Alien Anatomy

Earth Girls Are Easy is something I’ve been putting off for a long time. Since I’m honestly not sure what I got out of it. Until I realised I shouldn’t overthink the very colorful 80’s cheesiness. Earth Girls Are Easy is based on a song from Julie Brown. Which details the sexual encounter between an alien and a valley girl. As the title suggests, every single female character in Earth Girls Are Easy is sexualized. All with ample cleavage, bikinis, and skimpy outfits that set the lightweight tone. Along with excessively 80’s pop songs including one about dumb blondes on the beach.

So Earth Girls Are Easy is obviously meant to be dumb fun. Geena Davis is valley girl Valerie Gail. A sexually repressed woman dating a cheating doctor. Her world turns upside down when three hairy blue, yellow, and red aliens crash their ship in her pool when she’s sunbathing. The aliens are all weird, random, and learn English through TV. Underneath they’re good looking guys. They’re attracted to the hairless Earth women. Spending the entire movie picking them up at nightclubs, gawking at them on the beach, and discovering they’re “compatible.”

With all the scantily clad women, I’m surprised they went with a PG rating. Jeff Goldblum stars alongside his real life wife for the second time. There’s just a happier ending for them this time. Damon Wayans and his very young In Living Color co-star Jim Carrey are the other aliens. Despite everyone’s reputation, the jokes didn’t really land for me. But Earth Girls Are Easy is still an enjoyable 80’s time capsule with intergalactic wackiness and hotties galore.

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Valerie meets the aliens

Wounded Warrior

Born on the Fourth of July isn’t an easy film to discuss, but I’ll try my best to stay impartial. Happy 4th of July everyone! Born on the Fourth of July is the second film in what would turn out to be Oliver Stone’s Vietnam war trilogy. The only similarity is Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger. Since Stone has experience as a Vietnam veteran, he became the top choice to direct Ron Kovic’s autobiography. Kovic was an all-American Catholic youth so patriotic he was born on the 4th of July. So he severed by enlisting in the Vietnam war.

Reality sets in when a misfire results in the loss of innocent villagers and the accidental shooting of one of his fellow soldiers. The loss of his legs is what changes him forever. Maintaining his patriotism, but slowly losing faith when people turn their back on him. When fleeing to Mexico doesn’t work, Kovic returns to speak out against the war. Compared to Platoon, there’s actually very little war featured in the 2 hour & 25 minute movie. There’s just enough to take in the harshness of the war from someone else’s perspective.

Born on the Fourth of July was a major breakthrough for Tom Cruise. Earning him his first Oscar nomination and first chance in a dramatic leading role. Since before he was just the young heartthrob type. Cruise takes Kovic to every extreme he experienced. Spending nearly the entire movie in a wheelchair. Suffering through his post-war experience with genuine realism. It helped that the real Rob Kovic co-wrote the script. I don’t agree with everything, but Born on the Fourth of July is just another reminder of the folly of the Vietnam war.

2. Born on the Fourth of July

Ron Kovic protests the war

Loss of Innocence

Platoon is the most hellish depiction of the Vietnam war I’ve seen up to this point. Oliver Stone was the first war veteran to direct a Vietnam film. Giving Platoon a sense of realism that’s difficult to replicate. It’s the second Vietnam film to win Best Picture after The Deer Hunter. Stone made Platoon to counter film’s that glorified the war as anything other than a horrific war that should never have been fought. Platoon is far from the laugh riot The Naked Gun makes it out to be.

It follows a platoon of soldiers at the height of the Vietnam War. The opening Bible quote represents the theme of youth and the unfortunate loss of innocence. The ensemble cast is full of familiar faces that I was seeing in a whole new light. I didn’t even realise Johnny Depp had a bit part. This is easily the most serious role I’d seen Charlie Sheen in. He plays a young volunteer regretting his decision to enlist, but trying his best to maintain his humanity. Willem Dafoe plays the most moral commanding officer in a break out Oscar nominated performance. He’s the one who strikes the iconic pose that best represents the devastation of the war.

His exact opposite is Tom Berenger as an experienced soldier driven to an insanity that’s made him a murderous monster. Keith David and Forest Whitaker are moral soldiers, but most of their platoon is driven mad as well. The Viet Cong attack without warning, yet they aren’t the biggest threat that they face. The true enemy is within. Which is why the village scene is so difficult to get through. Platoon doesn’t hold back in depicting the harsh reality and moral loss of the Vietnam war.

1. Platoon

Sgt. Elias struggles to live

Don’t Trust Anyone

The Thing is the much more faithful adaptation of Who Goes There? that gets all the attention. Since the story was always about a shapeshifting alien. It’s practically destiny for John Carpenter to be the director. Considering The Thing from Another World is on TV in Halloween. Unlike the 50’s interpretation, The Thing is a more hopeless R rated gorefest. So much so that critics and audiences surprisingly hated it. It was probably bad timing since E.T. came out the same year.

The Thing later became a cult hit and a major influence on sci-fi horror. Which is why I’ve seen it twice. The Thing is set in Antarctica with a small cast of all male research scientists. Kurt Russell will obviously survive in the end, but Keith David and Wilford Brimley are noteworthy as well. The Team is caught in the crossfire of a Norwegian pilot trying to kill a dog. They don’t make much of it, but they soon discover that this is no mere canine. The true stars of The Thing are the grotesque practical creature effects. This thing can take any gore filled shape it wants at any unexpected moment.

The thing takes the shape of its victims, so it leads to intense paranoia between the men. Everyone turns against each other until they’re picked off one by one. The most gruesome body reveal is the chest eating someone’s arms before sprouting spider legs. So Russell’s MacCready creates a tension filled blood test that reveals the one you’d least suspect. Fire kills the thing like in the original, but the stakes are higher if the creature escapes. The Thing is disgusting, but an impressive feat in body horror.

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The Thing emerges

Preceded by: The Thing (2011)

Lawn Mower Boy Meets Popular Girl

Can’t Buy Me Love is more than just a hit song from the Beatles. It’s also a mostly forgotten 80’s teen movie. Something I’d probably never know about if not for Easy A. In the movie, Emma Stone’s character talks about grand romantic gestures in 80’s flicks. I’ve seen The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, and Say Anything…, but I didn’t even recognize Can’t Buy Me Love. It’s essentially about a nerd buying a popular girl’s affection just to become popular. That sounds bad, but it does go deeper than that.

I was shocked to learn the scrawny geek Ronald is McDreamy himself Patrick Dempsey. Talk about growth spurt. Ronald is your typical unpopular outcast. He mows lawns to pay for a $1,000 telescope. Cindy seems like your average popular cheerleader pining after an older quarterback, but she has it just as hard as every other teenager. Amanda Peterson had so much potential. They live next door, but it’s not until the white dress she borrows from her mother gets ruined that he makes the offer. $1,000 to pretend they’re a couple for a month. Cindy helps make Ronald look cooler and Ronald encourages her love of poetry.

Their fake relationship turns into real feelings that are actually really sweet. Then they ruin everything when the popularity gets to Ronald’s head. I get what they’re trying to say about social circles, but does he have to be such a jerk. Eventually he does get called out and there’s a lesson about how fleeting popularity is. The best moment is the final romantic gesture. Where Cindy chooses Ronald by riding off on his lawn mower. If you’re looking for lesser known teen movies, you can’t put a price on Can’t Buy Me Love.

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Cindy rides Ronald’s lawn mower

Under the Sea

The Little Mermaid is the magical underwater fairy tale that got Disney animation back on track. Ushering in a veritable Disney Renaissance. An era of Disney that will always be closest to my heart. The 70’s and 80’s were a dark time for the studio. Most projects were generally well received, but nowhere close to the classics of old. However, things started to look up with the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Their twenty-eighth animated production The Little Mermaid was the perfect opportunity to get back to the Princess themed fairy tales that Disney always excelled at. It was actually one of many stories Walt Disney considered adapting in his early days.

The Little Mermaid is based on the far more tragic Danish tale of a little mermaid longing to be on land. The tragedy is that she’s more concerned with having a human soul and experiences horrible pain in the process. She doesn’t get her Prince, turns to seafoam, but there’s hope that she’ll go to Heaven some day. Obviously a Hans Christian Andersen story like this needed major Disneyfication. Along with the best directing duo, best composers, and best animation that the studio has seen in a long time. Although the studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg foolishly thought it would perform less than Oliver & Company, The Little Mermaid instead became the first Disney blockbuster…

42. The Little Mermaid

Ariel swims under the sea

The Little Mermaid is a fish tale that I’ve loved since I was really little. Despite its release at the tail end of 1989, most of the movie’s success was found in the 90’s. Which is why my brother and I watched The Little Mermaid frequently on VHS. Thanks to our parents who introduced it to us at such a young age. Katzenberg was crazy to think a “girls movie” like this wouldn’t appeal to everyone. I absolutely adore the romance, colorful songs, and undersea action. The Little Mermaid was a welcome return to Disney traditions. Once upon a time, there lived the magical mermaid & merman kingdom of Atlantica. Very different and more controversially phallic than Atlantis. The musical underwater palace is also populated by sea creatures of all shapes and sizes.

Ariel is one of my all time favorite Disney Princesses. She was the first true Disney Princess since Aurora in 1959. Unlike the classic Princesses, Ariel has a more defined personality and genuine aspirations. Ariel is a mermaid with gorgeous red hair, a green fish tail, and seashell bikini. Her voice and appearance make her the most beautiful Disney Princess in my opinion. She’s notably modeled after Alyssa Milano. Her trademark hair color was chosen to avoid comparisons to Splash. Voice actress Jodi Benson deserves all the credit for bringing a wide eyed wonder to Ariel. She dreams of going on land and is infectiously amazed by even the simplest gadgets, gizmos, whozits, and whatzits.

Although they’re more important in the book, Ariel notably has 6 sisters. Since her adventure is under the sea, Ariel’s animal sidekicks are all water based. Tropical fish Flounder is her panicky best friend. He’s mostly around for the underwater parts like outswimming a shark and giving Ariel a gift. Seagull Scuttle is her hilarious, but dimwitted land expert. I’ve definitely brushed my hair with a dinglehopper because of him. But Jamaican conductor crab Sebastian will always be my personal favorite. He can both answer to King Triton in the water and keep an eye on Ariel on land. While at the same time avoiding a crazy chef. King Triton is the hard headed ruler of the sea. Although Ariel’s 16 year old dreams seem narrow minded, there’s no denying Triton goes too far with his hatred of humans.

Ariel falls in love with Prince Eric. The most defined Disney Prince at the time. Again thanks to the voice actor Christopher Daniel Barnes. He’s a carefree, sea loving Prince with his own memorable supporting cast. Notably his dog Max, valet Grimsby, and maid. Ariel bravely saves Eric from a shipwreck, but she can’t be with him unless she has legs. Her father takes drastic measures by sternly destroying a statue of Eric in one of the more difficult scenes to watch. Despite it being a terrible decision, Ariel is swayed towards going to Ursula for help. One of the great devious Disney villains who is infamously modeled after drag queen Divine. Ursula is an evil power hungry half-octopus cecaelia sea witch who stands out for her sassy personality. As well as her electric eel henchmen Flotsam & Jetsam. Ariel makes a deal with Ursula that will give her legs in exchange for her voice. Which will return provided Eric kisses her within 3 days. Or else lose her soul to Ursula.

Ariel and Eric develop a sweet relationship in more time than most Disney couples of the past. Unbeknownst to Eric that her voice is the one he fell in love with. They have dinner (with a dinglehopper), explore the beachfront kingdom, and share a romantic boat ride. It’s enough for Ursula to disguise herself using Ariel’s voice and hypnotize Eric into marrying her. All the creatures come together to help, but Ariel is too late. The climax is a dark combination of land & sea. Ursula gains the power of Triton’s triton in exchange for Ariel and she becomes the first Princess to stand up to her villain. Resulting in the death of her eels. An angry Ursula commands the sea by growing to enormous size, but is brutally defeated when Eric rams a sunken ship into her body. I’m filled with joy every time Triton accepts his daughter by granting her legs (and a sparkly dress). Ariel marries Eric on land, says a heartfelt goodbye to her undersea friends & family, and lives happily ever after.

Ariel longed for the surface long before she met Eric. So she isn’t just leaving her life for the Prince she fell in love with. Ariel is still modern and not just for showing more skin. She still wears a lovely pink dress, blue sundress, and wedding dress, but The Little Mermaid is definitely more provocative than most Disney animated films. The animation is truly breathtaking (no pun intended). It’s hard to believe this was the last use of traditional hand painted cel animation. The underwater effect, bubbles, and swimming is impressive. Computer animation was extensively used to improve locations, but xerography was brought back to finally refine characters the way Sleeping Beauty used to. Humans & mermaids are mostly realistic with big eyes, while animals & fish are more stylized.

The broadway caliber music in The Little Mermaid was so good that it helped the film win 2 Academy Awards. The songs are some of the best in any Disney movie. Even the sea shanty “Fathoms Below” and traumatizing fish butchering French song “Les Poissons” are memorable. “Part of Your World” is my favorite Princess longing song. I surprisingly know all the words and Ariel finishing the song on a rock is iconic. “Poor Unfortunate Soul” is a deliciously devious Disney villain song for Ursula. “Kiss the Girl” is incredibly romantic and worthy of a nomination. But it’s Sabastian’s extremely catchy underwater Caribbean jam “Under the Sea” that deserved the Oscar. The Little Mermaid brightens Disney’s future with an aquatic fantasy that will be beloved for generations.

43. The Little Mermaid

Ariel meets Ursula

I am a Jedi, Like My Father Before Me

Return of the Jedi or as it’s now known, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi brings this epic trilogy to its best possible conclusion. Even if that conclusion is a lot lighter than The Empire Strikes Back. Nevertheless, Return of the Jedi was a general crowd pleaser at the time of its release in 1983. I’m still not sure if I saw the Star Wars original trilogy out of order, but if I did, it’s likely Return of the Jedi was the first Star Wars movie I saw. That might explain why it’s the one I enjoyed watching the most as a kid. Looking back on it now, I better understand why Return of the Jedi is weaker compared to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. It’s the first thing about the immediate franchise that can be blamed on George Lucas.

Like before, Lucas chose not to direct the final installment. But he still wanted to make sure his story was being handled properly. Both Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan wrote the screenplay and Lucas was on set a lot more. Of course it was also his decision to make Return of the Jedi more toy friendly. Although names as big as Steven Spielberg, David Lynch, and David Cronenberg were an option, Lucas ultimately went with unknown director Richard Marquand. Production went off without a hitch and the only problem was the title. Return of the Jedi was changed to the much harsher Revenge of the Jedi, then back again after it was obvious the title change didn’t make sense. SPOILER ALERT! (that I’m sure is still unnecessary)…

7. Return of the Jedi

The Emperor observes Darth Vader vs. Luke Skywalker

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… is shown for the final time in Star Wars as most audiences likely assumed at the time. After the traditional use of the 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd. logos. Just like with most third installments, Return of the Jedi indicates in its opening crawl that everything will come full circle. Luke faced a devastating defeat at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, but now he’s returned as a fully formed Jedi to where this all started. That’s why Return of the Jedi is a much better title for Luke. Since a Jedi doesn’t seek revenge. Another full circle inclusion is the reuse of the Death Star. Call it lazy, but a larger partially constructed Death Star is just as threatening an ultimate weapon as before. The new Death Star’s construction is enough to bring the all powerful, ultimate evil of the Dark side, Sith lord, and Darth Vader’s previously hinted at master. The Emperor finally takes his rightful place as the true antagonist of the Star Wars saga.

The entire first act is insignificant to the rest of the story, but it still offers the most entertaining and memorable moments. The ongoing storyline of the bounty Jabba the Hutt holds over Han Solo is finally resolved after 2 movies worth of build up. Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 all hatch a convoluted plan to free Han from his carbonite freeze. We return to Tatooine where 3PO & R2 are together just like in the first Star Wars. They’re the first to enter Jabba’s palace where they reluctantly become droid servants in a trade deal. After years of wondering, Jabba the Hutt is finally revealed to be a disgusting slug crime boss surrounded by servants, slaves, and live entertainment. Including his aide Bib Fortuna, Gamorrean guards, erotic Twi’lek slave girl, and Max Rebo band. And let’s not forget the cackling monkey-lizard Salacious Crumb. The next part of the plan includes a mysterious bounty hunter collecting a bounty for Chewie in exchange for not setting off a thermal detonator. It’s revealed to be Leia who promptly unfreezes Han. Except a suspecting Jabba catches them and makes Leia his new bikini-clad slave. So it’s now up to Luke to Force himself in. Luke is then dropped into a Rancor pit, but the beast is no match for a Jedi Knight.

So the action is taken to the outskirts of Tatooine on Jabba’s mobile Sail Barge. Luke, Han, and Chewie are to be sacrificed to a mouth in the sand known as the Sarlacc pit. The tension builds as Luke makes his way to the diving board. In epic cheer worthy fashion, R2 ejects Luke’s new lightsaber revealing it to be green. A chaotic fight ensues where Luke swings his lightsaber, Chewie attacks, a disguised Lando helps out, and a visually impaired Han accidentally kills the badass Boba Fett in the most cartoonishly over-the-top way imaginable. Back on the Barge, Leia overpowers her capture Jabba by strangling him to death. R2 rescues 3PO and everyone returns to the Rebel Alliance. Luke just needs to make a very important stop back on Dagobah. Where a dying Yoda confirms that Darth Vader is indeed Luke’s father. It’s mostly for the benefit of younger audience members. Then the ancient Jedi master at last becomes one with the Force. Really it’s the Force ghost of Obi-Wan Kenobi who delivers another major bombshell. That Leia was Luke’s sister the entire time. Making the romantic kiss they shared retroactively awkward.

After receiving some more off-screen information about the Empire’s Death Star, Rebel leader Mon Mothma reveals that the key this time is to destroy a shield generator on the forest moon of Endor. Once destroyed, the Death Star will be vulnerable and ready for assault. So 2 separate teams are established. Lando takes the Millennium Falcon along with co-pilot Nien Nunb. Joining their Rebel assault is everyone’s favorite fish faced Mon Calamari Admiral Ackbar. Meanwhile, Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, R2, and 3PO take a stolen Imperial ship to Endor. Hoping Vader doesn’t sense his son’s presence. While on Endor, Luke and Leia engage in a fast paced Speeder Bike chase against Scout Troopers. Narrowly avoiding rocks and trees. That’s when we’re introduced to the very first franchise ruining characters. I’m of course talking about the Ewoks. The little kid friendly teddy bears that took on a life of their own and dominate the rest of Return of the Jedi. Wicket is the first to introduce Leia to their primitive tribal home in the trees. The rest are captured and only freed when the Ewoks assume 3PO is a god (with a little help from the Force). Only Luke leaves to confront his father after telling Leia the truth. As well as hinting at the possibility of her being Force sensitive too.

Now the action is split 3 ways. With Luke attempting to bring Vader back to the Light side, the strike team attempting to take out the generator, and the Rebel ships attempting to take out the Death Star. Luke comes face to face with the unarmed, but still intimidating Emperor. Who attempts to sway the young Skywalker to the Dark side. By encouraging his anger when his friends are placed in immediate danger. The Empire sets a trap for the Rebels that reveals the incomplete Death Star to be fully operational. Along with a fleet of Star Destroyers and TIE fighters that overwhelm the heroes. Back on Endor, Stormtroopers and AT-ST’s (or Chicken Walkers) have everyone surrounded at the generator station. As ridiculous as Ewoks defeating Imperial forces using sticks & stones is, it is what overpowers the Stormtroopers. That’s when the shield is destroyed.

The final lightsaber duel begins when the Emperor allows Luke to strike him down. It’s an emotional battle between father and son. When Vader threatens to turn his twin sister to the Dark side, it’s enough to push Luke over the edge. Luke cuts off Vader’s hand, but he refuses to end up like his father. An enraged Emperor unleashes his Dark side exclusive Force lightning on Luke. I always cheer the moment Darth Vader chooses to save his son and kill the Emperor for good. Luke attempts to rescue his dying father, but it’s too late for him. So we finally see the unmasked heavily scarred Anakin Skywalker for the very first time. Luke escapes just in time for Lando and the rest to blow up the exposed Death Star. Ending the Galactic Civil War once and for all. Han and Leia declare their love for one another and Luke cremates his fallen father. In the end, Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, 3PO, R2, Lando, and very lucky pilot Wedge Antilles celebrate with the Ewoks. The Force Ghosts of Obi-Wan, Yoda, and fully redeemed Anakin join them as well. Closing with a heroic shot that will never be forgotten…

8. Return of the Jedi

Jabba the Hutt keeps Leia prisoner

Return of the Jedi was a bit of a tonal compromise for the Star Wars original trilogy. Recapturing the innocent adventure of A New Hope without abandoning the darker ideas of The Empire Strikes Back. Before confirming his return, Harrison Ford was positive Han Solo should die for the cause he now believed in. It would have been shocking, but really Han doesn’t do much outside of being rescued and helping the Rebels defeat the Empire. Well George Lucas was more concerned with toy sales, so he shot down the idea and anything else that made the conclusion less kid friendly. That’s why Ewoks are given so much attention. I don’t hate the Ewoks, I just don’t get why they felt the need to give them 2 TV movies and an animated series. I don’t think anyone thought native teddy bears would become such a big part of Star Wars. Well as it turns out, Wookies were originally meant to bring an end to the Empire. But trying to find actors as big as Peter Mayhew was probably difficult. Instead beloved little person Warwick Davis began his career by playing Wicket.

Although a lot more obscure in terms of the rest of his career, Richard Marquand is another important player in Star Wars history. Lucas was won over by the war themed suspense of his previous work. Marquand’s only hurdles were the special effects. Which are now a lot more polished this time around. Pretty much every trick was utilized. From stop-motion and blue screen to make up and puppetry. Frank Oz briefly returns as Yoda, but it’s really the Jabba puppet that’s the most impressive. Luckily they didn’t go with the hairy guy that appeared in the A New Hope deleted scene. Instead Jabba’s final repulsive design was performed by three puppeteers and he only speaks Huttese. Many more unusual looking aliens and droids were created as well. The Rancor ended up being a puppet that doubled in size thanks to blue screen. New terrain meant more outfit changes. Outfits are either sand planet or forrest moon appropriate.

Mark Hamill is much more sure of himself playing Luke Skywalker as a Jedi Knight. Luke’s choice of all black is meant to parallel his choice between the Light and Dark side. His new lightsaber is only green due to the blue sky in Tatooine. Since Han is helping his friends, Billy Dee Williams gives Lando Calrissian more Solo qualities. Specifically wearing his vest and using his ship. Despite not wearing clothes, Chewie’s fur does become more unruly. They may not have liked each other, but Anthony Daniels and Kenny Baker are great comic foils as C-3PO & R2-D2. 3PO even gets a chance to recap the previous movies. Really the biggest outfit changes come from Princess Leia. Ranging from a modest Endor poncho and Ewok dress to her stunning slave Leia bikini. I understand Carrie Fisher’s discomfort, but she’s a beautiful woman who pulls it off perfectly. Star Wars nerds like myself had our first fictional crush and dozens of fan girls have been cosplaying in the outfit ever since. Plus it makes sense in the context of the story and Leia is still strong enough to kill her capture in the end.

Although George Lucas claims to have mapped out Star Wars far in advance, Luke and Leia being brother and sister begs the differ. Outside of that kiss, they had too many other hints of mutual attraction. Yet the reveal does make sense since Leia was already in love with Han and it gives more hope to the galaxy. Just as it made sense for Darth Vader not to be the ultimate evil in the galaxy. Setting up the all too important dynamic of a Sith Master and apprentice. From his voice to his threatening cloaked presence, Ian McDiarmid was born to play the Emperor. All it took was one movie to show that he’s the one who needed to be defeated this entire time. Making Vader’s redemption all the more poignant. I’m honestly overwhelmed with emotion anytime I see the scene. More interactions with his son meant a greater range of character for James Earl Jones. He can be intimidating one moment and fatherly the next.

Of course the man behind the helmet needed to be someone new. Sebastian Shaw is unexpected, but just the right fit for an aged Anakin. Although I admit I was confused when he appeared without makeup as a Force ghost. John Williams’ varying themes help to balance the mixed tone. And really tone is the only minor flaw with Return of the Jedi. It’s George Lucas’ extremely extensive special edition cut that’s truly at fault. Big changes were made to Jabba’s palace. The ethereal song sung by a puppet Sy Snootles is replaced by a high energy number with obnoxiously bad CGI. The beak and tentacles added to the Sarlacc pit made sense however. But Anakin’s actor replacement and addition of new planets during the celebration are a bit much. And I’ll never forgive the addition of “No” in Vader’s perfectly silent redemption. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi is a perfectly serviceable end to a perfect trilogy. “May the Force be with you.”

9. Return of the Jedi

Everyone celebrates

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back & Followed by: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens

I am Your Father

The Empire Strikes Back or as it’s now known, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back is one of the greatest sequels of all time. If not one of the greatest movies ever made. Not too many sequels are able to surpass the original, but The Empire Strikes Back has always been a major example of this. It’s now the example used anytime a follow up wants to be either darker or take big chances. I definitely wish I was alive in 1980. By that time, Star Wars was a monumental success that no one saw coming for some reason. I can only imagine what reactions were like during some of the biggest twists. 3 years old was too young to explicitly remember my earliest reaction. The possibility of having seen it out of order might have been a problem too.

Since Star Wars wasn’t a disaster, a terrible sounding low budget sequel based on a book titled Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was tossed out. Giving George Lucas more time to flesh out the universe that he had already developed. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), the traumatic strain of directing Star Wars was too much for Lucas. The story and characters will always be his, but the directing reigns were instead given to his former professor Irvin Kershner. The role of writer was then filled by the late Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Several on set accidents and an inflated budget weren’t enough to keep The Empire Strikes Back from becoming the most universally loved Episode in the Star Wars saga. SPOILER ALERT! (but the title speaks for itself)…

4. The Empire Strikes Back

Luke Skywalker vs. Darth Vader

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… has now become the traditional way to start a Star Wars movie. Preceded by the 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilm Ltd. logos of course. Although The Empire Strikes Back was marketed as such, the Star Wars logo still needs to appear. Followed by something I’m sure confused a bunch of people at the time of its release. Calling the movie Episode V even though this was only the second film. This was the first use of “Episode” in the franchise. Which was meant to establish an even bigger universe of ideas that hadn’t been explored yet. The opening crawl recounts the events of A New Hope. It turns out the destruction of the Death Star was only the beginning for the Empire. As their Imperial fleet of Star Destroyers are more than ready to strike back against the Rebellion. That’s what The Empire Strikes Back refers to.

The Empire’s first calculated maneuver is done in the opening. Darth Vader is very much alive and ready to steal every scene as the primary antagonist. His goal is to find the hidden Rebel base and Luke Skywalker using a series of probe droids scattered across the galaxy. The Rebels are eventually found on the ice planet Hoth. One of the most memorable planets in Star Wars due to its harsh snowy environment. The Empire Strikes Back is basically everything that could go wrong, going wrong left and right. The first incident occurs when Luke is captured by a beastly Wampa. It turns out to be a pivotal moment for the Jedi in training as Luke successfully uses the Force to grab his lightsaber and escape. Only his situation grows more desperate when temperatures start to drop. That’s when we’re introduced to the idea of a Force ghost. As Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to Luke instructing him to find Jedi Master Yoda on Dagobah. Back at the Rebel base, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 are all important members in the fight against the Empire. Except Han is ready to head out again, but not before saving Luke. Han rescues Luke by keeping him warm inside the belly of his fallen Tauntaun.

A medical droid fixes Luke up and he celebrates among friends. Only increased bickering between Han and Leia makes it apparent they have feelings for each other. So Leia kisses Luke in a way that’s forever ruined by yet to be disclosed information. The Empire attacks the Rebel base in what is probably the best, most iconic non-space battle in Star Wars. As the incredibly slow AT-AT’s (or Imperial Walkers) begin their assault on the Rebels. So Luke and lucky pilot Wedge Antilles board Airspeeders in an attempt to take them down. They use tow cables to wrap up the AT-AT’s and Luke even uses his lightsaber to set a detonator. Alas, it’s not enough to keep the Empire from making a serious dent in the Rebellion. This splits the action into 2 separate perfectly balanced storylines. Luke and R2 take an X-Wing to Dagobah and Han, Leia, Chewie, and 3PO evacuate in the Millenium Falcon.

Dagobah is the swappy planet that Luke hopes to find the all powerful Jedi master on. Instead they’re greeted by a small green pointy eared possibly crazy alien Muppet hermit. Well don’t judge a book by its cover, because this is the great Master Yoda. Easily the best new addition to Star Wars. With Obi-Wan’s spirit not far behind, Yoda reluctantly agrees to train the reckless young Jedi. Their training in the ways of the Force offer greater insight into its power along with lessons that we can learn a lot from. Yoda’s finest moment is lifting Luke’s X-Wing out of the swamps, but it’s the vision Luke has of facing Vader that really messes with his mind. Meanwhile, Darth Vader becomes even more menacing when his officers fail him and he’s forced to Force choke them to death. Although Vader is briefly seen in a vulnerable state when his helmet is removed. But as threatening as Vader is, he does answer to an even greater evil. The mysterious Emperor who reveals Luke to be the son of Anakin Skywalker.

Out in space, Han & company deal with their own set of problems. Namely their malfunctioned hyperdrive. Leading to a thrilling chase with TIE fighters that only ends when they find an asteroid to hide on. Then an unstable cave that turns out to be a space slug. So vader enlists the help of several instantly iconic Bounty Hunters. A very important piece of the Star Wars mythos. Chief among them is the Mandalorian Boba Fett. Never has a character with so little screen time had such a big impact on pop culture. Although this wasn’t exactly his first appearance. Han is his same old scoundrel self, but Leia warms up to him and they share an interrupted kiss. Chewie is mostly there to fix up the ship and make repairs. Really it’s C-3PO who gets a significant character increase. As the droid becomes a funnier comic relief and constantly annoys everyone on the ship. They decide to hide out on the aptly named Cloud City of Bespin. Where Han meets up with his smooth talking friend and former owner of the Millenium Falcon Lando Calrissian. Lando helps them out, but 3PO ends up in a wacky predicament that leaves him in pieces. It turns out they’ve been lead to a trap hosted by Darth Vader himself. In a shocking series of events, Han is sold to Jabba the Hutt and frozen in carbonite, but not before sharing a moment with Leia. Boba Fett takes Han on Slave I and that’s the last we see of him.

Sensing danger, Luke rashly abandons his training in order to save them. To say this is the best lightsaber duel in the trilogy would be an understatement. It took 2 whole movies for Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader to come face to face. Their duel starts slow, but becomes increasingly more crafty. Vader toys with Luke, Force throws objects at him, and Luke manages to outwit him. All the while Lando escapes with Leia, Chewie, and the finally reunited 3PO & R2. Luke and Vader’s fight only grows more intense when they end up at the top of an air shaft. Imagine everyone’s shock when Vader cuts off Luke’s hand. Setting up one of the greatest twists in movie history. When Darth Vader is revealed to be Luke’s father. Before that has time to sink in, Luke throws himself off the bridge and somehow ends up at the bottom of the city. Where Luke uses the Force to communicate with Leia. R2 fixes the hyperdrive and 3PO, Lando & Chewie set out to find Han, and Luke (complete with robotic hand), Leia, and the Rebellion have an uncertain future ahead of them…

5. The Empire Strikes Back

AT-AT’s march forward

The Empire Strikes Back made the wise decision to go deeper rather than bigger. You can’t get any bigger than the Death Star. So it made more sense to keep the focus on character development and new ideas that were only hinted at before. The Empire Strikes Back took the fairy tale happily ever after ending of A New Hope and decided to bring everyone into reality. The Rebels lose, Han is tortured, Luke loses a hand, and the Empire basically wins. With a few notable exceptions, I just can’t think of any other sequel that takes so many story risks. While still maintaining the heart of its predecessor and not losing its fanbase. He may have been an independent filmmaker at the time, but character driven movies were what director Irvin Kershner excelled at. So his importance in Star Wars history will never be forgotten.

Especially since George Lucas didn’t really have a big hand in the filmmaking process. He just sort of dropped off the story then stuck to financing and heading Industrial Light & Magic. Although he did start a small controversy by once again keeping all the credits at the end. The beginning of the 80’s came a greater advancement in special effects. So any problem that Star Wars faced was now easier to work with. Space battles were no problem, but shooting on an ice planet and in a floating city was a new challenge. The AT-AT’s were achieved with the most impressive use of stop motion animation. Before alien creatures were all done with makeup, but there was no way anyone could be small enough to play Yoda. It only made sense to make Yoda a puppet and none other than Miss Piggy himself Frank Oz brought him to life. The Yoda puppet is so life like that it holds up surprisingly well today. Frank Oz’ voice and backwards talk only helped to increase Yoda’s appeal. Very good he is. It’s also clever to have the oldest, most powerful Jedi be someone you’d least suspect.

Mark Hamill deserves plenty of admiration for working with fewer actors this time around. Luke now makes mistakes, because he’s still learning to be a better Jedi. The possibility of his turn to the Dark side just makes him more relatable. While Luke’s attire is a cross between Rebel and Jedi. So he carries both a blaster and his father’s lightsaber. The scars that Mark Hamill got in a car accident were explained via Wampa attack. Harrison Ford was on board, but confidant that Han should die in order to serve the story. Carbonite was the best alternative due to its ambiguous nature. Han and Leia’s unexpected romance is the best in the saga. Thanks to Ford’s chemistry with Carrie Fisher, opposites attract. Their relationship is best represented by Ford’s totally improvised, completely in character line “I know” after Leia declares her love for him. Of course Peter Mayhew brings just as much emotion even with Chewie’s Wookie growls. Anthony Daniels is a comedic highlight in all of C-3PO’s misgivings. Same with Kenny Baker, because RD-D2 is beat up a lot too. Appearing as a blue semi-translucent Force ghost was probably easier on Alec Guinness. It meant less action and more encouraging words. Obi-Wan and Yoda even hint at the possibility of another.

It’s a big galaxy, so it only makes sense to wonder where all the black people were in A New Hope. Well it doesn’t get any better than Billy Dee Williams. He plays Lando with a sauve yet shady magnetism that makes him a fine addition to the universe. Boba Fett’s mysterious helmet, jet pack, and blaster made him too cool of a character not to become an instant favorite. The rest of the clothing in the movie is either winter themed for Hoth or longue appropriate for Leia on Bespin. Stormtroopers are now seen as Snowtroopers, but Darth Vader needs no alterations. James Earl Jones is even more intimidating now and he finally gets a screen credit. John Williams’ best new piece is definitely the ominous “Imperial March.” Only increasing the threat of the Empire. That’s what makes those 4 game changing words “I am your father” so shocking. It turns a straightforward villain into a complex one. Showing that this battle of good vs. evil wasn’t so black & white.

So apart from Lando mispronouncing Han or that regretful kiss, The Empire Strikes Back is nearly perfect. How it wasn’t nominated for Best Picture I’ll never know. That’s why George Lucas barely touched The Empire Strikes Back when doing special edition work on it. The much more visible Wampa and the CGI used to expand Cloud City is actually welcome. While later changes, such as the redubbing of Boba Fett or actor replacement of the Emperor hologram make sense too. The latter especially, since the original Emperor has a strange monkey face and average menacing voice. Everything else in The Empire Strikes Back remained unaltered. From iconic shots to unforgettable lines of dialogue. Remember it’s “No, I am your father,” not “Luke, I am your father.” Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back delivered something no one could have seen coming, making it the peak of Star Wars storytelling. “May the Force be with you.”

6. The Empire Strikes Back

Master Yoda trains Luke Skywalker

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope & Followed by: Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi

Why Should I Worry?

Oliver & Company puts a Disney twist on Charles Dickens’ classic tale. The idea simply came from a pitch meeting after the failure of The Black Cauldron. Someone said Oliver Twist with dogs and they went with it. Disney really did a lot of animal versions of classic stories at the time. Well this was Walt Disney animations twenty-seventh film and the last of the Dark Age. It’s definitely dark in places, but it could have been much darker. Thankfully they kept Oliver & Company lively and upbeat. I have seen a traditional version of Oliver Twist. Namely the Oscar winning Oliver!, but that was long after Disney’s contemporary animal take on it. Oliver & Company is one of my most beloved forgotten Disney movies from my childhood. My brother even sang its signature song on his tricycle. We watched the film many times.

Oliver & Company replaces 1800’s London with modern day New York City. Along with animated product placement came the use of contemporary music. After its minimal use in The Great Mouse detective, this was the first Disney movie to extensively use CAPS (Computer Animation Production System). Mostly for the skyline, vehicles, and climax. The rest of the animation is still rather crude, but charming. Oliver is now an orange Tabby cat. Like the original orphan, Oliver is sadly left to fend for himself. He encounters cool street smart mongrel Terrier Dodger. Rather than pickpocketing children, Dodger and his gang are just dogs trying to survive. Instead of a criminal older man, Fagin is a more sympathetic poor dog owner who owes Sykes money. Sykes of course is the main villain, but he’s now depicted as a ruthless loan shark. His Bull-Terrier is replaced by equally cruel Dobermans Roscoe & DeSoto.

Oliver ends up in the gang of colorful canines. There’s the caring Saluki Rita, the dim-witted Great Dane Einstein, the sophisticated Bulldog Francis, and the energetic Chihanua Tito that only Cheech Marin could voice. The kindly rich man who adopts Oliver is replaced by the just as kind little girl Jenny. She and her butler take him in much to the shagrin of purebred poodle Georgette. Long story short, Oliver is “rescued,” then used by Fagin to get Sykes’ money. He gives Oliver back, but Jenny is kidnapped. So everybody bands together to get her back. The climax is the darkest thing in the movie. Sykes’ dogs fall off his speeding car onto electrified train tracks and he dies himself when a train collides with his car. In the end, Oliver stays with Jenny and the gang remain close friends. The 80’s music is what I really love about Oliver & Company. You’ve got Huey Lewis singing “Once Upon a Time in New York City,” Ruth Pointer with “Streets of Gold,” Bette Midler singing a song by Barry Manilow, and the catchiest tune/personal favorite, Billy Joel performing “Why Should I Worry.” Oliver & Company ended this complicated era on an easy going note.

41. Oliver & Company

Oliver and company

Basil of Baker Street

The Great Mouse Detective is the definitive mouse version of Sherlock Holmes. As strange as that sounds, it’s true that it wasn’t Disney’s decision to replace characters with animals. Not like what they did with Robin Hood. It was just a coincidence that the book Basil of Baker Street already existed. Although the story of a mouse world that mimics the human world is very similar to The Rescuers. The Black Cauldron and The Great Mouse Detective were both made simultaneously. The latter was considered an alternative for anyone who didn’t like the former’s direction. It became the twenty-sixth Walt Disney animated feature in the process. The animation was made extra atmospheric to capture London. The only real gripe was with the generic title change. Because the studio head seriously thought audiences weren’t classy enough to appreciate its British title. Other generic joke titles were made in response.

Sherlock Holmes is a famous detective I’m familiar with, but haven’t seen many adaptations of. The Great Mouse Detective is a fair kid friendly introduction. However this is the Dark Age, so expect a ton of creepy imagery. Most of which comes from a jump scaring bat. It’s the main thing my brother and I remember about seeing The Great Mouse Detective at such a young age. Yet that didn’t stop us from enjoying the case. Like Holmes, Basil is a brilliant master of deduction. He gains a reluctant partner just like Watson named Dawson. “Why it’s elementary my dear Dawson.” The real Holmes and Watson do live above the mice, but no humans are ever seen. The case Basil takes is the missing father of plucky young mouse Olivia.

The bat that took him is working for the sewer rat equivalent of Professor Moriarty named Professor Ratigan (just don’t call him a rat). Vincent Price is deliciously evil in the role and having the time of his life. Especially when he feeds his henchman to his cat. The trio follow clues on a friendly hound to a disturbing toy store where the bat kidnaps Olivia. That brings the duo to a sleazy rat bar with a strangely curvy mouse as a burlesque singer. That leads to a trap, but Basil figures out a genius escape. It turns out Ratigan plans to replace the Queen with a clockwork robot and use it to give himself power. Ending in a thrilling climax inside Big Ben that uses impressive computer animated gear movement. The increasingly monstrous Ratigan falls to his death and Basil uses his quick wits to survive. The songs are scarce, but “The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind” is a highlight. By my powers of deduction, The Great Mouse Detective was just what Disney needed to encourage bigger and better things.

40. The Great Mouse Detective

Basil makes a deduction