pushed, but because of how tightly controlled this movie was from the studio as far as where the story could go and how much leeway George actually had, it suffers some. Going into watching this movie again for the review, I thought back and remembered all of the time I spent watching this movie and all the rest growing up, but then I started to realize that I actually hadn’t seen this one in a while. I’ve actually seen every other Star Wars movie, maybe two times over since the last time I watched A New Hope. There wasn’t a reason or anything for it, I love the movie! There’s just some deeper reason in the back of my mind that made me skip to what is my favorite of the series with The Empire Strikes Back. I’m hoping my feeling haven’t changed overall for this movie since the last time I’ve seen it, but let’s find out!

 

The first thing that struck me was the hilarity of  remembering how viewers of this film when it originally came out always praised the fast pace, but in our present day its actually relatively slow in comparison to today’s movies. That isn’t a bad thing per say, but I do believe it’s an important factor into why some of the younger generation aren’t as big a fan of the older movies which is unfortunate but just a progression of the business. While the film does feel slower in comparison, it still has a quick pace that engages you. The first ten minutes doesn’t introduce you to our main character, but sets up so much in such little time that you don’t realize it until you actually look at it and process all of the information that is actually given to you. There’s a rebellion that’s fighting an empire, a princess that has plans to a planet destroying battle station, a black clad villain that steels the screen, and two droids that take us through these events. It also sets up the plot in the first five minutes which is a feat that a lot of movies tend to take too long to do. This is where the pacing is important and really holds up regardless of how old the movie is. This may be the best paced movie of the whole series, but is often overlooked. Why its overlooked seems to come down to the simplicity of the movie while not simplistic at the same time. It’s not simplistic because of the new world that we aren’t familiar with (if you watch this movie first before seeing any of the others) but it’s simplistic because it can be broken down easily into the heroes journey. It doesn’t stray too far from this formula, but shrouds that simplicity with all of the lore being created and given to us at the same time. Where this tends to stand out to my brain or thought process now is that without thinking too much about it when I’m deciding which movie to watch, my brain leans more towards the other movies because of the formulaic simplicity of this movie. That’s not a knock on the movie at all, but it is an important factor that plays into not only the success but also the failure when it’s trying to bring in new fans. From a personal perspective, I know many people that I’ve introduced this movie to that tend to like the newer movies or prequels more than the originals and I think it’s because of these points I’ve made that are a reason for this issue.

 

Back to the movie. This is easily the worst version of Luke that we have in the movies. I think some people forget how whiny Luke is in this movie. He’s very clearly a fish out of water from the point of him leaving with Ben to begin his journey in this much larger universe. I was never a fan of Luke in this movie because of how insignificant he is until we get later into the movie and he actually gets to do some things. The acting is also not the greatest in this movie from Mark Hamill which progressively gets better with each installment following and that tends to happen when an actor sticks with a character for more than one movie. The more time they spend playing that character, the more they embrace and understand that character which carries over to the acting. It’s only highlighted more by how easily Harrison Ford embraces the Han Solo character that almost seems like his own personal life in another world. Han Solo is one of the most recognizable characters ever and gets that stardom by how well Ford plays the role. He’s the badass smuggler that has a soft side but seems to be the most relatable character for the casual viewer with his feelings towards the force and Jedi. His development from the first scene we meet him in to the end is fantastic along with Luke. While I gave Luke some crap about how his character was in the beginning, he does go through a great character arc that brings him around to being a complete and more mature character that is set up for success for the sequels. Leia and Ben both come off as one note characters with great moments. They don’t go through much of a character arc and don’t have a lot to do or opportunity to do much, but they both have great moments that define their characters. It’s these moments that define who Ben Kenobi is and what keeps his legacy as a character timeless. Leia however doesn’t gain her timelessness for me until the next film The Empire Strikes Back, when she actually is given more material to work with and goes through an excellent character arc. Darth Vader is arguably the most iconic villain in all of cinema, however I feel this falls along the lines of the Leia character also. Vader doesn’t have a whole lot to do minus being threatening and killing our heroes mentor, but he doesn’t get his real moments to shine and solidify his icon status until the next film. Finally we get to our tour guides R2D2 and C3P0. R2D2 is fine because he doesn’t have dialogue and just does his own thing which I find hilarious while C3P0 has always been a character that I could do without. I know people love him and he does bring comedy, but sometimes it’s just too much and over the top. The movie wouldn’t work without him, but I’m just not a fan overall of the character.

 

Unless you get down to some specific aspects of this movie, it’s pretty much a near perfect film. There’s easily some issues with the writing, acting and character development and there’s some problems with logic like how Luke’s photon torpedo’s make a ninety degree turn. It’s things like these that you just have to ignore and move past because. The story works overall for what it is and what it does. It’s a great setup for the following movies and a great setup for characters that we want more adventures with, but doesn’t go much further than that. I think that this movie gets a pass from most people from the fact that it’s the first Star Wars movie in the series. It’s the most formulaic and most simplistic of all of them, but manages to tell a story in a way that keeps you engaged and makes you excited for what comes next in the story. It seems like a knock against the movie but it’s not. I consider this a win for the movie because it does so much without having to do that much and still keeps its quality in a timeless way. It really is a great study trying to understand this film and Rogue One. They both have more to say the longer you look at them. I could keep going into trying to nitpick this movie or do a complete study, but this is just an overall review of the movie that certainly stands up and is timeless and a necessary staple in the history of cinema. This is absolutely a must watch for anyone that likes movies and I feel it’s a movie that should be taught in classes because of how you can study it.

 

Grade: A-

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) Review

While not the best Star Wars movie in the franchise, I find it by far the most underrated of all of the movies in the series. It had one of the biggest challenges being the first Star Wars movie that wasn’t an episodic entry. They took a fairly safe route of having it take place in a familiar time period between episodes three and four. It also told a story of something that while not very significant at the time, it did make us wonder. The release of the original Star Wars film started with an intro crawl stating that rebel spies had stolen plans to the Death Star. While the preceding movie covered what happened with the plans after Leia was in possession of them, Rogue One took us backwards and showed who those rebel spies were. Watching the trailers it was obvious that this wasn’t going to be your typical Star Wars movie with the force and lightsabers, but instead took a thrilling wartime approach that certainly gave us a fresh view into this universe. My excitement was on another level with the release of The Force Awakens like most fans, but I found myself more hyped up to watch Rogue One. The biggest reason being that I felt I could relax a little going into it. For the most part I knew where the movie was going to end and what would likely happen to our main characters, it was just a matter of how the story was told. I actually found that being the biggest thing going for it. It just had to tell a good story set in the Star Wars universe, but was it able to accomplish that task? 

The most jarring moment right off the bat for me was the lack of an intro crawl. The movie instantly starts with a scene set in the past for our main character then immediately cuts to showing us the title of the movie and then bringing us right into the present. Immediately you can feel a sense of urgency for the mood of the film. This is easily one of the best aspects overall by making you feel like there’s a ticking time bomb planted in every scene. There’s a quick pace that’s only slowed down by exposition when we’re given a sense of the issues at hand and where the characters are having to go. It also doesn’t give you your typical Star Wars heroes, instead it gives you a woman in Jyn (Felicity Jones) who wants to keep her head down and just live her life away from The Rebellion and away from The Empire. We also get a man in Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) who is with The Rebellion but very much a grey character who will do what is necessary, including killing an informant. They’re very far from your typical Star Wars characters and I appreciate that approach as it gives us a much more grounded and real feel to this universe. 

Jyn is thrown into an unwanted situation when she’s brought in by the rebels due to her father’s involvement with the development of The Death Star. She was not aware of him still being alive and her own motivation is to get to him, while the motivation of the rebels is to retrieve a pilot who defected from The Empire with a message to the rebels regarding a way to destroy the Death Star. All of this is set up early on and puts us on pace to a non stop adrenaline rush through a boost on the ground perspective. I appreciated the more mature and realistic insight and perspective into The Empire’s reign. The first most memorable moment comes when they retrieve the message and pilot on Jedha, a planet that soon becomes a disaster. The biggest standout on a technical aspect are the visuals and camera work that come from a director in Garett Edwards, who is known for his ability to give a real sense of scale like he was able to do with Godzilla (2014). What he’s able to do in Godzilla and in Rogue One is give you a first hand experience into how big something really is. What I’m saying is that when they finally test the Death Star on Jedha, he shoots it in a way where you actually see the totality of damage and destruction that is being brought to this planet full of people that you knew were there but have now clearly been completely obliterated. In doing this he’s able to make you feel like the world is collapsing around you the same as our characters are feeling trying to escape the destruction. It’s really something that I don’t find much in any of the other movies that actually choose to show the destruction from a distance rather than the real boots on the ground feel. 

This quick pace continues as we get to the “rescue” of Jyn’s father Galen (Mads Mikkelson). This is an important moment in the movie for both Jyn and Cassian. Jyn has emotional disappointment watching her father die in her hands, a key moment that doesn’t hit as hard in any other Star Wars movie. This also is a turning point for Cassian who becomes more human and emotional himself by defying the orders of the Rebellion to kill Galen and instead watching to see the events play out. This is a moment that really brings him closer to Jyn and give his character much more depth. It all comes to a ahead and comes full circle when Jyn pleads to The Rebellion to go through with stealing the plans so that they can bring down the Death Star. This shows the development of Jyn who fully embraces her role in the universe and also brings in Cassian who now supports her and is willing to do what is necessary to get the plans which brings us to our climactic finale. This is the moment that I was waiting for. A full scale war like sequence with the fate of characters that we can all see coming to a sad and emotional ending. It’s when the hilariously honest droid K2SO sacrifices himself that it sinks in what’s really going to happen. Our characters are going to die. Unfortunately they do and while I could see Disney deciding to leave them alive for the sake of not having a depressing ending, I am so glad that they went with the better choice of killing them all for the sake of this mission. It adds so much more meaning to what they did and what it took just to get those plans. It adds more meaning to the plans in the following movie A New Hope. I don’t think I have normally felt this way about movies preceding an older movie, but Rogue One actually enhances my experience watching A New Hope. 

A few things that I haven’t gone over yet: Vader, Krennic, and Tarkin. A big question mark was how they were going to handle the Tarkin character. We were told well before the release that the character would be created using an actor and CGI. There was a lot of skepticism and while it works for the few scenes he’s in, it’s hard not to be taken out of the movie when you can clearly see that he’s not entirely real. I don’t dwell on this too much because it’s such a small factor but it is a downside to our technology not being quite right yet to the point of completely recreating a person. Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) gives us a fantastic villain that has a purpose of wanting to prove himself but has it all taken away. In the end it makes me feel for him because of all of his failures. He’s very clearly a villain and you shouldn’t care about him but it’s a testament to how well they wrote his character for you to end up caring as much you do about him. Finally, we have Vader. Vader shows up in one scene with Krennic and give us some classic Vader with an awesome backdrop of his castle which I would very much like to see more of and he gets a scene at the end. There’s a few things about that scene that strike me. 1. The scene was necessary given the timeline of events between this movie and A New Hope. 2. This scene takes away from the rest of the movie. While I personally love the moment he has striking down the rebels, I think it took some shine away from the rest of the movie. It seemed like people were talking more about that scene than the rest of the movie because it was just Vader being awesome. I really wish people would go into this and look at the movie more as a whole rather than that one memorable scene. 

To go into negatives would be to go into nitpicking and getting down to the details as far as editing or pacing in some places. I have to move past that because when I really sit down and watch this movie and every time I’ve watched it since release, I’ve loved it even more and find it being easily the most rewatchable of all of the new Star Wars movies. I find extremely underrated because it’s never talked about as much as any of the others and as a complete movie I just think it’s simply the most consistent from start to finish. It’s the kind of movie that in ten years will become a more spoken about and more looked at movie as people come around to revisiting it and looking at it in a new light. I can’t recommend it highly enough and really hope if you’ve only seen it once to at least try and give it another look. 

Grade: A-

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) Review

The first failure in the Star Wars live action franchise. Misstep after misstep after poor decisions overall. This movie may be the most complicated and the hardest to pinpoint how I feel about it. Ever since the new movies started coming out after the Disney purchase, I have made it a point to go see the new movies either on the day of release or at the very least the day after. I waited almost a week before going to see Solo. A lot of things come into play when it comes to my reasoning for waiting so long, such as the whole director debacle of firing Lord & Miller halfway through production or the fact that nobody really asked for a prequel movie about Han Solo, not starring Harrison Ford. Overall it just seems like something that should never have been greenlit for the simple fact that there’s too much working against them. Now I know that they shouldn’t listen to fans because if you listen to fans long enough you’ll become one and out of a job. Fans don’t know the business as well as those who run it, but I do think the writing was clearly on the wall that this movie was going to have the hardest uphill battle of possibly any Star Wars movie. A week after release I finally made my way to the theatre to give this movie a chance because of course I’ll watch anything “Star Wars” that comes out, but is there anything that made this movie not just a total failure?

I have absolutely no idea how to place this movie in my own personal list. This movie has some truly awful moments similar to that of the prequels, but has enough fun adventure and great moments that make it not as bad as the first two prequels. I would say it feels similar to Revenge of the Sith as far as quality goes. It has bad moments, but makes up for it with some truly awesome moments, but still leaves you feeling like you didn’t really need it. When I say awful prequel like moments, I mean moments that just make you want to roll your eyes or cringe hard. The comedy for example is difficult. While there are moments where the comedy works, but there’s other moments where it just doesn’t feel like something that would be said or done especially buy the character of Han. What hurts in this instance is that you have a fairly new actor, Alden Ehrenreich, having to play a character that’s so beloved that it almost wouldn’t have mattered if he pulled off an Oscar worthy performance as Han, people still would’ve been against it. I admit that for the most part he did really well, but struggled from what I see being the writing and the directing. The directing becomes a problem where you had two different directing visions with some footage and scenes from both. What this does is it puts a different perception of how they want Alden to come off playing the character, but as a performance for a character in this space adventure story I found him to be pretty great, but as a younger Han Solo, it gets a little iffy.

With that whole actor/character situation out of the way. Let’s get into the actual moments in the movie that just made me scratch my head and think “why?”. The first moment hits you in the first couple of minutes when we find out how Han gets his name. Without getting into every detail, it’s basically just given to him in such a random moment and situation that really makes me wonder why there was even a point in putting it in there. Why was it necessary to have that in there when you could’ve easily ignored any reasoning behind explaining it and him just say that that’s his name? It’s extraordinary some of the decisions made in this movie. Another point is when they get the crew together for the first mission and we’re introduced to Thandie Newtons character, Val who is actually pretty interesting and has a curious relationship with Woody Harrelson’s Beckett character. We also get introduced to Jon Favreu’s Rio Durant character who is a new alien with a funny personality. The group with Han and Chewie added makes for an entertaining group of rogues that I would’ve enjoyed spending time with for the whole movie, but unfortunately Rio and Val are killed off almost as soon as we meet them. Yet another questionable moment. The final major moment is the cliffhanger at the end, showing that Darth Maul is behind everything. In what world did they think that was a good idea? For me, I loved it and thought it was cool, but for the mainstream audience, Maul has been dead since The Phantom Menace. Most people don’t know about the animated TV series where they decided to bring him back and say that he survived and while I, myself enjoy it, I just feel like it was a misstep by putting it in one of the live action movies as a tease. Not only that, but was there not a point at all during production where they thought “this might not make us money back”? Did they really think the franchise name was that impenetrable? They were very wrong and now we have a setup for a sequel with many questions that will likely never get answered because of its performance. It’s absolutely frustrating some of the choices they made, but with that said. I did not hate this movie.

There are many redeemable, excellent, and fun moments in this movie. How Chewie and Han met might not have been what I imagined, but it works well enough for you to really feel the bond they formed between each other and care about every moment with the two. I also greatly appreciate the straight up adventure feel that instantly reminds me of the Indiana Jones movies. What struck me the most and might have saved this movie for me was the perfect casting of Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. Every single moment he was on screen was a highlight of the whole movie. I also felt like Alden was his best as Han in every scene where he was interacting with Glover’s Lando. I feel that while the Solo concept could work on Disney+ to further the adventure with these actors and characters, I think their best bet would be going forward with a Lando series instead. It may not have been as controversial having to recast for Lando as it was to recast for Han, so Glover had an edge on Ehrenreich, but it does help that Glover seemed to embrace his character more than Ehrenreich. I don’t know if that comes from the directing, writing, or acting, but it is very noticeable how much better Glover is than Ehrenreich even though both actors I would say are on the same level in their other work. Again it’s almost a study going into this movie and trying to understand everything about it. Thinking about it more now, there’s not a whole lot of depth going into the things I like about this movie other than Lando. I really enjoyed a lot of this movie but that seems to lean back on the general space adventure that it is. It almost feels like it was an extra-long episode of a TV series.

I feel like I could go on forever trying to study and understand how I feel about this movie. It’s almost a love/hate relationship but not as much as some other movies I feel that way about. This movie has some great moments and is a good entertaining movie that you can turn your brain off and watch, but if you try to look any deeper into it, like we Star Wars fans tend to do, you find all of the problems which there are a lot of. It’s hard to recommend this movie to someone because of it not really being anything essential to your experience of the series. I think The Phantom Menace is a far weaker movie compared to Solo, but I would recommend Menace before Solo in a heartbeat. That comes down to the overall importance of each movie. I guess Solo is a fun space adventure movie but not essential to the series overall and won’t hurt your experience of any other movies if you don’t watch. This has been my toughest review so far to pinpoint how to go about explaining what this movie is and isn’t.

Grade: C

Star Wars: Episode III- Revenge of the Sith (2005) Review

An end to the prequel trilogy and a completion of the Skywalker saga…At least until Disney bought Lucasfilm and decided to continue the story for one more trilogy. Revenge of the Sith may be the most important Star Wars movie to me, as it was the first of the series that I saw in theatres. I don’t remember going to the movie theatre a lot when I was kid, but the most vivid memory I have being in a theatre as a kid was going to see this movie at my small two screen theatre in Columbiana, Ohio. I remember being so excited to go see it and trying to convince my brother to go too, but he kept saying that they already did Episode III. He was actually referring to the original trilogy with Episode VI- Return of the Jedi. After finally convincing, my brother, my mom, and I all went to go see it and I remember absolutely loving it and thinking it was my favorite of all the Star Wars movies. I also remember watching the previous movies and loving them more at the time than I do now as an adult, so does this one hold up better than the others over time?

My biggest complaints out of Attack of the Clones, acting, dialogue, missed opportunities, and the lack of the actual “Clone Wars”. I was expecting to finally get to see the so called epic “Clone Wars” and you know what? We actually did get to see it. The very beginning throws into a rescue mission where Anakin and Obi-Wan are to save Chancellor Palpatine. The opening instantly thrusts you into the middle of an epic battle between clones and droids. All of it being topped off with a rematch for our two heroes against Count Dooku. I will say that while it was sad to see Obi-Wan so easily thrown away for a second time against Dooku, it was equally awesome to see Anakin completely out match Dooku for his revenge with a little push from Palpatine. It was at this point that I had a feeling of actual execution on opportunity. We were also introduced to a new villain, General Grievous, who seems more like a gimmick with his four arms and four lightsabers rather than an actual useful villain to introduce in this final installment. It make me think back about what could have been if Darth Maul made it this far and it was him as the secondary villain instead of Grievous. It maybe would have flowed better, but I’m not here to say how I would do it.

Surprisingly this movie isn’t nearly as bad as the previous two and actually delivers to an extent on the setup of this being a finale to the Skywalker saga. It still had its moments with Anakin and Padme which weren’t as bad as before, but were still kind of eye rolling moments that I wish was just directed better. I also wasn’t much of a fan of the whole Palpatine vs Mace Windu and the other Jedi because 1. The other Jedi were killed far too quick and 2. I can’t help but laugh every time I see Ian McDiarmid make those faces when he’s swinging his lightsaber. He has some of the absolute worst fighting faces I’ve ever seen in a movie, but they’re so bad that they just make me laugh every time. There was also the appearance of Chewbacca who apparently knew Yoda and who fought in the Clone Wars. I guess he forgot to mention that to everyone in the original trilogy. Lastly, the biggest complaint I have about this movie is the sudden fall of Anakin. While I’m not on here to say how I would have done it differently, but to take someone who up to about halfway through the movie is still for the most part a truly good guy and then seemingly out of nowhere and for some hesitant reasons, make him fall to the dark side and kill kids…Not so sure about that. This goes back to the whole, not executing on opportunity issue that I brought up in the other reviews. This fall that he had, should’ve been something that was hinted at in the first movie, slowly built up to in the second movie, and finalized with an epic turn in the third movie. It’s more disappointing than anything else because we didn’t get to see the fall as it really could have been.

That being said. This movie is by far the best of the prequel trilogy. While it does have its head scratching moments that liken themselves to the previous two movies, it far outweighs those negatives to top tier Star Wars moments. I want to highlight one scene in particular, that for the casual viewer won’t really matter as much, but is certainly a scene that was what I believe the second biggest missed opportunity in all of Star Wars, only behind the better execution of Anakin’s fall. That scene is when Anakin and Palpatine are at the opera talking about Darth Plagueis. For the most part, nobody even knows who that is or really cares, but there’s two things that specifically are important about this scene. 1. It is the push that Palpatine needed to really get Anakin on the verge of turning dark and 2. It is probably the most wasted opportunity in the new trilogy by Disney. Without getting too much into it, they could have executed on Darth Plagueis and Palpatine with the whole resurrection aspect and all of that rather than try to force a new villain that’s not connected to anything we’ve known before with Snoke. I absolutely love the potential of what that scene could mean or be, but disappointed by what came out of it.

The other major highlight for me was what one could argue is one of the top three lightsaber duels in all of Star Wars. This was the moment, master vs apprentice. Obi-Wan and Anakin gave us one of the best and emotional moments in their duel. With the backdrop being the lava planet Mustafar, we got to see a grand showdown that for me personally was everything that I wanted. There was a lot more that I did want, but nothing more than wanting to see a matchup between these two. I know some will look at it and joke about them running around everywhere or the “high ground” moment, but for me I was so invested into these characters as a kid and still even now, that the fight when I first watched it was permanently etched into my memory. The true sadness and disappointment from Obi-Wan really hit me. He cared so much for Anakin and all of it was taken away from him when Anakin selfishly turned. It was in this moment that I started to think about something. Was this really the tragedy of Anakin turning to the dark side? Or was this (or should it have been) the tragedy of Obi-Wan? A man who never wanted to train Anakin, who disagreed with his master Qui-Gon about the young boy, but for his masters wish, he trained the boy, he raised him, he bonded with him. They were family. And in the end, he had to defeat the young boy. It was failure. And that I think is why this trilogy could arguably be more about the tragedy of Obi-Wan rather than Anakin.

In reviewing this trilogy, I found myself reliving old memories of a time when things seemed so much simpler and not as grey. Back then it was easy to just love or hate a movie, but now it’s different. I understand what I’m watching much more than when I was a kid and with that comes a sense of trying to sort out the grey area. There’s a lot in these prequel movies that is bad, most of which is usually the only highlighted points by fans. In reality, film is subjective and it may be true that you really absolutely hate the prequels, I believe that there are some out there that hate them because it’s the “cool” thing to do. I will admit that there are truly awful moments in these movies, but at the same time, I admit when there are redeeming moments or great overall portions of these movies that are great for the Star Wars franchise. I know many people who love these movies and I know many who hate them, but either way, they are still Star Wars movies. I appreciate what they did whether it be good or bad, and am glad that I can share my own view of the prequels in hopes of making some take a second look at them.

Grade: B-

Star Wars: Episode II- Attack of the Clones (2002) Review

John Carter of Mars with a Star Wars skin? A failed investigation story that should’ve been so much more? The second entry in the prequel trilogy, Attack of the Clones, marks a step better than The Phantom Menace by being the second weakest of the Star Wars movies for me. For some fans, this is the absolute worst of all the movies due to the frequent complaint about the acting and writing being some of the absolute worst in the series. While I agree with that, I feel this movie has way more redeeming moments and some of the best Star Wars moments, more so than the previous installment. Going back to the original Star Wars movie A New Hope, we were teased with a small bit of dialogue from Ben Kenobi to Luke Skywalker about how he fought in the Clone Wars alongside Anakin. This one single bit of dialogue at the time was not as significant at the time with that being the very first movie that could’ve failed, but it would soon be a focal point for many excited fans going into the prequel series. “What? No Clone Wars in The Phantom Menace? Okay maybe the next one. Wait. This one is actually called Attack of the “Clones”? Oh we’re definitely getting the Clone Wars in this one.” That’s essentially the thought process I would presume, and they weren’t exactly wrong, but not quite right either. So what exactly did we get from this movie? And was it worth the hype?

What I love about this movie and really most of the Star Wars movies is how it drops you right in the middle of the story. It takes no time at all for them to get you hooked into the action. An assassination attempt brings our heroes, Anakin and Obi-Wan, right in the thick of a plot to kill Anakin’s rushed love interest. So far so good except for Anakin’s obsession with Padme right off the bat. I’m sure given the circumstances, that would be how he would act about getting to see her for the first time in a long time, but the writing and acting in these romance instances really fails overall. Moving past that, we keep up with the quick pace by going right into one of the George Lucas staples, a high speed chase. Again, this chase scene like the pod race, is an absolute highlight of the movies and series as we finally get a good feel for the city planet Coruscant. All of this sets up two things, 1. Anakin gets to take Padme to her home world and keep watch over her and 2. Obi-Wan gets to investigate the perpetrator to this assassination attempt. Anakin’s mission is simply a means to build a romance between him and Padme. It’s a plot point that was very clearly placed here and forced because they knew that the romance had to have more meaning for the next and final film of the prequels. The biggest pitfall for this movie is that, the worst writing and acting comes from those two and their romance and unfortunately that’s all the two are given to do until a forced plot point for Anakin to slowly begin his turn. This takes him back to his mother that he ends up finding and she dies in his arms which leads him to a murder spree of the Tusken Raiders that took her. This is where his dark side turn begins even though it very much seems forced. Oh and to top it off, of course Anakin is close enough to Obi-Wan in the wide vast universe that he can get to him before anyone else…

Back to Obi-Wan, we actually have a very interesting story and a realization that maybe this whole trilogy would’ve been better off coming from Obi-Wan’s perspective for the majority, rather than this back and forth jarring between a good story and a not so good story. With Obi-Wan we actually have a very interesting investigation story where he goes to various locations and chases different leads before leading him finally to a new planet where we finally get our first glimpse of the “clones”. We also find out *cringe moment* that the hired assassin is a bounty hunter named Jango Fett who is Boba Fett’s dad and Boba is actually a clone and all of the clones are made from Jango’s DNA. So the investigation went off the rails pretty quick and gave us our first big disappoint about our perception of what the Clone Wars was, but not all is lost yet. In another chase sequence we follow Obi-Wan who is chasing Jango to another new planet (props for all of the planets we got to see in this movie), and he finally gets captured. All of this leads back to Anakin and Padme through a droid factory and they get captured too.

John Carter of Mars is a clear influence of the next events. A coliseum where our three heroes must fight three monsters to survive while the alien natives and new big bad villain, Count Dooku, played fantastically by Christopher Lee. A big surprise brings along one of the coolest moments in all of the movies when the several Jedi reveal themselves to rescue our heroes. This is the first time we’ve seen this many Jedi fighting in one area. It’s a fist pumping moment as we see them fight the emotionless droids, but of course they’re outnumbered and about to lose, but then…the rest of the Jedi arrive with…THE CLONES. Here it is, the moment we’ve been waiting for. The Clone Wars. But just like getting candy taken away as a kid, we only get to see a few minutes of the clones in action. The biggest upside to the prequels is that it does contain some of the best lightsaber duels with stunning visuals. The final fight with Anakin and Obi-Wan could’ve been much more and feels like a letdown with how quickly the fight is over. It’s only saved when old hippity hoppity Yoda walks in and whips out his own lightsaber. While it does seem a little goofy watching Yoda bounce around the way he does, it’s also at the same time badass and we get to see how powerful he really is in a fight that he would’ve won if not for the fact that Dooku cheated and ran away. To end Yoda says the Clone Wars has begun.

Now like I said before, the biggest tease for these prequels was the anticipation of seeing what exactly the Clone Wars was. What this movie did was nothing more than building up that hype by teasing the actual Clone Wars even more. This is something that will be looked back on as a missed opportunity. Where this movie fails, is that it doesn’t take advantage of its own setup and own opportunities and instead decides to force plot points and character moments that should’ve been setup better in The Phantom Menace and expanded upon through this one and the next one. What sucks the most, is that there is a great movie in here somewhere. The moments with Obi-Wan investigating is a great opportunity that left more to be desired. There are many more moments that make this better than the previous film, but not enough to make it that much better. While the previous movie seemed like an odd one out, this one is just disappointing. It had every opportunity, but overall dropped the ball.

Grade: C

Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace (1999) Review

A great space fantasy, but not the best Star Wars movie. With the end of the Skywalker saga just around the corner with the release of The Rise of Skywalker, I felt there was no better time than now to review all of the Star Wars movies. Starting off is what I believe to be the weakest of all of the entries and the first of the prequel saga, taking place before the original trilogy and showing the fall of Anakin Skywalker. On its surface it’s easy to poke fun at the bad writing and bland performances, but take it as this: Would we be as critical if it weren’t a Star Wars movie? I know that for the majority there’s mostly prequel haters. People that likely grew up watching the original trilogy when it first came out and being older when the prequels were released. I also know that there are some who grew up watching the prequels first and hate them, but there are still those that find enjoyment and love for this trilogy. Myself, I grew up watching The Phantom Menace first. For most of my childhood I would say that I watched the prequels more often than the originals and I believe that boils down to me being a kid and enjoying the more CGI heavy effects and faster pace. Being older now, I’ve found myself liking all of the movies in a mixture of not just one trilogy above the others. With all of that in mind, I want to start off with the chronological start of the Skywalker saga, Episode I- The Phantom Menace.

A great space fantasy adventure. That’s how I would go about describing the feeling I have when watching this movie. So what makes a “great” movie go from being my least favorite in a series? Usually it’s because all of the rest of the movies are just that much better, in this case it’s because it’s just not a great entry into the overall saga. While it does introduce us to Anakin and Obi-Wan and how they met, it still seems to be the one odd duck out. Great child actors are not a dime a dozen and it shows with the very novice performance by Jake Lloyd as Anakin. That’s no knock on him though, because unfortunately for him, he was being directed by a man who is not an actors director. My biggest issue though is with the next two movies following this one skipping ahead to when Anakin is older, than why did we have to have a whole movie with him as a kid. I thought the prequels were supposed to be about the fall of Anakin? Than why is it that our main character in this one is Qui-Gon who dies at the end leaving us with Obi-Wan teaching young Anakin, something that the whole trilogy should’ve been about from the start. Don’t get me wrong, I do love Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon, but I just don’t see the real need or overall impact of him being needed. On top of that, we were even introduced to a villain in Darth Maul, that was killed off too. A villain so cool looking and that had such a presence that they had to resurrect him for the Clone Wars animated series. Why kill him though? The only actual thing in the movie that bugged me the most was Jar-Jar. While my girlfriend likes him very much, I do not. I see him as being an issue with the movie as a whole, his inclusion was just unnecessary.

At this point you’re probably thinking that I’m just hating on this movie, but remember I did say that this was a great space fantasy adventure movie and it still is. There’s a lot in this movie that I really do enjoy and what kept me so excited as a kid to keep watching it over and over. One of the two best things this movie has going for it is 1. The pod race and 2. The lightsaber duels. George Lucas has always been a lover of fast cars and typically has some sort of race or chase scene in all of his movies and this movie provides what I believe to be the best. Going by story sense, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense, because why would you put all of your trust in a kid who has never even finished the race before. I understand it’s all about the force and believing in him so sure, I’ll give that a pass. Once you get past that though, the race just makes you not care about the sense it makes. The sound design alone for the race is incredible and so unique that there still isn’t anything out there to match it. Especially that sound Sebulba’s pod makes as he’s catching up to Anakin. I can never forget that sound. The camera work too just takes you right inside the race. It doesn’t cut away too much, but instead lets you ride out the race with the character. If the pod race isn’t enough to redeem this movie a little bit for those who hate it, then maybe the lightsaber duels will. It presents two duels with Darth Maul. The first is against only Qui-Gon and gives us our first look at the villain and our first lightsaber duel in the sand. The second is at the end with Maul vs. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. With the now famous and one of the best pieces of music from the whole series Duel of the Fates playing during this fight, this marks one of the best moments in all of the series. We get to see a new lightsaber with Maul’s double-bladed saber vs. two Jedi. The fight is exciting and powerful with the death of Qui-Gon giving more meaning to the character of Obi-Wan. It really is a shame that Maul was killed off in this movie. With the skill and fighting style, we could have had more epic fights in the future movies.

I’ve gone into the good and the bad of what to me is the weakest of all of the Star Wars movies. Unlike most people, I do find redeeming qualities to the film overall that make me look back and remember how much I enjoyed it as a kid and those same things are what brings me to re-watching it even now. I feel that it’s the one movie in the saga that had several missed opportunities and took itself too much as a standalone movie in a certain way. If this is your first Star Wars movie you’re watching and you’re not enjoying it…Just remember, the movies just get better from this point forward so give the next few a chance before you jump off. And for those that haven’t seen this movie in a long time, try watching it again. It has many issues and cringe moments, but try to look at it in a different light. Try just sitting back and taking it in as a fun adventure because it does have its moments.

Grade: C

Ready or Not (2019) Review

A simple game of hide n’ seek sets the stage for the main plot of this movie. There are comedic moments and some truly sad family moments, most of which is actually forgotten about due to the intense horror brought to this children’s game. No, this isn’t just a Tag or Game Night type of movie. It’s far more to the opposite of what those were, this takes that concept but goes full horror and gore with it in a way that instantly makes me think of the similarities between it and Get Out which was just released two years ago…I managed to keep away from watching any trailers for this and going solely based on word of mouth from a friend who kept recommending it to me, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect and now I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it.

The biggest instant takeaway for me is that with the overall horror genre becoming more quality loaded for the most part in the last few years, even I wasn’t expecting the performance brought by Samara Weaving who plays our main character Grace. The setup is that Grace is getting married to Alex Le Domas played by, Mark O’Brien, at his parents mansion. After the wedding, she is told by Alex that the family tradition is that they play a game together as a family. So far so good, no big worries yet, seems simple enough…Except for when she draws a card and its revealed that they will be playing hide n’seek. You instantly feel a dread come over all of the family member’s and her unknowing to what is actually about to happen makes that same dread start to hit you as you eagerly and cautiously await for the twist or reveal to hit. It doesn’t take long before the first kill happens, completely by accident but very graphic nonetheless. It’s at this point that I really had a good grasp of what the whole movie was going to be like.

The star of the movie Samara Weaving, gives a career performance not on an award winning level but in a way where she outshines the film itself. The movie and story almost doesn’t deserve the acting that she is able to put out there. Again I’m not saying that its anything best of the year worthy, but just a performance that came out of nowhere for an actress that is up and coming. This performance is just the kind that will get her more auditions and people to give her more of a look and positivity about bringing her on to a new project. The rest of the cast is rounded out by a bunch of actors that I kept trying to figure out where I knew them from. All of them gave a great turn as an Agatha Christie novel type mystery family that you could even compare to the family of Knives Out. They all have their little quirks and moments with different personalities and flair for each one, just enough to keep you caring about what everyone is doing. In the end, none of them compare to Samara Weaving, but they all hold their own to keep me interested.

While this is a good horror movie, it does have its issues. Some of the issues may be some things that a few years ago I wouldn’t have been as picky about except for the fact that horror movies have been getting better each year, so I’ve been slightly more critical lately of the genre and rightfully so. My biggest issue that kept hitting me over the head was how similar it felt to Get Out. An outsider is brought into the significant others family expecting one thing only for the family to twist on them and become a family of violence and murder and psychotic traditions. I have no problem with movies using similar plot points and ideas, but where the similarities become a problem in this case is that Get Out was just released two years ago and was a Best Picture nominee at the Oscars. Its fresh in the mind and an overall best movie of 2017, so when being hit over the head with the comparisons while watching Ready or Not, I couldn’t stop feeling like “this is good, but Get Out just did it better”. It’s fair but not fair. I look at this movie as its own thing and I very much enjoyed it and had a lot of fun with it, but at the same time it’s just hard not to think about how similar the two movies are and how I wish they maybe would have waited a few more years.

In the end, this is a fun and somewhat comedic horror that uses a fairly simple premise set up the whole movie and it lives up to what it gives you. With an ending that was even surprising given how much you’ve seen up to that point that far differs from Get Out, I still feel that it may have been risky to release this with Get Out being so fresh in mind. They have many differences balanced by the that many similarities, but if you’re a fan of Get Out or the horror genre in general than you will definitely have a good time watching this. It’s entertaining and loaded with some interesting personalities all on the back on someone that you should be watching out for in Samara Weaving. Given the opportunity, she will become a bigger name in the years to come and you may be looking at this movie as the main launchpad for the turn her career will probably take.

Grade: B-

Top Ten Favorite Movies of the Decade

With 2019 coming to an end, everyone is starting to look back at the decade that was and that includes looking back at the last ten years of movies that we’ve had. Many people have been working on top ten favorite or top ten best movies of the decade, so I decided to make my own list. This is a top ten “favorite” movies of the decade for me, not top ten “best” movies of the decade. These are all movies that I liked the most, so not necessarily the best released ones and some of you may not agree but hopefully you enjoy the list.

Two movies that I would like to point some attention to that didn’t make the list are Nightcrawler (2014), and Lawless (2012). Nightcrawler was a movie I remember watching the trailers for and being so excited for about a guy that video tapes incidents like car wrecks and shootings or burglary and then sells the footage to a local news company for payment. It’s the creepy and dark performance by Jake Gyllenhaal that sticks with me the most, but this is easily one of the best movies I’ve seen of the decade, but it just didn’t crack the top ten. The other movie, Lawless, is one of my favorites, but for more personal reasons. While I enjoy the movie as a whole because it was when Tom Hardy was really picking up speed as a top working actor and it also had great performances by Jessica Chastain, Shia LaBeouf, Dane Dehaan, Jason Clarke, and Guy Pearce. Why this movie sticks with me the most is that my Dad only ever watches a handful of movies more than once. His most rewatched one for as long as I can remember has been Remember the Titans, but Lawless took over as soon as he watched it for the first time. Now I look back and remember all the times I asked him what he wanted to watch and him seemingly always suggesting to watch that movie. I love looking back and remembering times when movies make me think of a personal moment like that movie does. With that, let’s get to the top ten.

10. Fury

While I’m not the biggest fan of war movies or Brad Pitt, this tank focused movie really hit every point for me. Fury is about a crew on a tank that fights through Germany in World War II. The biggest takeaway was the chemistry and brotherhood you could see develop from nothing into something as you reach the climactic and sad ending. The movie is full of great moments and surprises from those involved including the great performances by Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, and Jon Bernthal. All of them were outshined by the crazy method actor, Shia LaBeouf, who seemed to be taking everything to a different level and gave one of his best performances. If not for the acting, I would say the movie holds up as one of my favorites because of the awesome tanks fights. When trying to explain the excitement of it, it may come off as ridiculous and boring watching two tanks fight, but it’s the suspense and strategy of a tank vs tank that really had me hooked and on the edge of my seat. I’ve easily watched this multiple times a year since its release.

9. Interstellar

While Interstellar may not be Christopher Nolan’s best movie of his career and not the average viewers favorite, it is easily one of my favorite movies I’ve seen in the last ten years. I’m instantly a sucker for anything in space and when you add in one of my favorite directors than you’ve already got me in the theatre incredibly excited. The biggest thing I remember about this movie was that it was actually the first movie I ever saw in IMAX. I remember that distinctly because it was one of the most awesome experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre. I remember when the sound is at its peak with the roar of the shuttle engines and then as it detaches when reaching space, the sound completely stops and instantly I felt as if I was floating with the shuttle. That’s a memory I will never forget. For the film as a whole, I enjoyed the performances, but I ate up all of the visuals and incredible interpretation of some heavy space concepts like black holes, but what had me the most was the way out there and crazy ending that it provided. If you like space movies than definitely give this one a shot.

8. Hacksaw Ridge

Mel Gibson is a gifted actor and director who just happened to be stupid at some point in his life like a lot of people in our world. Unfortunately for him, without getting into it, he did something stupid enough to have him in “movie jail” for the longest time. It was Hacksaw Ridge that came out with him directing that brought him back to the mind of being one of the best directors out there. It was to a point where some people were looking at him and his movie being nominated for all of the awards and possibly winning if not for the fact that he has a lot of controversy with what he did in the past. Regardless, this was easily one of the best films of that year and easily one of my favorite. This a story about a soldier who does not believe in violence or shooting a gun. He wants to serve his country and go into battle with a single weapon in hand and by only being a medic to save lives. It’s a touching and emotional story with excellent scenes of war, but led to the top for most people because of the heartfelt acting by Andrew Garfield. It’s not an easy movie to watch if you’re sensitive to war, but it’s one of my favorites and easily one of the best of the decade.

7. Rogue One

I’m a Star Wars fan first before anything else when it comes to movies, except for Jaws, so it was very hard for me not to put some of the other Star Wars movies on this list. Instead I decided to go with the one that I find being the most underrated of all of the new Star Wars movies, Rogue One. This movie had a lot of skepticism and worry going into it whether it be the fact that it was the first non-episode movie to come out in the new Disney regime, or the fact that it was taking place right in-between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy. To me this movie lived up to the expectations of giving us a great Star Wars movie with a more grounded and boots to the ground feel of this universe we are familiar with. It has a lot of suspense from start to finish and some of the absolute best visuals of any of the Star Wars movies. The three key points that stay in my mind: Jedha after being blasted by the Death Star, The final moments of the main characters, and the Vader scene. This movie is often overlooked for not being one of the main episode movies, but I feel that as a whole, Rogue One is easily one of the best crafted and executed movies of the entire series.

6. Baby Driver

Easily one of the best and most memorable movies of the decade. With its fast paced action set to some great music and with a fantastic cast to give you memorable moments from start to finish, Baby Driver manages to give us the very best of its director, Edgar Wright. He brings with him an up and coming actor, Ansel Elgort, as his lead who plays a young man that suffers from tinnitus due to an accident he had when he was a kid. He gets involved with a group that commit heists and wants out but has to finish one last job. This a story that feels familiar but all too different with its concept of matching action to the music that’s playing. Everything flows perfectly to give a movie that is impossible to forget and almost equally as impossible to not love. This is a movie that I’ve found myself watching several times when I can’t find anything else to watch just because of how much fun it is, but it’s also a movie that I’ve recommended to many people with outstanding feedback every time.

5. Skyfall

James Bond and Daniel Craig at their best. Skyfall by many is considered one of the best Bond movies in the whole series. I argue that it’s a tie for first place between this and Craig’s first outing as Bond in Casino Royale. This movie boasts some of the best writing and actual character depth to the Bond character that we’ve ever had. It delves into his backstory and goes back to his past to bring us one iconic moment with a classic car. It takes modern day terrorism and mixes it with some actual layered setup to where the villain came from and why he’s doing the things he does also played excellently by Javier Bardem. While I do like Casino Royale as much as I like this one, I will say that I find Skyfall being much more rewatchable than the other. If that isn’t enough to get you, it also boast the best outing at the box office for a Bond film, so the general audience definitely loved it for the most part and went back more than once to watch it again. Either way, this is easily one of my favorite movies of the decade and tops the series as a whole in quality. A must watch for any Bond or action movie fan.

4. Get Out

A first time directing performance by one half of the Key & Peele duo, Jordan Peele manages to subvert our expectations of what he was capable of doing. Known for his comedic acting and writing, I was caught off guard when I found out he was directing a psychological horror. This movie takes a simple concept of what it’s like for a black man to be brought to his white girlfriends family to meet them for the first time and turns it upside down when it delves into hypnosis and the secret truth behind her family. This was such a good outing for a first time director that it was actually nominated for several Academy Awards including Best Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Directing, and Best Picture. This is an instant classic and is a memorable moment overall for this past decade in movies. I find the most interesting and fun part for me is every time I watch it, I tend to find something else that may connect with something later or some kind of symbolism that has a deeper meaning once you are able to connect it with the social commentary behind it. Ultimately this was a fan favorite for many people I knew that year and it won’t be forgotten about anytime soon.

3. The Social Network

My first introduction to both Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield as Facebook creators Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin left me with a great impression being this high on my list and being the oldest of all the other movies on my list having been released in 2010. Directed by David Fincher, a master in directing and writing comes a story about the creation of Facebook. This was a big deal for me being part of the generation that grew up with Facebook, so it already had a bit of an edge to get me hooked into the story. I remember watching for the first time and instantly liking it, but it wasn’t until a few years later when I finally picked it up on blu-ray and gave it another watch. It was from that point that I couldn’t get the movie out of my head. It jumps between the past, telling the story from the beginning, to the two different lawsuits that Zuckerberg is involved with. It tells a great story of a friendship that started off so strong only to fall apart due to ignorance with dramatic moments executed perfectly by Eisenberg who plays Zuckerberg in such a way that makes you worry about the guy on a social level and Garfield who steals the whole movie with one scene towards the end when betrayal finally hits him hard. This movie is also aided by a stellar performance by Armie Hammer who plays both of the Winklevoss twins. I go back to this movie every time loving it just as much and always am eager to recommend it to someone that hasn’t seen it yet.

2. Logan

In a decade where we started with Iron Man 2, and finished with Avengers: Endgame or Joker…We have been spoiled with increasing quality in the superhero genre. While there are some rotten eggs out there still, for the most part we have been lucky enough to be in the golden age of the superhero movie. For the longest time I remember everyone saying that The Dark Knight was the best superhero movie of all time because of how much it was able to ascend the superhero genre. In 2017, we were given the one movie that completely subverted expectations for what could be done with a character played by the same actor for seventeen years. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine was always one of the best actors for the character they’re playing, but it was always in the X-Men films as a more comic book less serious performance and rightfully so, but what the director, James Mangold and Hugh Jackman did was far better than what we could’ve expected. They took the character and did a character study in the setting of a futuristic western that is very much a movie about a character that a lot of us have grown up with since the first X-Men movies, but so much more a western drama. It was easily the best performance by Hugh Jackman and easily the best X-Men movie of the series. It took a character with feelings and pain we already knew and put him in an unlikely situation to give us a deeper understanding and insight into who he was and what he’s become. This is truly an emotional movie with emotional performances across the board with and ending that if you’re any kind of fan of these movies and this character is surely to pull on your heartstrings. A true mastery in not only the superhero genre but in all movies.

  1. Whiplash

Finally I’ve come to the final movie on my list. It’s surely a movie most people probably haven’t even heard of, but definitely a movie that everyone should check out. Of all of the non-franchise movies I’ve seen in the last decade, Whiplash is by far my most re-watched movie I’ve seen since its release. The director, Damien Chazelle gives us a punch in the mouth for a feature film directorial debut in this intense drama about a jazz drummer in college, Andrew Neimann played by Miles Teller, just trying to get noticed and to have his chance at the spotlight. He’s finally given a chance by Instructor Fletcher played by J.K. Simmons. Not only is this just in general a great story about perseverance and one guys absolute drive to do what he truly has a passion for but it also gives us my favorite supporting performance of the decade. J.K. Simmons as Fletcher plays a role so intense and in your face that you, like me, probably got caught off guard by. It was a performance that made him an absolute lock for winning the Academy Award and he did just that. Mostly though I love that I’ve never been much of a jazz music fan, but something about this movie and the directing and cinematography during the playing of the music that just gets me so invested every time. A lot of these movies I recommend to people I meet, but the one that starts of my recommendations is always Whiplash. It without question is my favorite movie of the decade.

This is a list that isn’t going to be agreed upon by everyone reading it, but it’s a list to make people aware of some movies that they might have missed and to give them an insight into my personal feelings of the decade in the movie industry. Even if you don’t agree with any of these movies, I do hope that some of them catch your attention if you’re unfamiliar or unaware of them. If you do check any of these movies out for the first time, let me know what you think!