A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away: My Star Wars film rankings (updated January 2020)

Empire-Strikes-Back-Wallpaper-6I know I said that I was retiring my blog, Box Office Buzz, but I couldn’t resist returning one more time to update my Star Wars rankings now that both “The Rise of Skywalker” and “The Mandalorian” have been released. I also recognize that my list has grown more controversial over time 😉 but this is an honest ranking of what Star Wars stories I love the most.

Tier 1 – I love it! 

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1. The Last Jedi

TLJ proved to be surprisingly divisive amongst the Star Wars fan base. However, I love it more and more each time I see it, and I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s my favorite thing about Star Wars. I like that Lucasfilm took some risks and didn’t play it safe. I love that they dared to give us a more broken, flawed Luke than we expected to see. I love that they explored themes like balance and failure, and added complex layers to characters like Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. It also has a couple of my all-time favorite scenes in the Star Wars franchise: the fight in Snoke’s throne room and Luke’s Force projection across the galaxy.

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2. Return of the Jedi

At one point, ROTJ was actually in the bottom half of my Star Wars list. But it’s really grown on me over the years, just because I think it’s such a satisfying resolution to the original trilogy. The poignant ending with Darth Vader finally discovering freedom from the dark side and sacrificing himself to save his son always makes me a bit misty-eyed (darn that emotional John Williams music!).

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3. The Rise of Skywalker

I know that this movie just came out, and, like “The Last Jedi,” it’s proving to be controversial. But even with its flaws, this movie really spoke to me. Daisy Ridley OWNS this movie, and seeing her complete Rey’s arc made me just as emotional as watching “Return of the Jedi.” The final scene is perfection.

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4. The Empire Strikes Back

For a long time, I listed “The Empire Strikes Back” as my all-time favorite movie. There’s so much I love about this film, but I think for a while I felt pressured to list it as my favorite simply because it’s widely regarded as the best Star Wars film. However, if there’s one thing being a part of the Star Wars fandom has taught me, it’s that at a certain point you have to stop worrying about what other fans think, and just love what you love. The “Luke I am your father” moment is still my all-time favorite plot twist in Star Wars, and the Skywalker family connection elevates the villain dynamic from “good” to “great.” There’s so many great moments, from the asteroid field, to the battle on Hoth, to Vader and Luke’s showdown on Cloud City.

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5. Rogue One

At one point, I think “Rogue One” was as high as #2 on my list. It was cool to see a Star Wars film that felt more like a war movie than a space opera. It’s really about a bunch of ordinary people — no chosen ones with heavy legacies this time — who rise up and become heroes…and make the ultimate sacrifice. I’m so glad Disney/Lucasfilm had the courage to give us a bittersweet ending with all the characters sacrificing themselves; it’s a powerful gut-punch that drives home the film’s theme. And that Darth Vader in the hallway scene is another Star Wars highlight for me.

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6. The Force Awakens

I know some have criticized “The Force Awakens” for feeling too much like “A New Hope,” but I didn’t see it that way. While it does play things a little safe (safer than “The Last Jedi”), this movie has a lot of wonderful details that it doesn’t always receive credit for. It’s a fun, nostalgic film that brings back some beloved characters and introduces some new ones. I also loved its use of actual sets (rather than an overload of CGI), making the universe feel more natural and “lived in” once again.

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7. The Clone Wars

When people say they don’t like the prequels, I immediately have to ask, “But have you seen ‘The Clone Wars’?” This series does a great job of redeeming some of the characters, themes, and plot lines that were poorly executed in the prequels. Although it’s animated, don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s “just a kids show.” “The Clone Wars” manages to tackle some surprisingly deep and nuanced themes. It dives into the ethics of clone warfare and shows that the clones were still people with personalities, dreams, and fears. It does a better job demonstrating how and why Anakin falls to the dark side, and it also shows the fun side of Anakin and Obi-Wan’s friendship.

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8. Solo

Yes, I really have ranked “Solo” above one of the films in the original trilogy. I promise, I don’t mean for this ranking to have a spicy tone, but I’ve gotten a little tired of receiving grief for my Star Wars opinions so I’m just embracing how I actually feel about these movies. 😉 With all the drama taking place behind the scenes of this film (the director shake-up, reshoots, etc.), “Solo” is better than it has any right to be. It’s a really fun heist movie with some cool action scenes. Plus, Qi’ra makes my list of top 5 favorite Star Wars characters.

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9. A New Hope

It feels weird putting the first Star Wars movie so far down the list, especially since it’s the one that started it all. I don’t want it to seem that I like this movie less than I do (I really love it!). It’s a fun space opera that will always be an entertaining adventure to watch. I do prefer the later films, though, which are an emotionally deeper viewing experience, at least for me.

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10. The Mandalorian

It also feels weird to only put “The Mandalorian” at #10 because I’m so in love with this show (and, of course, Baby Yoda). I think I’ve reached a point where I just really love Star Wars, and pretty much all the movies/TV shows in tier 1 make me giddy with excitement. I can’t wait for season 2!

Tier 2 – I like it! 

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11. Rebels

There’s a lot to like about the Star Wars animated show “Rebels.” It introduces some cool new characters and even works some old Expanded Universe characters back into the canon (it’s good to see you again, Grand Admiral Thrawn!). However, I don’t like this as much as “The Clone Wars.” The animation doesn’t feel quite as polished, and it’s not as deep as “The Clone Wars” was (although the final season has some really powerful moments).

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12. Revenge of the Sith

Ah, the Star Wars prequels. I actually used to be a prequels apologist; I enjoyed them when I was younger but found they haven’t held up well over time, at least for me. I’ve found it harder to overlook some of the acting, dialogue, and directing issues, especially after seeing the sequel trilogy. However, there are still some bright spots in these movies, even though they could have been so much more.

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13. Resistance

I’ve been catching up with the animated series “Star Wars: Resistance” on Disney+, which is set around the time of my favorite Star Wars era, the sequel trilogy. It’s a fun show, but it’s just not as much my thing as some of the other content.

Tier 3 – It’s meh…

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14. The Phantom Menace

I commonly see TPM listed as the worst of the Star Wars movies, but I think it’s actually better than “Attack of the Clones.” I won’t get into all the issues with the film here. But the parts I did like were Ewan McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi (who’s my favorite part of the prequels overall) and Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon Jinn. And that double-bladed lightsaber battle with Darth Maul is still pretty cool, as is John Williams’ epic choral piece “Duel of the Fates.”

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15. Attack of the Clones

I really liked the Jedi and clones vs. droid army battle pictured above, as well as the theme that the Jedi Order’s moral compromises and inability to see the truth later lead to their own downfall. But the Anakin/Padmé romance (and accompanying dialogue) are difficult to watch. And the over-reliance on CGI really stands out, especially in comparison to the sequel trilogy films, which feel less computerized.

Saying goodbye to Box Office Buzz

This morning I got a notification that today is my eighth anniversary on WordPress.

It’s a little bit bittersweet because today I have also decided to close down my blog, at least for now.

When I started Box Office Buzz eight years ago, I was pretty shy and nervous about talking about movies online. Since then, this blog has really helped me to grow as a writer and movie reviewer. I feel like blogging has taught me how to dig into movies more deeply and gain a deeper appreciation for the art of film.

But, we go through different seasons in life, and I feel like it’s time to close out this chapter. I feel like I’m just not able to devote the same time/energy to Box Office Buzz as I used to.

I’m definitely not going to delete my old content, and I may come back to this site at some point in the future. But for now, I’m saying goodbye.

I’m definitely going to keep following all of you on WordPress, and I’m excited to continue reading your movie/TV reviews!

If you’d like to keep in touch, you can follow me on Twitter @jediash1 (unsurprisingly, I tweet mostly about Star Wars). 😉 I’m also a blogger for two podcast websites, Earth Station One and The Story Geeks. I’m excited about some of the projects I have coming up on those sites!

Thank you to everyone who has read Box Office Buzz over the years; you support has meant a lot to me. I wish all of you success in the future, and lots of happy movie-watching.

May the Force be with you!

It’s Triple Force Friday!

triple-force-friday-tall-B-1Ever since I walked out of the theater almost two years ago, I have thought about “The Last Jedi” every single day. I haven’t decided whether that’s charmingly geeky, or a sign that I need an intervention.

Regardless, I’ve really fallen in love with Disney/Lucasfilm’s Star Wars sequel trilogy and all the new characters. I’ve been hyped for Episode IX ever since I saw the first trailer, and so of course I couldn’t resist heading to the store to check out some of the new merch today on “Triple Force Friday.”

I’m not entirely sure why they decided to call the Episode IX merchandise launch date “Triple Force Friday” (unless it’s because this is the third time they’ve done this; I’m pretty sure they did “Force Friday” launches for both “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi”).

I couldn’t find a midnight release party that was close to me (and I have a hard time staying up till midnight anyway), so I woke up bright and early this morning to head to Target and Walmart to check out the selection.

I thought Target opened at 8 a.m., so I figured getting there at 8:30 would leave me plenty of time. Turns out, I was wrong. The store actually opened at 7 a.m., and by the time I got there a lot of the hot ticket tickets had already sold out.

Panic ensued.

As you can see in the photo below, a lot of the Hasbro Black Series action figures had been picked over, and they appeared to be all out of Rey and Sith Troopers.

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However, I did see one “Supreme Leader Kylo Ren” action figure sitting alone on a shelf, and I was able to grab it. I’ve been wanting to start collecting Black Series Star Wars action figures; I love the detail and the accessories (the Kylo action figure comes with a cool lightsaber, cape, and detachable hood).

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Thankfully Target had several Funko Pop figures left, so I got Rey and Kylo Ren. Yes, I technically already have two sets of Rey and Kylo Pop figures (one from “The Force Awakens” and one from “The Last Jedi”), but since I’ve already fallen this far down the rabbit hole I figured I might as well complete the set and get some from “The Rise of Skywalker.”

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Finally, I also got a toy Kylo Ren lightsaber. I’ve decided to make a Dark Rey/Kylo Ren mashup costume to wear to Star Wars: Episode IX, and of course I need a lightsaber to go with it. I really wanted one of those more fancy-looking Force FX brand lightsabers, but that was bit beyond my budget, so this $25 one was a lot more doable and should work fine for cosplay purposes.

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(Also, I grabbed a basket instead of a cart in order to try to limit the amount of stuff I decided to purchase. I also qualified for a Target rebate gift card, which was fun.)

Target also had this pretty cool display with motion-activated lightsabers. I didn’t linger too long, though, because I wanted to head over to Walmart to see if they had any Black Series action figures left.

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Thankfully, I got very lucky at Walmart (which was only about a five minute drive from the Target). Not only did they still have Black Series Sith Trooper action figures, they had one Rey!

I’m pretty sure I was whispering “Yes!” in a very excited voice as I grabbed the last Black Series Rey, and anyone walking by might have thought I was a little crazy. But Walmart was pretty quiet at 9 a.m., and hopefully no one noticed me.

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I don’t even know what role the Sith Troopers will play in the movie, but I think their armor design is so cool. I also love that Rey comes with D-O, the new little droid that will appear in the movie.

All in all, Triple Force Friday was a fun experience, even though if I did it again I would have gotten up earlier and waited in line. I was also a little disappointed that I didn’t see any merch for “The Mandalorian,” although maybe that had all sold out by the time I arrived.

Still, I’m thankful that I got all the merchandise I wanted. I’ve also heard reports that they’re holding back some merch for “The Rise of Skywalker” because it’s too spoiler-y, so I’m looking forward to checking that out once the movie releases.

A long time ago in comic shop far, far away…

1Earlier this month, I achieved a new geek milestone: I went to a comic book store and purchased comics for the very first time!

To be fair, I’ve read a few comics/graphic novels in the past, but I wasn’t sure where to start in terms of really diving into the fandom. Should I go back and read some classic superhero comics, or should I just start with new stuff?

What finally pulled me into comics was, predictably, Star Wars. I’m currently dying for any scrap of content related to Star Wars: Episode IX, and I started seeing screenshots on social media of Marvel Comics’ new series Age of Resistance, which focuses on the sequel trilogy era.

I went to my local comic book shop and got two from the series, and I loved them so much that I quickly went back to buy more. I’ve also pre-ordered even more Star Wars comics that are coming out later this year.

I like how a comic is sort of like a cross between a movie and a book; the story is told both visually and through written dialogue. It took me a while to adjust to the format, but now I really like it. There’s some great art in these comics, and I especially loved all the covers. I might end up framing some of them later on.

Here are my thoughts on my very first comics series, ranking the issues in order of my favorites. I think Age of Resistance worked really well as a starter series for me, because they’re one-shot standalone stories about individual characters, and you don’t have to worry about catching up on previous storylines.

Also, I really enjoyed all of these comics, so even the ones at the bottom of my ranking still get a “thumbs up” from me.

8. Rey
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I hate putting Rey at the bottom of this list, because she’s one of my top three favorite Star Wars characters. I even have two different Rey cosplays and am currently working on a third (don’t judge me). However, while this comic was a fun little adventure taking place between “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi,” I felt like it didn’t really reveal anything new about her character.

7. Poe Dameron
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Kinda similar to the Rey comic, the Poe Dameron issue doesn’t reveal a lot of new info, but we do get to see him head off on a special mission for the New Republic and get rescued by a key player in the Resistance (no spoilers!). I’m really curious to see how Poe evolves from a hotshot pilot to a respected leader in Episode IX.

6. Captain Phasma
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Although Phasma is, unfortunately, somewhat underused in the sequel trilogy, her character is awesome (there’s also a great stand-alone novel about her by Delilah S. Dawson, called “Phasma”). This is one of the more action-heavy comics in this series, and features Phasma’s character through the eyes of one of her subordinates. I enjoy Phasma even more as a character now that I’ve seen the actress who plays her, Gwendoline Christie, in Game of Thrones.

5. Rose Tico
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This comic was an emotional flashback to Rose’s past, before the events of “The Last Jedi.” It shows what a close relationship Rose had to her sister Paige, who is killed in the opening scenes of “The Last Jedi.” A lot of fans have been really unkind to the actress who plays Rose, which I think is terribly unfortunate. I love that Rose is not a Jedi or a soldier; she’s a mechanic who uses her skills to help the Resistance. There’s also a really moving scene in this comic with General Leia. It makes me sad all over again that Carrie Fisher didn’t get a chance to fully play the character in one more film.

4. Finn
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Finn is another one of my favorite Star Wars characters, and I loved this story because it demonstrates what a compassionate heart Finn has, even back when he was forced to serve the First Order. There’s also some fun little character moments in this one too.

3. Kylo Ren
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I always say that Darth Vader is my favorite Star Wars character, but I feel like it might actually be Kylo Ren (depending on what happens in Episode IX, of course). This story is all about Kylo living in Vader’s shadow, trying to live up to (and surpass) who Vader was. Of course, even though outwardly Vader looks like a villain, he struggles against the pull to the light — just as Kylo himself does.

2. Supreme Leader Snoke
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This comic is arguably the most important when it comes to predicting what themes Episode IX may address. In this story, Snoke trains a young Kylo Ren, and we witness just how cruel and abusive Snoke is. I already found Kylo Ren to be a sympathetic character; I feel the movies do a good job showing how conflicted he is and how Snoke has tortured him. But this comic really drives home the point that there is still good inside Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. I believe Kylo will find redemption in Episode IX.

1. General Hux
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While reading the Snoke comic was a more emotionally powerful experience, I enjoyed the Hux comic the most simply because it has some wonderfully snarky dialogue from the always-petty General Hux and an entertainingly sassy Kylo Ren. In fact, the screenshot I saw of this panel on Twitter was what immediately convinced me to buy this comic:

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Movie review: Returning to Downton Abbey

da-1sht-int-f-hiresI can’t remember exactly how I got into Downton Abbey. I think a friend recommended it to me, and I watched the first season while it was still on Netflix.

Needless to say, I quickly fell absolutely, completely in love with this show. I’d watched plenty of British period dramas before, but there was something extra special about this one. Maybe it was the elaborate sets, or the gorgeous costumes, or the top-notch ensemble cast.

Whatever the reason, by the end of the final episode of the first season, I was hooked. I watched the rest of the seasons on PBS as they aired, and I had a wonderful time discussing the show with family members, friends, and coworkers, who also couldn’t seem to get enough of this show.

When the final season aired in 2016, it was a bittersweet moment. I was sad because I knew I was going to miss all these wonderful characters, but I was happy because the show wrapped up in such a lovely way. I was satisfied with the ending, but of course I didn’t object when I heard the announcement that the story would be continuing in a big screen movie.

The Downton Abbey movie, out in theaters this past weekend, feels more like an extra long TV episode than a movie — and I mean that as a compliment. I was curious how the TV series would translate to film, and to me it worked seamlessly. This is really just like two or three episodes played together, and at the end of the movie, I wanted it to keep going!

This is not a standalone film; if you saw the trailers and were curious, you definitely need to watch the show first. As a fan, I appreciated that they didn’t take up any runtime by reintroducing characters, but the film will probably feel rather confusing to those who aren’t already familiar with the Crawley family and their staff.

The plot is fairly simple: the Crawleys receive word that the king and queen of England will be coming to stay at Downton, and this brings a rush of excitement and anxiety. Of course, it wouldn’t be “Downton Abbey” without a few conflicts and scandals along the way, but everything is nicely wrapped up by the end. Pretty much everyone gets a happy ending, and the film ties up a few loose threads remaining after the end of the final season.

The Downton Abbey movie feels like the cinematic equivalent of grabbing a book and a cup of hot chocolate and curling up by a warm fire. Nothing earth-shattering happens here, but that’s okay. Watching the movie gave me a nice, cozy feeling.

I actually found myself tearing up at two points in the movie — the first time was at the beginning, when I heard the theme music and saw the camera panning over Downton, and I realized how much I’d missed this place. Then I also got a bit misty eyed at the very end, as I realized I was probably seeing Downton for the last time.

Is the movie actually the last we’ll see of Downton? The film apparently exceeded expectations at the box office, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the story picks back up again at a later date. But, I’ll also be okay if this truly is the end. It was nice to get one more chance to say goodbye.

A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones season 8 (spoilers!)

1200After four months of gasping, cheering, and yelling at the TV, my journey through Game of Thrones came to an end this past week. In some ways I’m glad I waited till the show was completely done to start watching it (I’ll delve into that thought more later), but I’m also a little sad I missed out on some of the episode-by-episode discussions that happened while the show was airing.

I was really curious to see what my thoughts on the final season would be, after I heard that it was controversial amongst fans. As I’ve mentioned before, I heard spoilers about how most of the major character arcs ended before I started watching this show, so I didn’t get caught up in guessing who would ultimately take the Iron Throne.

In the end, I’m pretty happy with where most of the character arcs ended up, though I will say that the conclusion felt a little rushed and needed more fleshing out.

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The North remembers

As a fan of House Stark, I was going to be happy with any member of the Stark family ending up on the Iron Throne, and I think Bran is an interesting choice. It has some nice narrative symmetry, bringing the show full circle (since Jaime Lannister basically started this whole mess by pushing Bran out a window). I also like that the new leader of Westeros didn’t win the throne through violence and hadn’t been seeking power for its own sake.

I will say that if “King Bran” was always going to be endgame, the showrunners needed to do a little better job of foreshadowing that and giving Bran a more active role throughout the series. Maybe part of that disjointed feeling has to do with the fact that the show outpaced George R.R. Martin’s books, and so the showrunners had to come up with their own conclusion to the story. But still, they could have started making Bran more of a major player back in season 5, when the show really started diverging from the books.

I also love, love, love that Sansa is crowned Queen in the North. She’s had to suffer through so much, and I’m so happy that she survived all the dangerous political games going on around her and outlasted everyone who tried to use her as a pawn. Again, similar to Bran, I wish the show had done more to set up the North declaring its independence, but it makes sense that they’d want to do that after all the bad stuff that’s happened to them. It’s also great to see Arya heading off on her own adventures (spin-off series, anyone?).

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The Dragon Queen

Now, one of the most controversial aspects of the series finale is Dany’s abrupt turn to the dark side. While I was okay with this plot twist, I totally understand those who were disappointed and wanted something different for her character.

The show should have started showing us Dany’s fall from the light much sooner, and with more nuance this could have been a truly fascinating and heartbreaking character arc. Instead, Dany simply snaps two episodes from the end of the series and starts burning literally everything in King’s Landing, even innocent children. It just didn’t make sense for her character at that time. The series needed to do more to show how (and why) she arrived at that point.

I do believe that it’s more difficult to show a hero’s fall from grace than a villain’s redemption, and off the top of my head, I can’t think of an example where the former has been done really well (although I’m sure there’s one that I’m simply forgetting). We did see hints of Dany’s darkness before the final season, as she sometimes responded too harshly to those who opposed her.

The show could have spent more time reflecting on Dany’s sense of justice and demonstrating how her desire for vengeance gradually drowns out her compassion. Dany believes it is her right to rule the Iron Throne; is that fair, just, and noble, or is there a darker sense of entitlement running underneath the surface? There are so many fascinating psychological and philosophical issues that the show just didn’t explore.

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The fall of the Lannisters

Another character arc that seemed a little too abrupt was Jaime Lannister’s. He actually leaves Cersei to go fight in the battle against the Night King, and it seems like maybe he’s finally on a better path. Although Jaime has never really been one of my favorite characters, even I was kinda rooting for him to have a redemption arc.

Then, after he demonstrates his love for Brienne, he just decides, “Never mind — I’m going back to King’s Landing to be with Cersei!” He and Cersei die in each others’ arms while rubble collapses on top of them.

Cersei is probably my favorite villain on this show, and I believe she deserved a more epic death scene than that. I would have preferred to have Jaime actually reject Cersei in the end. Maybe he lies to Brienne so that she won’t follow him to King’s Landing and place herself in harm’s way, and then he kills Cersei himself. Maybe he still dies in the destruction of King’s Landing, but Brienne finds out the truth and knows that Jaime died a hero.

As it stands, I’m really mad that Jaime broke my girl Brienne’s heart, and she deserved better. I know that in the final episode you see that scene where Brienne is writing about all of Jaime’s deeds in that fancy book, but in my personal head-canon she scratches all that out and writes lots of dirt about him in there instead. 😉

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The King in the North

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Jon Snow’s character arc. He goes from being King in the North, to one of Dany’s greatest allies, and then he ends up killing her once he sees what she’s become. He still loves her, even though they’re related and she’s turned to the dark side. (It’s really, really complicated.)

If I hadn’t known the ending already, I probably would have been rooting for Jon to take the Iron Throne, and after all his moments of triumph, it is a little disappointing that he’s basically exiled and sentenced to return to the Night’s Watch.

Yet it does have a sense of Shakespearean tragedy to it; Jon gives up his destiny and a woman he deeply cares about in order to do what he believes is right for the future of Westeros. I think that if the series had gotten one more season, to really flesh out Dany’s fall and the final battle for the throne, the writers also would have had enough time to give us a really deep arc for Jon. Maybe it still ends in his exile, but they could have made that whole arc more meaningful.

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Final thoughts

While I’ve spent a lot of time in this blog talking about some of the drawbacks of the final season, I don’t want to end on a negative note because I really, really loved this show.

From season 1 up until the battle against the Night King and his army of the dead (season 8, episode 3), Game of Thrones is some of the best television I have ever watched, or probably ever will watch. While the final few episodes of the series were a little disappointing/rushed, that doesn’t take away from how amazing and narratively rich this series is as a whole.

Peter Dinklage leads a master class in acting every single episode. I never expected it, but Theon Greyjoy had an amazingly beautiful redemption arc, and I felt genuine sadness when he died. I loved Jorah Mormont’s unrequited love story, and it was fitting that he died protecting Dany. Overall the battle scenes and special effects in this series were amazing, and I got excited every single time the dragons showed up.

I’m so glad I finally decided to watch Game of Thrones, and I can definitely see myself returning to certain arcs and rewatching my favorite scenes (although I never, ever want to watch the Red Wedding again). In the end, I am glad that I heard some spoilers about the final season, because it helped me adjust my expectations regarding the final episodes. Even though I personally would have changed some things, I’m happy I went on this journey.

Game of Thrones is one of my all-time favorite TV shows now, and I’m looking forward to talking more about it with other fans now that I know the complete story.

A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones season 7 (spoilers!)

1200The first six seasons of Game of Thrones were a slow-burn build-up, full of simmering tension, constantly shifting alliances, and a brutal battle for control of the Iron Throne.

In season 7, it feels like the showrunners really hit the gas pedal, and all these narrative pieces start coming together rapidly. Daenerys is finally ready to challenge Cersei for the Iron Throne, but standing in both of their ways is the growing threat of the Night King and his army of the dead.

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A tale of two queens

Cersei and Dany continue to be two of the most fascinating characters on this show, even though I’m not really rooting for either of them to take the Iron Throne in the end.

On the surface, Cersei is the show’s irredeemable villain and Dany is the hero, riding in to save Westeros from a seemingly endless cycle of violence and upheaval. But, this show has always been more of a Shakespearean tragedy than a feel-good fantasy tale, and there’s a lot of nuance to these characters, once you dig beneath the surface.

I’ve talked before in my Game of Thrones blog series that even though Cersei is a ruthless schemer, at certain moments I do feel sorry for her. She really does love her children, and watching them die one by one is genuinely heartbreaking for her. Her father and her husband both used her as a pawn in the game of thrones, and her codependent relationship with her brother Jaime is unhealthy for both of them. Plus, Lena Headey’s performance makes Cersei such a compelling character that even though you’re hoping for her downfall, she’s a vital part of what makes this show work so well.

As for Dany, in the first couple of seasons I was really cheering for her and I wanted to see her triumph. She’s a character who’s been beaten down and, like Cersei, has often been used as a pawn by the people around her. Yet there’s a darkness within Dany, hidden beneath the surface, that you don’t really see until later in the series.

Dany has a kind heart and compassion for the powerless and the suffering, but she can also be brutal to those who oppose her. One of the questions I’ve been pondering throughout my time watching this series is, “Does Dany go too far in her pursuit of justice? And should she do a better job of showing mercy?” Although her new adviser, Tyrion Lannister, fully supports her, you can see his growing concern with her determination to squelch her opposition.

On the one hand, I do understand that Dany is trying to consolidate her power and make a strong case for why she should sit on the Iron Throne. Yet sometimes her actions strike me as too harsh, and I worry that she may be tempted to cross too far over into the dark side. (Actually, I know she does this, since I’ve heard season 8 spoilers.)

One of the show’s primary themes is that a desire for power can become a consuming, corrupting force that can cause even good-hearted people like Dany to stumble. Is it possible to wield that much power and still remain pure of heart? So far, the Iron Throne hasn’t really brought anyone peace or fulfillment, and pretty much everyone who’s sat in it has become corrupted in some way and come to an unhappy end.

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The prince that was promised

A character who offers an interesting contrast to this desperate struggle for power is Jon Snow, who, despite being a natural leader, doesn’t really seem to crave power or influence. When he’s named King in the North, he accepts the honor with humility and is one of the few leaders in Westeros who really does care about helping his people. His interactions with Dany show that he’s willing to set aside his own pride to recruit allies for the coming war against the Night King.

Of course, if you’ve already watched this season, you know by now that there’s a REALLY BIG twist when it comes to Jon and Dany. As in, Jon was never actually Ned’s illegitimate son, and as the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, he actually has a claim to the Iron Throne himself. And this whole situation gets even weirder and more complicated because this reveal comes right as Jon and Dany have started a romantic relationship.

We’ve already got one incest subplot going on in Game of Thrones, so I’m really not a fan of adding ANOTHER one. I wish they would have either gone with “tragic romance between a queen and one of her advisers” OR “two allies whose friendship is compromised when they learn they could be rivals.”

Anyway, none of this is going to come to a happy ending, but I guess I’ll just have to wait until the next season to see how it all plays out.

Also, this is somewhat of a random side note, but I couldn’t end this blog without commenting on the downfall of one of my favorite characters, Olenna Tyrell. Even though she technically loses to House Lannister, she still gets the last laugh by telling Jaime that she was the one who assassinated Joffrey. Lady Tyrell is an icon, and I still maintain that she deserved to sit on the Iron Throne.

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The long night

Season 7 really starts to drive home just how dangerous the Night King and his army of the dead are. Like, this is a potentially world-ending event if they cannot be stopped. And to heighten this feeling of utter terror descending across Westeros, the season ends with an UNDEAD DRAGON blasting the seemingly impenetrable Wall with blue fire and then blowing a hole in it big enough to march an army through.

While I already know the final season is going to be nerve-wracking to watch, I am looking forward to seeing pretty much all the power players in Westeros setting aside their differences (at least for one battle) and teaming up to fight the undead.

Up till this point, I’ve been able to borrow copies of the previous seasons of Game of Thrones, but season 8 has not been released on home video yet. However, I discovered I can sign up for a free trial of the HBO streaming service, so I have exactly one week to binge watch the entire final season. So, see you on the other side!

A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones season 6 (spoilers!)

1200Jon Snow lives!

I feel like I don’t even need to put a spoiler tag on that particular revelation, because the news about this plot twist was hard to escape from back in 2016.

Even though I just started watching Game of Thrones for the first time this year, I was still aware of the feverish speculation amongst fans after season 5 ended. Was Jon Snow really dead? Had Game of Thrones killed off yet another major character, or would there be a happy ending to this cliffhanger?

I would have been really sad if Jon was actually gone, after I’ve already had to bid farewell to a number of my favorite characters on this show, and so thankfully I didn’t have to wait that long to see Jon Snow resurrected.

After the fall of Stannis Baratheon, Melisandre anoints Jon as the new “prince that was promised,” and he begins his quest to take back the Starks’ home of Winterfell from Ramsay Bolton.

Even though I already know quite a few spoilers regarding the final season of Game of Thrones and where Jon Snow is headed, I feel like I can’t really comment on his character arc until I see for myself how it’s executed. It’s interesting to ponder what my thoughts on season 6 would have been if I’d watched it in a vacuum, without already knowing how it would all end.

At this point in the series, I think I would have maybe started rooting for Jon to take the Iron Throne? He definitely has a “Chosen One” feel, and in some ways he reminds me of one of my favorite Star Wars characters, Rey.

Both Rey and Jon come from somewhat painful pasts and deal with feelings of loneliness: i.e., Rey’s parents abandoned her, and Jon is judged for being a bastard. Neither one is hungry for power or wishes to dominate others, and yet the events surrounding them position them to be power players in a large-scale conflict that will determine the fate of their galaxy or homeland.

When I get to the final season of Game of Thrones, will I be disappointed in Jon’s ending? Again, I want to wait to find out how it’s portrayed within the story, because at least right now, I’m also happy with Bran and Sansa coming out as the victors in the game of thrones (hey, it’s still a win for #TeamStark!).

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The cost of being a hero

One of the continuing themes with the Stark family is that they try to do what’s right and noble, and yet they aren’t always rewarded in the end. Honestly, Ned Stark is probably the best character to sit on the Iron Throne, yet his moral strength and honor are not enough to save him. Robb would have made another good candidate, yet he too is betrayed. Jon Snow, who I will always count as a member of House Stark, is murdered by his own brothers in the Night’s Watch.

I commented on this in one of my previous Game of Thrones blogs, but I think it’s really important to see characters in fiction who aren’t always rewarded for doing the right thing. I’ll explain what I mean by that. We should do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not just to get a reward or to make ourselves look good.

History is full of many people who gave their lives fighting for a noble cause; though they didn’t get to see good triumph over evil before they died, they trusted that their actions still mattered in the course of history. Not everyone who opposed the Nazi regime during WWII lived to see the end of the conflict, but their sacrifices were not in vain. We have to oppose evil and injustice, even if it costs us.

Despite Game of Thrones’ sometimes more pessimistic outlook on the world, even in Westeros good does win out in the end. Case in point: in season 6, karma finally catches up to two of my most hated characters in this show.

Some of the villainous characters in Game of Thrones have little flashes of humanity that make you feel sorry for them. Ramsay Bolton is not one of those characters. He is cruel and nasty, with absolutely no redeeming qualities. And, in the end, his arrogant overconfidence is his downfall.

Despite the odds against him, Jon wins back Winterfell, and Ramsay finally has to face justice from one of the people he hurt the most: Sansa Stark. I couldn’t actually watch the scene where Sansa turns Ramsay’s dogs on him, because of the violence, but it’s definitely the ending Ramsay deserves after using the dogs to hurt others. He might have actually been an even worse person than Joffrey, which is really saying something.

Justice also comes calling for Walder Frey, and Arya puts her shape-shifting skills to good use. I feel like I’ve finally gotten closure now for the red wedding. #TheNorthAlwaysRemembers

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Dealing out redemption arcs

I’ve spent a lot of time in these Game of Thrones reaction blogs writing about all the major power players, but there are some side characters who get really meaningful arcs that I’d like to chat about.

I really did not like Theon Greyjoy at first, and I never would have guessed he’d get one of the series’ most meaningful redemption arcs. But I did feel genuine compassion for him after Ramsay Bolton utterly breaks him; it was awful to see how Ramsay hurt him physically and also twisted his mind, making Theon feel like he was a worthless servant trapped in a cycle of fear and hopelessness.

However, seeing Sansa’s suffering is enough to finally empower Theon to take action, and I love how they escape from Winterfell together. The “Theon Greyjoy” who then returns to the Iron Islands is a much humbler, wiser man, and it was great to see how he lent his support to his sister’s bid to become ruler of the Iron Islands. I’m grateful he got a second chance, and he’s actually become one of my favorite characters now.

Another character I’ve really enjoyed is Jorah Mormont. He’s fascinating in that even after Daenerys exiles him, he still keeps coming back and trying to protect her and serve her. He loves her, but he expects nothing from her in return.

In Game of Thrones, we see a lot of selfish characters who are trying to grasp at power and seek how they can satisfy their own desires, regardless of what collateral damage they cause. Jorah’s one of the genuine people who’s actually committed to a cause he believes in. I actually haven’t heard any spoilers about Jorah’s fate at the end of the series, so I’m really curious to see how he’s used in the final two seasons.

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Closing thoughts

By now I’ve completely fallen in love with this show, and I’m going to be really sad when I finally finish it and won’t know what to do with my free time anymore. The show just keeps upping the stakes, and I can’t wait to find out how it all plays out.

I haven’t even mentioned yet the shocking ending of season 6, and how Cersei literally blows up a building to get rid of all her rivals. Even though she started the game of thrones at a disadvantage, she’s now fought her way to the very top.

I believe blowing up the Great Sept was her “Anakin Skywalker turns into Darth Vader moment,” and she’s fully crossed over to the dark side now. I already know she won’t win the game of thrones, but she’s not going to make taking back the Iron Throne easy for her enemies.

A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones seasons 4 & 5

1200I’m still mad about the infamous “red wedding,” but nevertheless, my first-time viewing of Game of Thrones continues with seasons 4 and 5.

I’m really starting to pick up speed now — I watched the first season in about a month, but I finished season 4 in a week. It’s interesting because even though I heard what I thought were a lot of spoilers about this show, there’s still a lot of details I don’t know, and I’m dying to find out what happens to certain characters. (Also, they had better not let any harm come to poor Samwell Tarly — he has such a lovely, kind soul and at least ONE PERSON on this show deserves to find happiness, darn it!)

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Revenge and forgiveness

***Warning: Spoilers ahead!***

The Stark family keeps running into worse and worse luck, but at least now it’s time for the Lannisters to have a little taste of their own medicine. Karma finally catches up with King Joffrey and he’s poisoned at his own wedding. Also, Tywin’s days of manipulating his family are over, as the patriarch also meets his end, at the hands of his son Tyrion.

While Joffrey’s death comes as a relief to viewers (and just about everyone in Westeros), his absence doesn’t really settle the political tensions in the realm. In fact, it kicks off a murder “trial” (I’m putting “trial” in quotation marks here because there’s nothing particularly just or impartial about it), which eventually leads to Tyrion first killing his father, as referenced earlier, and then officially joining #TeamTargaryen.

As viewers we’ve been waiting a long time to see Joffrey get his comeuppance. He’s both a terrible ruler and a terrible person, and he was bad news for the future of Westeros. And yet, it’s interesting how revenge is never really as satisfying as you think it’s going to be. Joffrey’s death doesn’t erase all the evil things he’s done; Ned Stark is still dead, and there’s still a war going on. The legacy he left continues to poison those around him.

Speaking of revenge, I’m curious to see how Arya Stark’s character continues to develop, and how her feelings regarding her quest for vengeance may or may not change. (Side note: Her time training with the shape-shifters is super interesting, and I’m excited to see more magic making its way into the show.)

Arya has experienced far too much trauma and tragedy for someone who’s still so very young, and I don’t blame her for wanting to avenge her family. Still, there’s a very fine line between justice and revenge, and a good person who’s consumed by a desire for vengeance can easily cross over to the dark side themselves.

The opposite of revenge is, of course, forgiveness, and I’m curious to see what Game of Thrones has to say in regards to this theme. We haven’t seen much forgiveness at work, which is a shame because redemption and forgiveness are two of my favorite themes in stories (it’s why I love Star Wars so much, and it’s also why “Return of the Jedi” is one of my top favorite Star Wars movies). I believe that forgiveness and healing are an important part of the human experience.

Game of Thrones is challenging, though, because there are some characters that I really, really hate, and who seem beyond redemption. Some of the villains on Game of Thrones display a level of evil and cruelty that force me to look away from the screen. How does a character like Arya reach a place of forgiveness and peace within herself, while also ensuring that justice is done and that corrupt leaders are prevented from harming others in the future?

Daenerys is also wrestling with these same questions, as she tries to cement her status as queen and end corruption in the realms she encounters. What kind of punishment should she dole out in the lands she conquers, to the people who have done genuinely bad things? How do you mix mercy with justice?

I don’t think the show has really revealed what it thinks the answers to these questions are yet, but I’m sure this will continue to be explored in coming seasons.

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A dangerous dynasty

Even though I’m very much #TeamStark (a fact I’ve probably mentioned too many times already in this series of blogs), a character who has really grown on me throughout this series is Tyrion, and it was hard to watch almost all his friends and family abandon him during the trial where he is falsely accused of murder.

Peter Dinklage puts so much emotion and depth into his performance, and you can’t help but empathize with him. And what an epic speech when he tells off the entire courtroom full of people from King’s Landing; it didn’t exactly go over well with his audience, but I was definitely cheering!

It’s interesting to watch how the Lannisters regularly serve as the architects of their own doom. Jaime Lannister started this whole mess all the way back in season 1 by pushing Bran out the window. Joffrey’s selfish cruelty paints a giant target on his back. Then, Tywin’s repeated mistreatment of his son Tyrion leads to his own death and the loss of one of King’s Landing’s best strategists.

Well, the capital’s loss is Dany’s gain, as Tyrion takes his clever wits and political prowess to the Mother of Dragons, lending his support to the Targaryen dynasty. I can’t wait to see how their partnership plays out.

Tyrion will also be extra glad that he got out of King’s Landing when he finds out about the dumpster fire that place has turned into. Cersei gambles on an alliance with the High Sparrow, only to have him turn on her and throw her into prison. Cersei really can be a nasty person, but in the end I do pity her, because her life, on the whole, has probably been a very unhappy experience.

Cersei is smart and capable, but in the male-dominated world of Westeros, she’s treated dismissively. She has to fight for whatever power she does wield. If both she and Tyrion had been treated with more respect, and were placed in a more welcoming environment that allowed them to truly flourish, it’s interesting to ponder what they may have accomplished.

There are way too many other character arcs to cover in one blog, but it’s also cool to see Jon Snow emerging as a leader and trying to combat the growing threat of the White Walkers. Brienne of Tarth continues to be one of my favorite characters, and I love that we get to learn more about her backstory. Plus, Podrick is a great sidekick for her, and I love seeing their adventures together.

Also, in the beginning I really hated Theon Greyjoy, and I’m surprised to admit that I now genuinely feel sorry for him. He’s done some bad things, but seeing the way Ramsay Bolton has broken him physically, mentally, and emotionally is just gut-wrenching.

Speaking of Ramsay Bolton, he now joins King Joffrey on my list of most hated fictional characters of all time. I flinch every time he’s onscreen, and I’m getting mad just writing about him. Ugh ⁠— it’s time for him to go!

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Responsibility in storytelling

This leads me to the final point I’d like to discuss, and it’s one I’ve heard other viewers talking about throughout the series. Does Game of Thrones sometimes go too far in its depiction of violence, particularly its focus on sexual violence against women?

There’s a scene in season 5 involving Ramsay Bolton and his new wife, Sansa Stark, that so deeply troubled me that I don’t even really want to write about it. I don’t cry a lot while watching movies/TV, but his horrible treatment of Sansa really got to me. We’ve seen many female characters who have been sexually mistreated throughout the series, including Cersei, Dany, and nearly Brienne.

Is this something that should be shown onscreen? I’m sure that events like this happened in the real-life medieval era; however, any time you portray a sensitive topic in fiction, you have to do it responsibly. Hopefully Ramsay will be called to account for all the awful things he’s done, but that won’t erase the trauma Sansa has experienced.

I love Game of Thrones, but I believe it is perfectly fair to call out the writers, and to wish that they’d handled these sensitive scenes with greater care. Also, the scene of Jaime forcing himself on his sister Cersei felt out of character and has made it tough for me to root for a redemption arc for him anymore. According to an article I read, that scene wasn’t even in the books, which makes its inclusion in the show all the more frustrating.

This issue is more complex than can be covered in one article, but I think it’s good to talk about it. Fiction can raise awareness about the realities of sexual violence throughout history, and motivate people to take action against it. But this topic should never be sensationalized or used for mere shock value, which is sometimes the case in Game of Thrones.

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Closing thoughts

I am now over halfway through this series, and pieces of the narrative continue to fall into place. Also, thank goodness I have heard some spoilers about season 6, because the ending of season 5 is definitely a shocker. The Night’s Watch turns on Jon Snow and leaves him bleeding out on the ground, presumably dead.

I definitely would have been raging at “red wedding” levels of angry, but thankfully I already know he comes back, so the scene wasn’t as traumatic as it otherwise would have been. Still, I’m definitely going to be in a hurry to get to the library after work today to pick up a copy of season 6!

Quick review: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ offers summer popcorn movie fun

fast-furious-hobbs-shawI don’t know what it was about that first trailer for “Hobbs & Shaw,” the latest in the Fast and Furious movie franchise, but as soon as I saw it, I thought, “I have to see this movie.”

The funny thing is, I’m not even a Fast and Furious fan. I’ve only seen one and a half Fast and Furious movies, and don’t feel a particular need to watch the others. It’s just not my thing.

But something about the “frenemies” chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham made me believe this was going to be a fun movie, and I wasn’t disappointed.

“Hobbs & Shaw” is loud, ridiculous, and everything I wanted it to be. I caught an afternoon matinee with a big bucket of popcorn and had a great time at the theater.

It’s tough to do a review for a movie like “Hobbs & Shaw,” because there’s not really anything to dive deeper into. And you know what? Sometimes that’s okay. If you saw the trailer, you know what you’re getting in this movie: Johnson and Statham’s banter, lots of explosions, and delightfully over-the-top action sequences.

Even as someone who’s not super familiar with this franchise or the characters, I had a pretty easy time following along. Vanessa Kirby is great as an MI6 agent and the sister of Statham’s character. There are some celebrity cameos I didn’t know were going to be in the film and were a fun surprise when they popped up on-screen. The villain character isn’t particularly deep, but I always love seeing Idris Elba in a movie.

In short, if you enjoyed the trailer for “Hobbs & Shaw,” you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Is it a bit silly at times? Yes. But sometimes a movie is just plain fun, and at least for me, “Hobbs & Shaw” delivered.