Movie review: A new king — and superhero — is born in Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’

Black-Panther-movie-charactersThere was a lot going on in “Captain America: Civil War,” so it’s a testament both to the power of the Black Panther character and actor Chadwick Boseman’s screen presence that Black Panther was such a standout in that film. He brought a fresh perspective to the Avengers lineup and stole all the scenes he was in.

Fans have been eagerly waiting for Black Panther’s solo film, and the level of hype for this movie has been insanely huge. Both fans and critics are raving; “Black Panther” earned a glittering 97 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and has brought in an estimated $201 million in its opening weekend. The film’s diverse cast and timely subject matter also are significant cultural moments, and I believe those amazing box office grosses are evidence of that fact.

While “Black Panther” is still very much a Marvel film, it does feel different than what’s come before. Black Panther/T’Challa is a new type of hero in a new type of setting. I heard someone on Reddit describe the film as “Marvel meets The Lion King meets James Bond” which I feel is actually a fairly accurate description of the film’s tone. You have the royal family dynamics of “The Lion King” with some cool touches of espionage à la James Bond. The film picks up soon after the events of “Civil War,” where we witnessed the death of T’Challa’s father, King T’Chaka. T’Challa is preparing to assume the throne and determine what type of leader he will become for the prosperous, technologically advanced nation of Wakanda. However, he will have to face an unexpected challenge to the throne — a threat inadvertently created by one of his father’s past choices.

One of the coolest things about “Black Panther” is its world-building. I loved everything about Wakanda, a fictional East African nation created for the Marvel comics. I loved the blend of history and technology, and how the culture honored the past and also embraced the future. The costume design on this film is also fantastic, and I loved how colorful and distinctive this world was. Wakanda felt like a real place to me.


The ensemble cast is also fantastic, with a huge cast of strong supporting characters. In addition to Boseman, who we already got to know as T’Challa in “Civil War,” we meet Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, an undercover spy (we need a spin-off film about Nakia, please, Disney!); Danai Gurira as Okoye, head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda (another spin-off film needed!); Letitia Wright as the scene-stealing tech genius Princess Shuri; and too many others to name. I also enjoyed seeing Andy Serkis pop up again as black-market arms dealer Ulysses Klaue; although I love Serkis’ motion capture work, it’s always great to see him acting just as himself without a green screen. And I was surprised but pleased by how big of a role Martin Freeman had in this film as CIA member Everett K. Ross.

In the past, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been criticized for sometimes having weak villain characters, but that isn’t the case here. Without veering into spoiler territory, Michael B. Jordan made for a fascinating, complex villain as “Killmonger.” The choices he made were wrong, but you could see how his painful, broken past drove him to this moment. It was a great performance.

There’s a lot to praise about “Black Panther,” and it’s exciting to see how audiences have responded to this film. However, I do have to say that while I enjoyed it, I walked out of the theater feeling not quite as “awed” as I had anticipated. I’m fully willing to admit that may have more to do with me than the film. I got really hyped and excited for this movie, and sometimes when you build up the hype a little too much, it’s hard for a film to live up to those lofty expectations. I was expecting it to maybe even crack my top 5 Marvel films, and as of now, it hasn’t. Still, I feel like I need to see it again to fully process the film and its themes. I’m certain it will be in the upper half of my Marvel film rankings, but I’m not confident enough to place it yet.


One of the things holding the film back just a bit (at least to me) is the pacing. I felt like it took a while to really get going (the casino in South Korea was where it really took off, I thought). While it was cool seeing T’Challa and Nakia on her undercover assignment in the jungle and T’Challa’s coronation ceremony at the beginning of the film, I think these scenes took up time that could have been devoted to moving the plot forward in a more powerful and focused way. I wanted even more interaction between T’Challa and Killmonger. I also felt that sometimes T’Challa was almost a supporting character in his own film. There are so many awesome side characters, and I wouldn’t want to take away from that, but maybe just a *little* more time could have been devoted to how much of a strong, amazing fighter Black Panther is (and as “Civil War” showed us, he IS an amazing fighter).

But maybe those issues will stand out less to me on second viewing, and I really do feel like I need to see this again. Because as referenced earlier, the “Black Panther” movie is a significant cultural moment. While it works on a surface level as a superhero film, it is important that we’re getting a big-budget film with a predominantly black cast set in an African nation. This has clearly resonated with audiences, and is filling a niche that has been neglected by Hollywood. It also tackles some heavy themes, amidst the action. *Spoiler alert!* I thought the ending was quite powerful, where T’Challa realized that maybe Wakanda’s philosophy of hiding away from the world was wrong and they needed to help others in need — a truth that Killmonger helped him to see, even though Killmonger’s philosophy of violence was wrong. And Killmonger’s death is a gut-punch of a scene, where he asks to die as a free man and not a prisoner. *End spoiler!*

So in conclusion, it will be interesting to see how this film is evaluated as part of the MCU as time goes on. For right now, I definitely recommend that you see it, think about it, and discuss it. I feel there was room to make the film even stronger, but that doesn’t take away from the moment. And, of course, I’m eagerly awaiting Black Panther’s appearance in “Infinity War.”


Ultimate 70s Blogathon: Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) by Box Office Buzz

Thanks to Drew’s Movie Reviews for letting me participate in the Ultimate 70s Blogathon! Of course, I had to pick my favorite movie from the 70s: “Star Wars: A New Hope”!

Drew's Movie Reviews

My fellow Star Wars and MCU enthusiast, Ashley, enters the blogathon with the first non-host entry. If you are unfamiliar with Ashley, she runs Box Office Buzz, reviewing all sorts of films, creating lists, and examining the movie industry as a whole. If you don’t follow her already, do yourself a favor and give her site a look, after you finish up here of course! Now let’s get to her review of the film that started one of the most popular film franchises in cinema history.

Star Wars original movie poster Few film franchises have had as widespread or lasting an impact as Star Wars. For over 40 years and counting, the franchise has continued to draw in new fans to a certain galaxy “a long time ago” and “far, far away.” It’s hard to imagine a time when Star Wars wasn’t a part of pop culture, so it’s interesting to think that back…

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Flying Solo: Thoughts on Disney’s upcoming Han Solo spinoff film

solo_teaser_trailer_thumb_native_53989746These days, entertainment news seems to move at the speed of light; after a week, any announcement already feels like “old news.” Yet even though it may be a bit late to share a reaction to the release of the first Han Solo movie trailer, as a diehard Star Wars fan I couldn’t resist. 😉 I’ve actually been mulling over the trailer for the past week and I’ve finally decided how I feel about it. Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic for this film. I really don’t think that Disney *needed* to release a young Han Solo movie, and there are other spinoff topics I would have preferred (Note to Disney: I still REALLY want a quasi-Western solo Obi-Wan film starring Ewan McGregor set in the desert of Tatooine!). However, the “Solo” trailer did make me more excited for this movie, and I do feel a lot more confident about it than I did before, even though I still have some reservations.

The Han Solo spinoff film has been famously troubled behind the scenes, which I think is one of the reasons fans have been skeptical about this film. The original directors — Phil Lord and Chris Miller, of “The Lego Movie” fame — were fired over alleged “creative differences” regarding the project, and Ron Howard was asked to step in. While this firing raised some concerns that Disney was being too controlling or manipulative, in an odd way the news of the firing actually made me more confident about the Han Solo film.

Some fans may disagree, but so far I’ve been very pleased with how Disney has handled Lucasfilm since they acquired the company. They’ve shown they care about the franchise and are willing to take creative risks, but they’re also careful not to damage the brand — at least in my opinion. As much as I loved “The Lego Movie,” if Lord and Miller’s approach wasn’t working for “Solo: A Star Wars” story, I’m glad Disney stepped in and made a change. I’ve heard rumors that Lord and Miller were trying to make “Solo” too much of a comedy and were using a lot of improvisation. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that approach in film; it’s just not necessarily what I want from a Star Wars movie. I think Ron Howard will be able to capture the feel of classic Star Wars a little better.


That aside, the concern many fans still have is that Disney may have made the change too late. Will “Solo” end up as a cohesive, polished film, or will it feel rushed and choppy after all these shakeups and reshoots? I really wish Disney had pushed this movie back to November or December, instead of moving full speed ahead towards a summer release. However, in the end all the shakeups and skepticism and delayed advertising may work in the film’s favor, because people will probably be curious to see how it will all turn out. If it’s better than people expect, word of mouth is going to do a lot to boost this film.

I almost kinda wish Disney had given us JUST the 45-second Superbowl teaser we got in advance of the full trailer. It’s such a cool little teaser that offers just a hint of what we’re going to be seeing in the film. As many have said, modern trailers tend to reveal a little too much, taking away from some of the mystery of the final film. The teaser gives us just enough to speculate on. Still, there’s also some cool stuff to be seen in the full-length trailer.

I love how gritty and grimy the movie feels, with a similar look to “Rogue One” but with a little “Blade Runner” thrown in. I feel like all the new Disney Star Wars films have had really gorgeous cinematography and a nice blend of digital and practical effects and sets.


Of course, it’s going to be the characters who make or break this film, and in particular there’s a lot of pressure riding on Alden Ehrenreich as the young Han Solo. Harrison Ford is just so iconic in the role that it’s going to be tough seeing someone else play him. However, I intend to keep an open mind, and I’m rooting for him to succeed. I wanted to share the image above this paragraph because that grin just FEELS like Han Solo to me. I also like the “It’s fine — we’re fine” moment from the trailer. And despite my initial feelings that we don’t *need* to see Han Solo’s origin story, I think this film could be an interesting opportunity to show how Han got to be so cynical and jaded by the time we meet him in “A New Hope.”

Donald Glover immediately feels perfect as Lando, and I can’t wait to see him in this movie. I actually wish this was a Lando spinoff film, with Han Solo as a side character, because we don’t know as much about Lando and there could be lots of opportunities to expand that character. Hopefully he’ll have a sizable role in this film. And I just love Woody Harrelson in whatever he’s in and I am excited to see him join the Star Wars franchise. I’m pretty sure Emilia Clarke’s character is gonna break Han Solo’s heart, either by dying or betraying him. Also, it’s always good to see Chewbacca again.


So, in the end, I’m looking forward to “Solo: A Star Wars Story.” Maybe it will turn out to be a train wreck and Disney will have to do some soul-searching about these spinoff films. But for whatever reason, I’ve got a good feeling about this. I don’t know if I’ll like it as much as “Rogue One” or Episodes VII and VIII, but I think it will be a fun time at the theater.

So, what do you think? Are you excited for “Solo: A Star Wars Story”? Why or why not?

Movie review: ‘Get Out’ a slow burn, thought-provoking thriller

Film Title: Get OutAs a person who is so scared of horror films that I couldn’t even watch the trailer for Stephen King’s “It,” I wasn’t originally planning to see the movie “Get Out.” However, even a year later, people are STILL talking about this buzzy horror film, likely due to the fact it tackles some heavier social issues amongst the scares. “Get Out” has picked up multiple Academy Awards nominations — including best picture — and, needless to say, my curiosity finally overcame my horror movie phobia, and I rented it this weekend.

Although “Get Out” is billed as a horror film, to me it felt more like a slow burn suspense/thriller. I watched it during the middle of the day with all the lights on just in case, but the film doesn’t really rely on a lot of “jump scares” or gory violence (there is some graphic content at the very end, but it didn’t feel gratuitous or over the top, at least to me). There are a few comedic moments that help break the tension, as well — probably due to writer/director Jordan Peele’s comedy background. However, be aware that this is still a scary movie, and probably the most chilling part is the real-life issues the film raises awareness about.

The film introduces us to a black photographer named Chris Washington (played by Daniel Kaluuya, who also scored a best actor nomination for his work in this film). His white girlfriend, Rose Armitage, wants him to meet her well-to-do family and spend some time at their countryside estate. Even though Rose’s parents — a neurosurgeon and a hypnotherapist — seem nice enough at first, you can tell right away that something feels “off.” You can’t really put your finger on it, but something’s not quite normal here. The family keeps subtly dropping racially-charged comments, making Chris feel increasingly uncomfortable. Then, things start taking a turn for the sinister; people behave more and more strangely, and Chris realizes the Armitage estate holds some very dark and horrifying secrets.

“Get Out” is an appropriately named film, because that’s the exact warning I kept wanting to shout at my TV while watching the movie. The film does a great job of helping you see and feel these events from Chris’ perspective; as soon as he walked through the front door and met Rose’s parents, I wanted to tell him “get out NOW — something’s not right here!” Yet you can tell he’s already trapped (first figuratively, then literally), forced to try to socialize with his girlfriend’s increasingly creepy family. As mentioned before, I appreciated that this movie was a slow burn, and gradually and carefully increased the feeling of dread, rather than relying on cheap “jump scares” or a bunch of gross/gory moments.

I’m still trying to decide how I felt about the film’s big twist — the revelation of the horrific mystery hidden in the Armitage estate. Part of me feels that it stretched plausibility a little too much in a film that otherwise felt pretty grounded. However, regardless of how you feel about that twist, the scariest part of the film is that many of the issues it addresses are all-too-real.

As much as I want to be an optimist and believe that racism is no longer a part of our culture, the sad fact is that yes, it is. There are still people out there who judge a person and treat them differently because of the color of their skin. Even people who see themselves as progressive and open-minded can still say and do subtly racist things, which is just as bad. It’s easy to call yourself an “ally” and be like, “Oh yeah, I’m socially aware.” But do we really understand or bother to take action? By telling the story from Chris’ perspective, “Get Out” forces us to question our own thoughts and actions and consider that some of us may enjoy a feeling of safety and security in our everyday lives that others don’t get to experience.

So, even if you don’t normally watch movies in the horror genre, I highly recommend “Get Out.” It’s not always an easy movie to watch, but that’s a good thing. Sometimes people need to feel a little uncomfortable in order for change to happen.

Beyond the Oscars: Pick your own Academy Awards categories!

oscars.0.0Although I always enjoy hearing what films are nominated for the Academy Awards each year, I often like to joke that my personal favorite movies of the year typically don’t get mentioned until the more technical categories, like “best visual effects.” 😉 So, just for fun, I made up some of my own categories for awards I’d like to give out for 2017. I’d love to hear what imaginary awards you might like to hand out, as well!

Best superhero: Wonder Woman


Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was introduced back in 2016’s “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” where she lit up the screen and stole just about every scene she was in. Her solo debut movie, released in 2017, was one of my favorite movies of the year and one of my favorite superhero movies, period. Gadot brought the perfect mix of strength, courage, compassion, and kindness to the role, in a film that managed to be action packed and emotionally powerful. The scene where Wonder Woman fights her way across No Man’s Land still moves me, no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Although the DC Cinematic Universe hasn’t quite found its footing overall, Wonder Woman remains a shining star.

Best villain: Kylo Ren


Although fans are still debating how they felt about “The Last Jedi,” something I’ve heard most people agree on is that Episode VIII did a great job adding layers of complexity to Kylo Ren, and turning him into a surprisingly sympathetic character. Strip away the explosive anger, and you’re left with the still-conflicted Ben Solo, who has been warped and tormented by Snoke and is still struggling with the weight of his past (and his legacy as a Skywalker). His dynamic with Rey and falling out with Luke were the strongest parts of the movie for me. I have no idea how Episode IX will end, but I hope it gives us a satisfying arc for Kylo. Props to Adam Driver for really selling this character. I’d also like to give a “best villain – honorable mention” award to Michael Keaton’s Vulture in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”

Best surprise hit: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle


I was highly skeptical about the “Jumanji” sequel, “Welcome to the Jungle.” Did we really need a sequel more than 20 years later that updated the original’s board game concept to a video game? It turns out that yes, we did! “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” is a surprisingly fun, feel-good family adventure film that turned out to be just as funny as the trailers promised and has really blown up at the box office, mushrooming into a huge hit. Jack Black as the avatar of a social media obsessed teenage girl was a highlight in a film with lots of humorous moments. Though it didn’t make my list of top favorite movies of the year, I sure had a blast watching this one and definitely want to see it again on DVD.

Best underrated: Blade Runner 2049


I hesitated to select the “Blade Runner” sequel as “best underrated” film, because it seemed to be quite well received within the geek community. However, it only earned $92 million domestically on a production budget of $150 million. Which is a real shame, because it’s a beautiful, thought-provoking film. Director Denis Villeneuve gives us both gorgeous visuals and a thought-provoking story that lingered with me long after I left the theater. It asks challenging questions about humanity and reality, and it feels fresh and forward-looking while also honoring the film that came before it. I hope more people will give it a chance on home video.

Best scene (tie): No Man’s Land from Wonder Woman
and Snoke’s throne room fight in The Last Jedi


I loved both these scenes and just couldn’t choose between them! I mentioned the No Man’s Land scene from “Wonder Woman” previously; it’s just such an empowering moment that captures who Wonder Woman is and what she stands for. She isn’t afraid to put herself in danger to help people in need, and her bold act of courage ends up inspiring the other soldiers to join the charge. My other favorite scene this year was the fight in Snoke’s throne room, after Kylo unexpectedly offs the supreme leader and forms a (temporary) alliance with Rey. It was super awesome to see Rey and Kylo fighting Snoke’s guards back to back, and I love what a surprise this twist was.

Best soundtrack: Baby Driver


There were quite a few good film soundtracks in 2017, and I ended up buying several of them. However, the best use of a soundtrack in a film was definitely Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver.” The soundtrack is as much a character as the actual people in this slick, stylish heist film. Wright uses the music to perfectly punctuate both his action sequences and quieter character moments. Wright obviously loves music as much as his main character, “Baby,” does, who uses music both as a way to drown out his tinnitus caused by a childhood accident and as an escape from the life of crime he’s trapped in.

Best ensemble cast: Stranger Things Season 2


The second season of “Stranger Things” was a fun and spooky follow-up to the well-loved first season on Netflix. Though I loved the mystery and all the plot twists, my favorite part of the series is just watching the characters. The young actors playing the core group of young friends — Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will — are some of the best (and most authentic) child actors I’ve seen. It’s easy to buy them as four smart, fun-loving friends in the ’80s. While the kids are the heart of the show, there are plenty of other great actors in this series: Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers; David Harbour as Jim Hopper; Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven; Sean Astin as Bob Newby; and too many others to list. It’s such a great ensemble cast.

Best comeback: Arrow Season 5


The fourth season of the CW superhero show “Arrow” seemed to be widely regarded as the weakest in the series, and the show appeared to be losing steam, especially following a mixed response to season 3. However, for the loyal fans who stuck it out, season 5 was a strong payoff that featured one of the series’ strongest villains and solid character development that let Stephen Amell show off more of his acting range. Prometheus was a fascinating villain and a more than worthy foe for Oliver Queen, played with twisted perfection by Josh Segarra. It’s a shame that so far “Arrow’s” sixth season hasn’t been able to capitalize on the momentum from season 5 as well as it could have. Still, I’m glad we got what we got with season 5, which is one of my favorites in the series.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away: My Star Wars film rankings

Empire-Strikes-Back-Wallpaper-6In 2016, I put together a blog post ranking my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films that I could just return to and update as more films came out; that way I wouldn’t have to make a new post every time a new MCU movie was released. 😉 (We’re up to 17, soon-to-be 18, MCU films now — can you believe that?) Anyway, with nine Star Wars films now as well as a couple of TV shows, I figured it was time to make a Star Wars post too. As with the MCU post, I’ll just update it as the new films come out, and some of the films will probably shift around over time as well.

1. The Empire Strikes Back

I’m pretty sure this comes as a surprise to absolutely no one, since I’m quite vocal about “The Empire Strikes Back” being my all-time favorite movie. 😉 There’s so much I love about this film. The “Luke I am your father” moment is also my all-time favorite plot twist, and the Skywalker family connection elevates the villain dynamic from “good” to “great.” Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill are at their best as Han, Leia, and Luke. There’s so many great moments, from the asteroid field, to the battle on Hoth, to Vader and Luke’s showdown on Cloud City. This movie captures everything people love about Star Wars.


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 (and darn that emotional John Williams music!) 😉


3. The Last Jedi

TLJ proved to be surprisingly controversial amongst the Star Wars fan base. However, I like it more and more each time I see it, and it may end up rising as high as No. 2 on my list (depending on how Episode IX wraps up the sequel trilogy). I like that Disney 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.


4. Rogue One

At one point, I think “Rogue One” was as high as No. 2 on my list. While for now it has settled in at No. 4, I still really, really love this film. 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 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.


5. 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. It does play things a little safe (safer than “The Last Jedi”), but after the response to the prequels, TFA *needed* to be a little safe. It’s a fun, nostalgic movie 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.


6. 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.


7. 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.


8. Rebels

There’s a lot to like about the other 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.


9. Revenge of the Sith

Ah, the Star Wars prequels. I actually used to be a bit of 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. ROTS is the best of the bunch, and I may actually like it more than “Rebels.” Maybe another Star Wars marathon is in order…


10. 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.”


11. 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.

How would you rank the Star Wars movies? I’d love to see your own list! 

A disturbance in the Force: Decoding the fan response to ‘The Last Jedi’

tempt-trailer_1It’s now been about a month since “The Last Jedi” opened in theaters, and I feel like the dust is finally starting to settle a bit surrounding this surprisingly polarizing entry in the Star Wars franchise. By now everyone has probably decided how they feel about the film, one way or the other, and I don’t really want to stir up the controversy again. 😉 This article isn’t designed to be another discussion of the film itself; rather, I’d like to take a look at the overall fan reaction to this film, which has been absolutely fascinating to watch. In one camp you have some fans who loved it and have called it the best Star Wars film since “The Empire Strikes Back,” and others who hated it and think it’s worse than the prequels. The people who had reactions somewhere in between have found themselves in a sort-of No Man’s Land, trying to dodge the shots fired from both sides. While it is probably still too soon to analyze the legacy of “The Last Jedi,” I want to dive into some of the issues that are playing into this fan divide and what this means for the Star Wars franchise — and the state of fandoms as a whole.

Box office backlash?

Determining the overall public response to “The Last Jedi” is tricky, with the waters muddied by a variety of factors. There’s already been much discussion about the now 49 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes — a rather stark contrast to the critics’ 90 percent score for this film. There are rumors of bots and angry fans artificially deflating the audience score — take that as you will. Personally, I have a hard time believing that 50 percent of the people who saw this movie hated it with a burning, fiery passion (although if you didn’t like it, that is 100 percent okay — no one should be forced to love a movie!) 😊 I also really don’t believe that Disney simply “paid off” critics to give this a positive review.

Online I’d say the split between fans who loved it/hated it feels like an even 50/50 (at least based on the chatter on Reddit and social media), though again, this type of online community is not necessarily a real-life sampling. Anecdotally, I’d say the split amongst my friends, family, bloggers I follow, and other acquaintances is somewhere between 70/30 and 80/20, with more people liking it or at least enjoying it than those who did not. But that’s just within my own personal bubble.

It does feel strange to have a genre film that is praised by critics but is generating a backlash from fans; more often, it seems to be the other way around, with fans loving a movie more than critics did. Perhaps the closest equivalent is “Iron Man 3,” a movie that was generally praised by critics but received some pushback from fans for its unconventional narrative choices, not unlike “The Last Jedi.”

“The Last Jedi” had an impressive opening weekend — to the tune of $220 million domestically — and so far has grossed about $600 million domestically and close to $1.3 billion globally. That’s a lot of money, and is easily the highest domestic grosser of 2017, beating Disney’s apparently less controversial flicks like “Beauty and the Beast” and the trio of Marvel films. Still, it’s not anywhere close to touching the massive $930 million domestic, $2 billion global gross for “The Force Awakens.” Now, is it fair to say “The Last Jedi” would have made more money if it was less divisive? That’s entirely possible. But how much more is difficult to determine.

“The Force Awakens” was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment that probably won’t happen again for a very long time (although it will be exciting to see just how big “Avengers: Infinity War” opens — I can see it breaking a lot of records). “The Force Awakens” was the first new Star Wars movie in a decade; the first Star Wars movie after the generally poorly received prequels; and the first Star Wars movie from new owner Disney, plus on top of that the return of the original trilogy cast. “The Last Jedi” also seemed to have more competition at the box office, with “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” turning out to be a surprisingly fun and entertaining family film that played very well with audiences over the holidays. I really don’t see how any movie that earns $1.3 billion is disappointing, especially since Star Wars still beat out a lot of superhero flicks, which tend to play better overseas than the Star Wars franchise. I think Episode IX will do just fine. 😉

However, another discussion for another time is my concern that Disney may eventually over-saturate the marketplace with Star Wars content. I think one Star Wars film every year (or even every two years) is a good amount and shouldn’t go higher. It’s a different type of film than the Marvel superhero flicks, which I think are sustainable at two to three a year, at least for now. Another question is if Hollywood’s blockbuster bubble will eventually burst — how sustainable are these billion-dollar movie expectations and how risky is it for studios to rely on these billion-dollar grosses to be profitable? But moving on…


A house divided

So, just why was “The Last Jedi” so controversial? I haven’t really seen any obvious patterns in who liked this movie and who didn’t; it really does seem to be a mix based on personal preference.

In some ways, I think the backlash was unavoidable, and may be a holdover from “The Force Awakens.” Inevitably, the Star Wars sequels had to directly address the legacy of the original trilogy, in a way the prequels did not. Whether you enjoyed the prequels or not, they didn’t really have an impact on the legacy of the original trilogy, since in terms of the Star Wars timeline they happened in the past. Now, we have the sequel trilogy revisiting beloved characters like Han, Luke, and Leia, whom fans feel a very personal connection to and understandably have strong opinions about.

I’m of the opinion that Disney made the right call to retire the old Star Wars Expanded Universe. There’s some truly great stuff in there that is still very much a part of Star Wars for me (hint, hint: Timothy Zahn). 😉 However, there was some not-so-great stuff in there too (let’s all collectively agree to forget that time Luke fell in love with a computer) and some plot developments fans disagreed on, as is the case with any franchise. Even if Disney had decided to adapt Zahn’s well-received Thrawn trilogy, they would have had to cast younger actors as Han, Luke, and Leia, which I feel would have been too risky for their first Star Wars film. The return of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill is a big selling point for this sequel series.

I admire Disney for being willing to take a risk with “The Last Jedi” and allowing director Rian Johnson to make some choices they probably knew would be a little controversial. “The Force Awakens” was a fun but relatively “safe” film, though I think after the prequels, that’s exactly what it needed to be. It needed to remind fans of what they loved about Star Wars and to assure them the franchise was in good hands. But in order to move forward in a meaningful way, Disney had to try something gutsier for the sequel, and inevitably, some fans would like whatever direction they chose, and some wouldn’t.

While to me “The Last Jedi” still feels very much like a Star Wars movie, it does feel different than what’s come before. In terms of cinematography, it’s probably the most beautifully shot Star Wars film, and it uses a little different narrative structure. One of the major themes is failure, and we see many of the main characters make plans that end up coming to nothing. I can respect that some did not like the way Luke Skywalker was portrayed; for me it was a bold choice that really paid off, but it is hard to see a childhood hero as a more broken, flawed person than we may have expected. I’d argue that this makes the film much more interesting and powerful than if we’d simply seen Luke as a wizened Obi-Wan type mentor figure, but I can see how others might have a different reaction.

“This is not going to go the way you think…”

Another topic I’ve seen debated is how “The Last Jedi” subverted expectations, and whether that was a good thing. Fans had a lot of theories about Snoke’s background and Rey’s parentage in particular. The movie revealed those were red herrings. I personally loved those twists, because sometimes a reveal that’s too hyped can ultimately feel like a bit of a letdown, even if it’s what you might have originally wanted. If Snoke hadn’t died and was the “big bad” in Episode IX after all, would he have felt too much like a Palpatine knockoff? To me, a power struggle between an unhinged Kylo Ren and a scheming General Hux (neither of whom is really ready to lead an empire) makes for a more interesting villain dynamic, but again, I can respect how others would disagree. I originally theorized Snoke was maybe Darth Plagueis returned to life, but now I wonder if that really would have been a cool reveal or if it ultimately would have felt too beholden to the past? It’s an interesting question to ponder. I also think the same thing could have happened with Rey’s parentage. The fact she’s a “nobody” feels more authentic and exciting to me now, even though originally I wanted her to be connected to the old Jedi Order.

In short, some of the same reasons people loved “The Last Jedi” are the same reasons other people didn’t — and that’s okay. Some of the factors that may have been small issues for some fans were big issues for others. Not every fan will agree on every film, and I think it’s exciting to have a Star Wars movie that has provoked some genuine, meaningful debates and deep conversations. I honestly believe that “The Last Jedi” will hold up well over the long run, especially as we see how Episode IX turns out. I hope fans who didn’t like it the first time will wait several months, and then give it another chance. I re-watched “The Force Awakens” right after my second viewing of “The Last Jedi” and thought they flowed well together, despite some shifts in tone.

My one fear is that Disney will react to the backlash by trying too hard to make Episode IX “safe.” I don’t want them to retcon Rey’s parents and make them somebody significant to Star Wars lore. I think it’s really powerful that she’s a “nobody” who can become a hero. I don’t want Snoke to come back to life; I absolutely would love some flashbacks with him in Episode IX that include a little more on his backstory, but Kylo unexpectedly killing him and (temporarily) siding with Rey was, in my opinion, one of the best twists in the movie.


We’re all in this together…

My closing thought is one that I’ve been trying to remind myself of as I get excited about upcoming films and such. As geeks, we get pretty passionate about our fandoms. It’s great to have discussions and debates, and we don’t all have to agree. At the end of the day, they are just movies. They’re meant to be fun, and if a franchise stops bringing you joy, it’s absolutely okay to peacefully walk away. I know some who have said the Disney Star Wars movies aren’t for them, and that’s okay too. I personally would argue that they’re missing out 😉 but there are plenty of great geek properties to be a fan of.

What’s discouraging is seeing fans put others down and posting hurtful things to each other. I’ve seen it happen not just in threads about Star Wars but in Marvel vs. DC debates, the new Star Trek movies and TV show, and too many other discussions; this seems to be occurring more and more as social media becomes a venting ground and people are maybe having less conversations face to face. I worry that some of the negativity generated by these fan vs. fan throwdowns will eventually drive the general public away from these fandoms and make them seem less welcoming. Especially since the general public is what helps turn these Star Wars and Marvel flicks into billion-dollar hits and thereby guaranteeing we get more. I will add that’s why I am increasingly turning to WordPress rather than social media or even Reddit for film discussions; you guys are awesome and supportive, and even when people disagree, it’s done respectfully. So kudos to all of you! You’re the best!

In closing, we fans shouldn’t let our passion for (or against!) something turn into anger that we then use as a weapon to pummel other fans, like Darth Vader in that famous “Rogue One” hallway scene. 😉 Criticizing and debating a film is definitely okay, and it’s always fascinating to hear another perspective. I’m a pretty passionate pro-“Last Jedi” crusader (as you’ve probably gathered), but have been reminding myself that it’s okay people thought differently. Let’s make sure that geekdom stays a fun, friendly place that is welcoming to all!

My top five most anticipated movies of 2018

avengers-infinity-war-poster-comic-conjpegWith 2017 behind us, it’s time to start looking ahead to 2018! There will be plenty of movies to look forward to in theaters this year, including a certain little Marvel movie that will wrap up a decade of build-up. It might make a little money at the box office. 😉

Although it’s always hard to narrow my list down, here are the top five movies I’m most excited about this year!

1. Avengers: Infinity War (May 4), Black Panther (Feb. 16), and Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6)

I’m already cheating on my supposed “five movie limit” by combining these three into one entry, but otherwise I’d only have two slots left in my list. 😉 I’m super excited about all three of these. I’m also glad we only have to wait another month for “Black Panther.” Although I had a lot of fun watching “Thor: Ragnarok” last year, it will be nice to see a little more serious superhero movie like “Black Panther.” I loved his character in “Captain America: Civil War” and can’t wait to find out more about that world. I also think the original “Ant-Man” is sometimes a little underappreciated in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s actually one of my favorites. I’m looking forward to seeing an expanded role for the Wasp. Still, if I had to pick only one most anticipated movie of the year, it would have to be “Infinity War.” It’s hard to believe that this all started back in 2008 with “Iron Man” and has now grown into this expansive cinematic universe. I have a feeling the MCU is going to look a lot different after the fourth Avengers movie wraps up, but it’s been a great ride so far. Hopefully it will be the epic finale to this phase of the MCU that the characters deserve.


2. Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25)

I’m a huge Star Wars fan; pretty much everybody knows that. So despite my misgivings about a spinoff Han Solo film, I’m definitely willing to give it a chance. I would have much rather Disney given us an Obi-Wan or Boba Fett spinoff movie, but since this is what we’re getting, I’m hoping it will turn out well. I’ve loved all the Disney Star Wars flicks so far, and in an odd way, the director shakeup behind the scenes on the “Solo” set boosted my confidence a little. If Disney had doubts about the direction the film was taking, I’m glad they were willing to brave the negative PR and make a change. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is such an iconic performance and getting audiences to invest in a new actor playing the character is probably the biggest obstacle the film is facing. However, I’m super excited to see Donald Glover as Lando, and it will also be fun to see Woody Harrelson in a Star Wars movie. On another note, I wish they had pushed back the deadline and released this movie in December, rather than summertime so close to “Infinity War.” But it is kinda cool it’s being released on the 41st anniversary of “A New Hope.”


3. Annihilation (Feb. 23)

“Annihilation” is my pick for best potential breakout movie. I don’t know a lot about the film, other than what I’ve seen in the mysterious, eerie trailers, and I’d like to keep it that way. I’m not even sure how to describe it, really, other than that Natalie Portman’s character is apparently going to investigate some sort of really weird scientific anomaly that is most definitely not benign (based on the title “Annihilation”). Although sometimes an early winter release date doesn’t speak of a lot of confidence from a film studio, sometimes it’s nice to get these movies outside the increasingly crowded summer season. “Black Panther” is going to do very well the weekend before, so I’m hoping this has a shot at being a surprise hit. Hopefully it will offer better sci-fi scares than last summer’s “Alien: Covenant.”


4. Pacific Rim: Uprising (March 23)

The original “Pacific Rim” does not have a particularly deep plot, characters, or dialogue, but I absolutely love that movie. Where else can you see a giant robot pick up a cargo ship and use it to smash a giant monster? One could argue that the film doesn’t really need a sequel, especially since director Guillermo del Toro isn’t returning. However, I’m actually really excited to see John Boyega heading up a new sci-fi blockbuster. I really loved him as ex-stormtrooper Finn in the new Star Wars trilogy and I think he’s a good fit to play the son of the coolest character in the original movie, Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost. The film’s March release date also might be a good thing, giving it a chance to stand out before the onslaught of summer blockbusters.


5. Ready Player One (March 30)

The novel “Ready Player One” has been on my “to be read” list for a long time so at this point I’ll probably end up watching the movie first. The story takes place in the dystopian future, where people find solace in a virtual reality world known as OASIS. Teenager Wade Watts enjoys the escape the OASIS provides…until dangerous real-world problems start bleeding into the virtual one. One of the things I’m most excited about in this movie is all the pop culture references that will supposedly be in the film, including “The Iron Giant,” “Back to the Future,” “The Lord of the Rings,” and more. The first Lego movie is the only other film I can think of with this many cool characters mashed together. Plus, this movie was directed by one of my all-time favorite directors — Steven Spielberg — so that’s always a plus!

So, what’s on your “must-see” list for 2018? What will be the biggest hit, or the biggest flop?

Movie review: ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ a surprisingly fun action comedy

jumanji-welcome-to-the-jungle-review_szhfAs a kid, I remember watching the original “Jumanji” for the first time at a friend’s slumber party. I was awed (and a bit terrified) of this tale about a cursed board game that comes to life and causes dangerous events to happen in the real world — like carnivorous plants and stampeding animals.

It’s probably been about 15+ years since I last watched this movie, so I can’t really comment on how well it has held up over time, but I do have fond memories of it. Initially I didn’t think releasing a sequel more than 20 years later (wow, I feel old now) was that great of an idea, especially since the sequel updates the original “Jumanji” board game to a video game.

However, the trailers for the sequel, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” always made me laugh when I saw them in the theater before watching other films, so when this movie scored 77 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, I thought “why not?” I went to see it on a cold, lazy afternoon and ended up really enjoying myself. “Welcome to the Jungle” turns out to be a surprisingly fun action comedy with some entertaining performances and genuine laughs.

As I mentioned before, turning the “Jumanji” board game into a video game originally seemed like a gimmick but actually works quite well in the film. Instead of the board game leaking into the real world, four kids are transported into the world of “Jumanji” via a video game. Not only does this prevent the movie from feeling like a rehash of the original, it provides some great comedy moments as four adult actors — Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan — play video game avatars of four teenagers. They all have to learn how to cooperate and beat the game together in order to get back to the real world, or they’ll be stuck in “Jumanji” forever…or worse.

Watching Johnson, Black, Hart, and Gillan pretend to be teenagers pretending to be characters in the video game was my favorite part of the film. I thought Johnson and Black did particularly well. The impossibly buff Johnson ends up being the avatar for gamer Spencer Gilpin, who overcomes his insecurities and gains confidence in real life after the game is over. And Black was really hilarious as the avatar of a spoiled, self-absorbed girl who thinks more about her next Instagram post than other people.

I would tag this as a spoiler, but you already know going in that the characters will all end up bonding with each other (despite not getting along that well initially) and they learn a lesson about appreciating each other and their differences. Yes, it might be a little cliché, but in a world where bullying and unfairly ostracizing people into groups is a real problem, I liked this film’s message that every person deserves to be valued, and everybody has strengths that are worthy of respect. For me, the message was a welcome one and didn’t feel too heavy-handed.

I actually don’t have a whole lot else to say about this film. The action sequences were good, and I laughed plenty of times throughout, thanks to the great chemistry amongst the cast. To be fair, it’s not a ground-breaking film and didn’t knock any films off my “best of 2017” list. Will people still be talking about it at this time next year? Maybe, maybe not. However, it was a lot of fun and is definitely worth catching as a matinee. It cheered up my post-holiday “blahs,” and I’m planning to watch it again on DVD.

2017 in review: My five favorite movies of the year

star-wars-the-last-jedi-vanity-fair-photo-shoot-by-annie-leibovitz-hi-res-hd-images-luke-and-reyAnother year is winding down at the box office, which means it’s time to take a look back and see what movies hit (or missed) the mark! Like always, there were some surprises and disappointments, with some films that lived up to the hype and some that fell short of their potential. Disney continues to rule the box office, with several mega-hits that included Marvel movies, a live-action “Beauty and the Beast,” and the latest chapter in the Star Wars franchise — although its Pirates of the Caribbean series appears to be losing steam.

All in all, I thought it was a pretty good year at the movies. For me, two of my most disappointing movies were unfortunately some that I was really looking forward to. Much has already been written about “Justice League,” and I won’t belabor the point. However, while the characters and acting/casting were great, the story just didn’t do these epic superheroes justice. And the more time that passes, the more I’ve simply forgotten about this film (similar to “Suicide Squad”). Which is just such a shame, because these characters all deserve another shot, even though the DC Cinematic Universe is on somewhat shaky ground now. My other disappointment was the Kingsman sequel, “The Golden Circle.” Although I did have fun watching it, it too has faded from my mind since I saw it. The first was such a wonderful, lovingly over-the-top delight, and it’s too bad the sequel couldn’t capture the same magic.

Still, there were plenty of movies that I loved this year, so without further ado, here are my top five films from 2017. It’s not necessarily what I think are the five *best* movies, but rather the ones that I most enjoyed. There are two notable absences: I still haven’t gotten a chance to see “The Disaster Artist” or “The Shape of Water” (which either haven’t come to my theater yet or came and went too quickly). I’ve heard great things about these two films, and they might end up earning a spot on my revised top five once I get a chance to see them.


Honorable mention: Dunkirk

Watching Christopher Nolan’s World War II thriller “Dunkirk” was probably the most visceral experience I’ve had in a movie theater this year. Perhaps Nolan’s tensest, tightest film, “Dunkirk” tells the true story of the risky evacuation of 300,000 Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, as the Nazi army presses in around them. Interestingly, Nolan chooses to tell the story mostly through visuals, with minimal dialogue and separate, alternating timelines. That’s maybe why this ends up as an “honorable mention” rather than in the top five itself. It’s an excellent, powerful film, but it’s not a movie that I will watch over and over again. I feel this is a movie that’s best experienced once, on a screen as large as possible, so you feel like you are living the events as they happen.


5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

I had to think long and hard about what movie to put in this spot. I knew it would be a Marvel film, but I wasn’t sure which one. While “Thor: Ragnarok” was a blast, it ultimately ranks in the lower half of Marvel movies for me; the humor undercuts several big moments and lessens their emotional impact by not taking them seriously enough. And even though I really loved “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and can’t wait to see Tom Holland as a continuing part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Guardians Vol. 2” just barely has an advantage here. It is fair to say that yes, “Vol. 2” wasn’t as good as “Vol. 1.” Some of the surprise factor is gone, and the humor doesn’t feel *quite* as natural. The film also does split up the Guardians for a large portion of the film. Still, Kurt Russell makes for a great villain, and the Guardians franchise continues to do a good job of balancing the laughs with genuine emotional moments. Yondu emerges as the surprise breakout star of the movie, and his moments with Rocket were the highlight of the film for me.


4. Logan

2017 was a year of big budget blockbusters taking genuine risks, including the unconventional storytelling techniques in Christopher Nolan’s already-mentioned “Dunkirk” and the surprisingly polarizing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” The X-Men franchise also deserves praise for taking a risk with “Logan,” a film that, despite being about Wolverine, feels more like a Western than a superhero flick. This violent, gritty, R-rated take on Hugh Jackman’s iconic character provided a powerful yet poignant closing chapter for the superhero. The Academy Awards don’t usually single out superhero films for the bigger awards categories, but Jackman — and Patrick Stewart as a failing Professor Charles Xavier — deserve consideration for their performances. This isn’t a film that I’m going to end up watching dozens and dozens of times, just because it is so violent and bleak, but I’m very glad that it was made. Hopefully it opens the door for more superhero films like it in the future.


3. Blade Runner 2049

Every year, it seems like there’s always one film that comes out of nowhere to surprise me. This year, that film was “Blade Runner 2049.” I wasn’t particularly hyped about it but thought the trailers looked cool. However, I walked out of the theater completely blown away, and it was worth every penny I spent to see it in IMAX. It’s a gorgeously shot, sci-fi noir with thought-provoking themes that will linger with you long after you’ve watched it. Although the film is oftentimes bleak, it’s never hopeless. It reflects on what it means to be human, and how sometimes that humanity can be both inspiring and, in other cases, cruel. From what I understand, the film was a bit of a flop, at least domestically, and in retrospect I’m shocked that the studio greenlit a budget of $150 million. Still, none of that budget is wasted in this moving, lovingly-crafted film.


2. Wonder Woman

The merits of the DC Cinematic Universe so far (and its future) is an issue fans will continue to debate. However, most fans agreed on this summer’s “Wonder Woman,” the DCCU’s best movie so far and also one of my new favorite superhero movies overall. “Wonder Woman” was funny and exciting, with a star-making performance from Gal Gadot (who had already stolen all the scenes she appeared in during “Batman vs. Superman”). Told through the lens of World War I, the film took time to cover some deeper themes amidst the action sequences. Chris Pine also made a great sidekick as Steve Trevor. Ultimately, I might have structured the ending a little differently, but for me at least it didn’t take away from the power of the film. And one of my favorite scenes from a movie this year is still that moment Wonder Woman climbs up out of the trench into No Man’s Land — an act of courage, compassion, and strength that still gives me goosebumps every time I watch it.


1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I didn’t think picking a Star Wars movie as my favorite movie of the year would be a controversial choice, yet here we are. 😉 People have very strong feelings about “The Last Jedi”; I’ve heard some call it the best Star Wars movie since “The Empire Strikes Back” and others say it’s worse than the prequels. For me, it was a bold, exciting, risky film that wasn’t content to coast on nostalgia and pushed the franchise in an unexpected new direction. It touched on some deep themes for a sci-fi blockbuster — namely failure and letting go of the past — and gave us some satisfying character development that built on what we’d seen in “The Force Awakens” (a movie I absolutely love but admit was fairly “safe”). It looks at one of fans’ childhood legends — Luke Skywalker — in a challenging but meaningful way, arguably Mark Hamill’s best performance as the character. It also has two of my favorite moments that I’ve ever seen in a Star Wars movie (warning: spoilers incoming!) — first, when Kylo unexpectedly offs the supposed big-bad, Supreme Leader Snoke, and allies with Rey; that fight in the red throne room is an exhilarating payoff to the tension building earlier in the film. And second, when Luke rises above his pain and failure and becomes the legend we all knew him to be, facing down the First Order and his nephew and displaying a jaw-dropping new Force power. At the end of the film he stares into a twin sunset and becomes one with the Force, an emotional yet fitting end for a beloved character. Even though “The Last Jedi” divided some fans, I loved it. There are a few small things I would have changed, but overall I thought it was amazing. I can’t wait to see how Disney will (hopefully!) surprise us again with Episode IX.

So, what were your top five movies of the year? I’d love to hear them!