Everything they Built will Fall!

X-Men: Apocalypse ends up the lousy third installment in an X-Men trilogy all over again. How is that even possible? Like X-Men, X-Men: First Class was a great introduction to the team of Mutants. Like X2, X-Men: Days of Future Past was a vast improvement that deepened its themes. And like X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men: Apocalypse overstuffs things with more style than substance. After the accidental success of Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse was released just a few months later. Obviously trying to emulate the MCU. Well at this point, the only excitement I could maintain was for the idea of a larger than life X-Men villain like Apocalypse. Plus seeing younger versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Storm.

Unless you count the after-credits scene in Days of Future Past, Apocalypse doesn’t feature a single new Mutant. Apart from Caliban, but that’s another story. Every single Mutant appeared in some form in a previous movie. The only draw was seeing slightly more comic book accurate versions. Something that 20th Century Fox and Bryan Singer have continually denied us Marvel fans. Apocalypse is proof that Singer can make a bad X-Men movie. Frankly, the decision to bring him back was a flawed one. His subtle thought provoking style may have worked for the deeper X-Men movies, but not for a CGI heavy disaster flick…

17. X-Men Apocalypse

The X-Men

X-Men: Apocalypse is not equipped to handle a villain like Apocalypse. Apocalypse is supposed to be the X-Men equivalent of Thanos. He’s an ancient world conquering Mutant with heavy armor and an enormous body. So of course he’s played by Oscar Isaac in bad Ivan Ooze makeup. The one Mutant who should have used CGI motion capture. X-Men: Apocalypse begins in ancient Egypt where Apocalypse is worshiped like a god. Like the comics, his powers are immeasurable. Except his body weakens and he needs to replace it with another Mutant. During the process, his followers turn on him and his Four Horseman preserve his body deep beneath his pyramid. The historical opening credits lead up to 1983. Another problem with Apocalypse is their continued use of the decade hopping gimmick. There’s no reason to set the movie in the 80’s other than nostalgia for big hair, bright colors, and Tab.

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Lucas Till, and Rose Byrne look like they’ve barely aged since the last 2 decades. Professor Charles Xavier stays in a wheelchair, but he still has glorious long hair. He teaches a more established school of Mutants alongside Hank McCoy. Hoult continues to be stubborn about his Beast makeup. But not as stubborn as Lawrence. Who’s far too famous to be bothered with makeup. Despite Mystique being a Mutant who’s proud of her blue skin, she maintains a human appearance for no good reason. I’m also annoyed that a villain like her is now treated like a hero. All because she stopped Magneto. Her new mission is rescuing Mutants like Nightcrawler. It’s nice to see a more comedic take on the teleporter played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. Ben Hardy’s cage fighting take on Angel is pretty awkward though. At least we see a more faithful albeit brief look at Blob.

Meanwhile, Erik Lehnsherr is living a peaceful secluded life in Poland. Where he now has a wife and daughter. At the same time, Scott Summers is brought to the X-Mansion where he receives his ruby quartz visor. Alex Summers is his older brother instead of younger (despite being old enough to be his father). Tye Sheridan is a fine younger Cyclops, but Sophie Turner looks nothing like a younger Jean Grey. If the movies even care about continuity anymore. Jean struggles with her powers, but it’s only a half baked attempt at Phoenix. Scott does develop a romance with Jean and they go to the mall with Nightcrawler & Jubilee because 80’s. Lana Condor is the most faithful Jubilee to appear in the movies, but she continues to have nothing to do. Moira MacTaggert still has no memory of her time with the X-Men, but she’s brought back after discovering the awakening Apocalypse. Later it’s revealed that she has a son in a nod to the comics.

Alexandra Shipp is more of a glorified extra as Storm, who’s a pickpocket with a much better African accent. She runs into Apocalypse and he’s responsible for her white hair. Which is done in the mohawk she had in the 80’s. Apocalypse is just your average villain with generic goals of world domination. Like the comics, he assembles a team of Mutants to be his Four Horseman. They consist of Storm, Psylocke, Archangel, and Magneto. Olivia Munn’s nerd cred made her the perfect choice for a very faithful version of Psylocke sporting the sexy costume she has in the comics. Which is made more revealing with a boob window. Better than whatever The Last Stand was trying to do. Angel becomes Archangel with metal wings, but he’s still a useless member.

Fassbender truly shines after tragically losing his family when his powers are discovered. Although he drops a very forced F-bomb when encountered by Apocalypse. Magneto gains even greater power over metal and Apocalypse uses Xavier’s power to launch all of the planet’s missiles into space. It’s easily Stan Lee’s most dramatic cameo (that he for once shares with his wife Joan). Havok destroys Cerebro, but it’s not enough to prevent Apocalypse from kidnapping Charles. Havok’s blast detonates the X-Jet and the X-Mansion with it. Just in time for Quicksilver to run in and save everybody in an equally awesome speed sequence. The Mansion continues to explode as Quicksilver hilariously takes his time to methodically rescue Mutants to the decade appropriate tune of “Sweet Dreams.” He returns to see the Professor after learning Magneto is in fact his father.

As if out of nowhere, Stryker shows up to kidnap Moira, Mystique, Beast, and Quicksilver. Leaving Cyclops, Jean, and Nightcrawler to rescue them. The sole purpose of the detour was to shoehorn Wolverine into the plot. Hugh Jackman has it easy by simply grunting and slashing guards while wearing the ridiculous Weapon X headgear he had in the comics. Jean eases his mind and Cyclops jokes about that being the last they’ll ever see of him. Mystique, Beast, Quicksilver, Cyclops, Jean, Nightcrawler, and Moira then take a jet and once again dress in black leather armor to rescue Charles. Apocalypse causes chaos around the world and plans to transfer his consciousness into Xavier’s body. The X-Men fight the Four Horseman in an epic battle that highlights their respective powers. Nightcrawler’s teleportation is too powerful, so he goes unconscious after bamfing too many people. Quicksilver’s speed is too powerful, so his leg is broken after knocking around Apocalypse.

Psylocke uses her psionic weapons on Beast, but she’s taken out and simply walks away afterwards. Meanwhile, Archangel pointlessly dies. Storm faces Cyclops, but she obviously decides to join the X-Men along with a redeemed Magneto. Apocalypse strangles Mystique before a now bald Professor X attacks him in a comic accurate psychic plane. In the end, Apocalypse is defeated by the combined power of Cyclops’ optic blast, Magneto’s metal, Storm’s lightning, and Jean’s out of nowhere Phoenix abilities. Despite there being several subplots going on at once, there’s still enough time for Charles to give Moira back her memory. Jean & Magneto easily fix the X-Mansion with their telekinesis. Ending with a direct callback to the exchange between forever frenemies Charles & Erik.

Followed by an extremely satisfying reveal of every comic accurate costume that Mystique, Beast, Cyclops, Jean, Storm, Nightcrawler, and Quicksilver wear. As well as Sentinels in the Danger Room. It was great to finally see those costumes, but I knew it was just fanservice. Apocalypse is full of colorful X-Men callbacks with little development. The after-credits tease for Mr. Sinister will clearly never happen now. There’s also answers to things that don’t make sense in the old timeline. Like how did Professor X become bald if it wasn’t by Apocalypse? At this point I expected Fox to continue readapting characters no matter how many times they’ve been done in the past. X-Men: Apocalypse tries to keep up with the omega level scale of the X-Men, but it completely derails the winning streak Fox was having.

18. X-Men Apocalypse

Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen

P.S. The rest of the X-Men franchise with be reviewed at a later date.

Followed by: Deadpool & Logan

The Merc with a Mouth

Deadpool proved R rated superhero movies could be successful as long as enough Maximum Effort was put into it. All things considered, there’s no way Deadpool should have worked out the way that it did. R rated superhero movies were pretty common in the 90’s and 2000’s. They just weren’t always successful. And if they were, they weren’t adaptations of major characters. I had no knowledge of Deadpool before seeing X-Men Origins: Wolverine. So I didn’t begin to hate its extremely unfaithful interpretation until I learned more. Deadpool is a totally 90’s Mutate who first appeared as a villain in The New Mutants #98. Before becoming an instant fan favorite anti-hero. Deadpool is more than just a parody of Deathstroke. His snarky sense of humor and yellow fourth wall breaking speech bubbles were perfectly unique.

Despite his large superhero filmography, Ryan Reynolds always wanted to play Deadpool. Even if it meant playing a horribly inaccurate version. 20th Century Fox initially agreed to a more faithful R rated Deadpool, but then Green Lantern complicated things. Since it was impossible to rework it as a PG-13 movie, Fox foolishly scrapped the project. Until someone was brave enough to leak the CGI test footage. Like everyone else, the clip was so funny and violent that I wanted to see more. I got an even better grasp of Deadpool after reading a couple of comics, but I still couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The same studio and actor that butchered the character, bringing a faithful, gleefully R rated niche superhero to life…

15. Deadpool

Deadpool locks and loads

Deadpool came out at a time when superhero movies were hugely successful. Between the family friendly PG-13 rating of the MCU and inaccurate costumes of most Fox superheroes, Deadpool was a major exception. Ryan Reynolds was born to play Deadpool. And not just because he’s Canadian. I felt like I already knew Deadpool long before his movie ever came out. Due to the aggressively clever marketing campaign. It was impossible to avoid Deadpool either popping up in trailers, doing a PSA for cancer, appearing in interviews, doing a lead up to Christmas, having unconventional billboards, or feuding on social media. It got to a point where I was almost tired of Deadpool before even seeing the movie. Of course I was proven wrong afterwards. It’s a good thing I was 20, because I’d seen every X-Men movie in theaters since I was 5. There’s no way I would have wanted to see Deadpool with my parents. It’s always annoying seeing parents take their kids to something that’s clearly not for kids. Even if it looks like a conventional superhero movie on the outside.

Deadpool is very much an R rated comedy. Some jokes are a bit crude for my taste, but most of the profanity latent one-liners are hilarious. As are the fourth wall breaking observations about superhero clichés, Marvel, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Green Lantern, and Reynolds himself. Along with a handful of 90’s references. Although there’s an uncomfortably scarce amount of chimichangas. The perfect opening credits showcase a freeze frame of creator Rob Liefeld’s coffee, a picture of Green Lantern, Ryan Reynolds as the “Sexiest Man Alive,” and an honest description of the cast & crew. All to the inappropriate tune of “Angel of the Morning.” Deadpool is still an origin story, but it’s intercut with a recreation of the leaked test footage. From its red & black mock Spider-Man design to his use of guns & katanas, Deadpool is a Fox owned superhero that actually leaps off the page. The badass costume looks awesome and the white eyes work surprisingly well.

Deadpool is so cheap that he has to take a taxi to his enemies. Dopinder is fun, but he’s not from the comics. To the tune of “Schoop,” Deadpool crassly informs the audience that Wolverine helped get him his own movie. Hugh Jackman may not physically appear, but his presence is felt throughout. The use of his “Sexiest Man Alive” magazine is a particular highlight. I think I prefer the random chaos of the test footage, but the recreated highway fight is just as inappropriately funny. The R rating is put to good use when henchmen are shot, stabbed, and dismembered in the most over-the-top way possible. Deadpool’s accelerated healing means he can be mutilated any creative way without consequence. The countdown gunfight and subsequent sheskabobing directly leads to the first of many flashbacks.

Like the comics, Wade Wilson is an ex-special forces mercenary with a mouth. He gets his pay from a bar filled with other mercs that take part in a dead pool. Most of Deadpool’s obscure supporting cast appears in the film. T.J. Miller plays his friend/comic foil Weasel and Leslie Uggams is his sarcastic elderly roommate Blind Al. Deadpool has had many sexual conquests in the past, but the movie settles on Vanessa as his love interest. She’s sort of a discount Mystique in the comics, but here she’s a hooker with a heart of gold. Morena Baccarin fast became a welcome presence in superhero projects. Wade’s relationship with Vanessa is humorous, but it is taken seriously. After a steamy, sort of cringy holiday sex montage, Wade proposes shortly before discovering he has late stage cancer.

Back in the present, Colossus sees a report of Deadpool’s violent shenanigans on TV in the X-Mansion. This version of Colossus is very comic book accurate. He has the giant metal CGI body, Russian accent, and acts as a noble member of the X-Men. Negasonic Teenage Warhead is his trainee. She’s an extremely obscure Mutant that was only added for her cool name. More bizarre is that her powers were changed after striking an unrelated deal with Marvel. Deadpool’s primary antagonist is Ajax. One of his long time enemies with a high pain tolerance. Ed Skrein is your standard British villain. Like in the comics, Wade volunteers for an experimental Weapon X type procedure that’ll make him a superhero. As long as the super suit isn’t green or animated. The physically imposing Gina Carano is Angel Dust, another Mutant working with Ajax. Expect Ajax real name is Francis. Something Wade mocks until his Mutation is unlocked through torture.

I guess his disfigured face is hideous, but it’s nothing compared to how gruesome he looks in the comics. Pretty much the entire revenge plot consists of Wade finding Francis so that he can fix his face and return to Vanessa. The funniest scene for me personally is Deadpool attempting to fight Colossus after he and Negasonic arrive in the X-Jet. Even funnier is Deadpool cutting off his hand before another flashback. After Weasel’s constant face jokes, Wade gets his name from the dead pool board. Then he murders several criminals, makes his costume, and begins breaking the fourth wall. Eventually everything comes together and Wade decides to give Vanessa a chance. He goes to her strip club where they take full advantage of the R rating by showing several naked ladies. It’s one of Stan Lee’s funniest cameos as the stripper MC. Unfortunately, Vanessa is kidnapped and Deadpool loads up his arsenal of guns to kill Francis. He also recruits Colossus & Negasonic while making a joke about the studios obvious lack of money for other X-Men members.

They all take a taxi to what looks suspiciously like a Helicarrier. Cue “X Gon’ Give it to Ya,” followed by Deadpool hilariously forgetting his guns. Angel Dust makes a totally impractical superhero landing and fights Colossus in a brutal fight. Meanwhile, Negasonic blows things up. Deadpool cuts through everyone expect for the sneaky use of Bob (Agent of Hydra). Deadpool fights Francis and narrowly rescues Vanessa. Although Colossus gives a passionate speech about being a hero, Deadpool just abruptly kills Francis. Proving Deadpool is the anti-hero we know him to be. Vanessa crudely accepts Wade’s face and they croon to “Careless Whisper.” Followed by a clever after-credits parody of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a Nick Fury joke, and confirmation of Cable. Deadpool has all the R rated insanity I hoped to see from an adaptation like this. Even with a lower budget, it became the highest grossing R rated movie internationally, and earned a whole new legion of fans. I just wish studios didn’t use its success as an excuse to give other properties an unnecessary R rating. Deadpool worked because a passionate cast & crew were dedicated to making the most faithful superhero adaptation they could.

16. Deadpool

Deadpool is shocked

Preceded by: X-Men: Days of Future Past & X-Men: Apocalypse

March of the Sentinels

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the best X-Men team up 20th Century Fox has ever done. Since it brings together the original X-Men trilogy, X-Men: First Class, and Wolverine. Making it the biggest Marvel ensemble event at the time. I hadn’t been this excited for a new X-Men movie in a long time, but the thought of seeing both the new and original cast together was too big not to get excited. Especially after how the Mutants were treated in X-Men: The Last Stand. I left the theater overjoyed to have finally gotten the closure I needed. As a result X-Men: Days of Future Past became the highest grossing movie in the franchise and the first with a score over 90%. It was even nominated for an Academy Award.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is both based on and named after the famous X-Men storyline Days of Future Past. A comic I actually read before the movie came out for a change. The heavier science fiction/post-apocalyptic themes were definitely different than the movie’s more grounded portrayal of the X-Men. Yet they still manage to stay pretty faithful to the comic while continuing to follow their own continuity. Although director Matthew Vaughn intended to return, he decided to make other comic book adaptations instead. After 11 years and many offers to return, X-Men: Days of Future Past was finally the movie that brought back original director Bryan Singer…

13. X-Men Days of Future Past

The X-Men of the future

X-Men: Days of Future Past may follow the core ideas of the comic, but there are still logical differences that the franchise couldn’t avoid. In the comic, Mutant hunting Sentinels rule a post-apocalyptic world where Mutants are either killed or put in camps. The movie does the same, but the Sentinels are much different than the ones in the comics. Instead of giant humanoid purple robots, they’re slender and scaly with the ability to adapt to Mutant powers. Although I wasn’t crazy about the inaccuracy, I can’t deny how terrifying they are. Days of Future Past begins with a small band of surviving X-Men overwhelmed by the attacking Sentinels. The randomly assorted team consists of Kitty Pryde, Iceman, Colossus, Bishop, Blink, Warpath, and Sunspot.

Most Marvel fans know Kitty is originally the one who travels back in time. Her consciousness is sent backwards in time to when she was still a teenage member of the X-Men. Well Kitty still plays a big part in the events of the movie. Along with walking through walls, she’s also given the power to send someone’s mind through time. X-Men: The Last Stand wasn’t the best, but casting Ellen Page was a good decision. Shawn Ashmore is now beared and finally uses Iceman’s ice bridge. Daniel Cudmore still doesn’t speak, but Colossus’ strength is always welcome. Although Singer still goes for black costumes, the new Mutants at least have accurate appearances. Bishop has his scarf and energizing gun, Blink is still an elf with handy portals, Warpath is just like his Native American namesake, but Sunspot looks too much like the Human Torch. After Kitty sends Bishop back to warn the others of the attack, the rest of the X-Men formulate a plan to prevent this future from ever happening.

Hugh Jackman finally wears yellow & blue, but it’s hidden under black armor. While Wolverine’s hair has the grey temples that he had in the comic. It’s great to have Patrick Stewart back and it’s even better to see Professor X in a hover chair. Ian McKellen doesn’t wear a helmet, but Magneto still unleashes all his power. As does Halle Berry returning as Storm. Her short white hair was expected. I just wish the kiss Storm and Wolverine share was kept in the movie. Wolverine understandably ends up being sent to the past. Since he’s always been the main character and this version of time travel makes it so only someone with accelerated healing can be sent back. Plus Wolverine was around in 1973. With Wolverine incapacitated, the X-Men make their final stand against the Sentinels. After First Class tackled Cold War themes in the 60’s, Days of Future Past now focuses on the Vietnam War of the 70’s. You can tell by the lava lamp, drugs, hippies, and afros.

Just like Terminator, the indestructible Wolverine wakes up at a time when he was a bodyguard. Except he has those darn bone claws. The only downside for me is just seeing Wolverine’s Adamantium claws in the future. Logan goes to an abandoned X-Mansion where the school has closed due to Mutants being drafted. Charles Xavier has lost hope and his powers due to a drug that suppresses it. James McAvoy is hairier and probably only walks for the sake of convenience. Nicholas Hoult logically returns as Hank McCoy, but it’s obvious that his suppressed Beast appearance is because of makeup. Since Beast was never like the Hulk in terms of getting angry. Continuity has never mattered in these movies, so Charles misquotes Wolverine by telling him to “F*** off.” Logan’s purpose in the past is to reunite Charles with Erik Lehnsherr and prevent Mystique from killing Bolivar Trask. The man responsible for the creation of more comic accurate Sentinels. Trask is played by Peter Dinklage instead of Bill Duke like he was in The Last Stand. If Mystique succeeds, her DNA will be used to create deadlier future Sentinels.

Although Jennifer Lawrence was definitely big enough to get more screen time, Mystique is important in the original comic. Senator Kelly is just swapped with Trask. Mystique’s makeup is better and her seductive agile fighting skills are closer to her future self. While Mystique rescues Mutant soldiers from experimentation (including Havok & Toad), Logan, Charles, & Hank have to break Erik out of a metaless prison under the Pentagon. For apparently killing a Mutant John F. Kennedy. Instead of using a young Juggernaut, Fox exercised their joint possession of Quicksilver. Compared to Marvel, this version was American and had inaccurate silver hair, silver jacket, and goggles. Yet Evan Peters’ Quicksilver ended up being the better take. He breaks Erik out of prison (and even hints at their possible relation). Easily the best scene in the movie is Quicksilver moving so fast that he saves everyone to the tune of “Time in a Bottle.” Then they send him away for being too powerful.

Both Magneto & Mystique discover that the other Mutants from First Class were carelessly killed off. Charles clashes with Erik, but they work together long enough to find Mystique at the Paris Peace Accords. They arrive in time, but everything falls apart when Logan sees a young Stryker and snikts Kitty in the future. The Rogue Cut features a whole sidequest where Rogue is rescued and taken to finish Kitty’s work. Anna Paquin only makes a brief cameo in the finished film. Instead of simply rescuing Mystique, Erik decides she needs to die. Beast defends her and in the process, the world discovers the existence of Mutants. Mystique disguises herself long enough to get away, but the attack gives Trask enough reason to convince the President to active the Sentinels. Nixon is a bit over exaggerated though. Charles and Erik go their separate ways with different goals in preventing the future. Charles regains his powers and wheelchair, but still needs an extra push. After experiencing Logan’s pain, he has a very heartfelt talk with his future self.

Meanwhile, Erik regains his Magneto helmet and infuses the plastic Sentinels with metal. Michael Fassbender’s performance and costume are closer to Magneto than ever before. After Charles uses Cerebro to locate Mystique in Washington, Days of Future Past is split between future and past. In the future, the X-Men are cornered by invading Sentinels. Storm harnesses the power of lightning and Magneto uses it to detonate the X-Jet. The rest of the new Mutants give it their all, but it’s all for not. Magneto is fatally wounded, Storm sadly dies, and the rest of the Mutants are killed one by one. In the past, Charles locates Mystique, but Magneto literally drops a stadium around the White House. He turns the Sentinels against Wolverine and Beast, while Mystique continues to target Trask. In a reverse callback to a comic where Magneto removes Wolverine’s Adamantium skeleton, Magneto impales Wolverine’s body with metal and throws him in a river. Leaving the fate of the future in Xavier’s hands.

Similar to the first movie, Magneto turns guns against the President. Mystique subdues him and finally decides not to go through with it. It was genuinely satisfying to see the horrible future erase at the last possible second. I was even more satisfied to see a brighter 2023 where Xavier’s School is better than it was before. Rogue & Iceman are together, Kelsey Grammer briefly appears as Beast, Storm is okay, Kitty & Colossus are teachers, and both Jean & Cyclops are alive. Finally erasing The Last Stand from existence. Logan has a heart to heart with Charles and the future looks bright. Origins: Wolverine seems to be erased too after Stryker picks up Logan in the past. Expect revealing it to be Mystique makes no sense. The after-credit scene revealing a young pyramid constructing En Sabah Nur was the final push towards imitating the MCU. The stakes in Days of Future Past feel higher than they’ve ever been before. It was impressive to see Singer go all out with the X-Men after his more subtle debut. The ensemble cast works surprisingly well no matter the time period. After wiping the slate clean, X-Men: Days of Future Past should have been enough to end the X-Men franchise on a high note.

14. X-Men Days of Future Past

The X-Men of the past

Preceded by: The Wolverine & Followed by: Deadpool

A Canadian Wolverine in Japan

The Wolverine is the most underrated film in the X-Men franchise. Probably because it’s the first one without X-Men in the title. Every other 20th Century Fox production had to have any number of Mutants they could fit into the story. Much to the detriment of Wolverine’s first solo outing X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Along with a weak CGI filled take on his famous origin and overly sanitized bloodless PG-13 rating. While X-Men: First Class was a return to form for the team, The Wolverine was the same for the fan favorite Mutant. It was easily the least complicated movie made and that’s probably why people forget about it. It was even the first X-Men movie my brother and I saw by ourselves.

As I said before, Wolverine has a surprisingly extensive history. One of his most well known storylines is his time spent in Japan. The 1982 limited series was written by Chris Claremont and Frank Miller. Since it was Hugh Jackman’s favorite storyline, it was only a matter of time before it got made. The only problem was director Darren Aronofsky dropping out and Japanese earthquakes delaying production. James Mangold was later hired to direct and the rest is history. He may have appeared in every other movie before, but this was truly the first genuine Wolverine movie…

11. The Wolverine

Wolverine in Japan

The Wolverine for the most part ignores X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but it does begin with a flashback to one of the many wars Logan’s fought. Specifically the World War II events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Logan is in an underground Japanese prison, but he saves a frightened enemy soldier and takes the impact of the atomic bomb. His graphic healing process makes it clear that this is a Wolverine movie that isn’t afraid to get violent. It’s still PG-13, but there’s definitely more blood and claws cutting through people. As well as the now traditional F-bomb. The Unleashed Extended Cut is R rated, but it’s mostly just additional CGI blood splatter. The Wolverine is the first X-Men movie to reference X-Men: The Last Stand. Since the repercussions of its controversial ending couldn’t be ignored forever.

Despite X-Men Origins: Wolverine having an alternate after-credits scene of Logan drinking in Japan, The Wolverine takes place after Logan leaves the X-Mansion. Where he’s become a hairy mountain man living in the Canadian wilderness. Logan stays out of conflict after he was forced to kill his beloved Jean Grey. He also deals with the existential crisis of outliving everyone he loves. Hugh Jackman turns Wolverine into more of an outsider than he already was. This was also when he finally became a huge jacked man. Since superhero actors had just been getting more and more muscular since Jackman first began playing Wolverine. Although her heavenly dream sequences are strange, Famke Janssen is a welcome return. Jean helps Logan better accept his actions over the course of the film.

When a group of hunters illegally poison a grizzly bear, Logan returns seeking justice. That’s when he’s greeted by Japanese assassin Yukio. In the comics, she’s just a human ninja, but here she’s a precognitive Mutant badass with a samurai sword. Yukio speaks on behalf of the soldier Logan saved. Wealthy industrialist Ichirō Yashida wishes to personally thank him in Tokyo, Japan. The Wolverine has a very small cast almost entirely made up of Japanese actors and actresses. Some are established stars in their home country like Hiroyuki Sanada and Haruhiko Yamanouchi. While others are newcomers like models Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima. As Logan learns Japanese customs, he also receives a shorter haircut.

A dying Yashida makes him an offer to remove his healing factor in order to saves his own life and give Logan an honorable death. He refuses, but Yashida’s American doctor poisons him with a device that slows his healing. For the first time leaving Wolverine more vulnerable. The doctor is poisonous Mutant Viper. A jointly owned Marvel villain affiliated with Wolverine. They just couldn’t refer to her as Madame Hydra. Although she could have been played by someone more high profile, a lesser known Russian actress plays her instead. Yashida dies unexpectedly and the Yakuza attack his funeral. Logan claws his way through them, but his decreased healing slows him down. When the Yakuza try to capture Yashida’s granddaughter Mariko, Logan goes on the run as her bodyguard. Mariko is one of many Wolverine love interests. She stands out a bit more than the comics since she occasionally uses martial arts. Their relationship develops over time.

While on the run, Wolverine fights a handful of Yakuza in an exhilarating bullet train sequence. His wounds are tended to, but it’s not long before Markio is captured. Logan rejoins Yukio, who mentions a cryptic (but very important) vision of how he dies. After confronting Mariko’s sleazy arranged fiancé, he discovers Yashida’s son Shingen arranged for his daughter to be killed after his father promised his wealth to her. Markio is then taken by the noble Black Ninja Clan lead by Kenuichio Harada. Will Yun Lee is in perfect fighting shape, but he’s not the Mutant Silver Samurai like in the comics. After violently removing the poisonous device from his body, Wolverine engages in an excellent claw to sword fight against Shingen dressed in Silver Samurai armor. It’s one of his best fights made better when he calls himself the Wolverine. Logan and Yukio track Markio down to Yashida’s village where they fight literal ninjas. Followed by a climax that’s honestly the only thing holding the movie back. It turns out Viper intends to chop off Wolverine’s claws in order to take his healing. Instead of a simple Mutant samurai, the Silver Samurai is an overgrown CGI mech suit.

Both the ridiculous inaccuracy and Viper peeling off her skin before fighting are tonally different than everything else in the movie. I was extra mad when the energized Adamantium sword cut through Wolverine’s indestructible claws. The suit somehow drains his healing and it was obvious that Yashida was in the suit all along. Luckily Markio stabs her grandfather long enough for Wolverine’s bone claws to come out. In the end, Logan leaves Japan and Markio to find his way in the world. A deleted scene shows his comic accurate mask & gloves in a suitcase, but what ends up in the movie is just as cool. In a mid-credit scene, Wolverine sees an advertisement for Trask Industries on TV and is greeted by a repowered Magneto and living Professor X. It’s an unexpectedly awesome tease for what came next. The Wolverine is somewhere in the middle when it comes to X-Men. It’s neither critically panned like X-Men Origins: Wolverine nor critically acclaimed like Logan. But The Wolverine deserves more credit for slowly taking chances with such an intense superhero.

12. The Wolverine

Wolverine vs. Silver Samurai

Preceded by: X-Men: First Class & Followed by: X-Men: Days of Future Past

Mutant and Proud

X-Men: First Class is the soft reboot us Marvel fans never knew we wanted. X-Men was key to the reawakening of the superhero genre, X2 proved the sequel could be just as groundbreaking, and X-Men: The Last Stand went too far and should have ended the Fox produced films. Well Fox continued to hold onto the rights, with the intention of just making solo spin-offs. When X-Men Origins: Wolverine failed, X-Men Origins: Magneto fell apart. But ideas from that film are what lead to the creation of X-Men: First Class. A 60’s period piece focusing on the friendship of both Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr, how they became enemies, and how the X-Men looked in the early days. The movie is named after a similar comic, but since it’s technically a prequel, the team is obviously not the Uncanny X-Men.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about the idea when I first heard about it. I sort of looked forward to the spin-offs, but I agreed that an X-Men origin movie made more sense than one just focusing on Magneto. Especially if Ian McKellen was going to do the entire movie with an awful CGI face-lift. The first image was released and I was happy to finally see the use of classic yellow & blue costumes from the comics. Sure I remained skeptical, but X-Men: First Class was just the return to form I was hoping for. Despite normally directing more R rated comic book adaptations like Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn understood the X-Men better than most directors (although Bryan Singer was still involved as a producer)…

9. X-Men First Class

The X-Men

X-Men: First Class officially ditches the continuity established in the X-Men trilogy. While still attempting to connect the films. Professor X clearly stated when he met Magneto in the first film and meeting Jean is long past the 60’s in the third film. Character changes were also made in the prequel that aren’t present in any of the other films, but it all works out in the end. X-Men: First Class begins with the starkly different power manifestation of Erik Lehnsherr and Charles Xavier. Erik bending a metal gate in a concentration camp is lifted directly from the first X-Men. Shots are reused, but others are replaced by the new actors. What’s also different is the perspective of Nazi scientist Klaus Schmidt. A man who essentially creates Magneto by forcing him to move a coin and killing his mother. On the other side of the coin is a young Charles living in a lavish mansion in West Chester, New York. His telepathy has already manifested and he uses it to speak to someone disguised as his mother. It turns out to be a young Mystique who becomes his foster sister. Although having an indeterminate age is accurate, Mystique never had this connection to Xavier in the comics.

The rest of X-Men: First Class takes place in 1962. Where they make the clever decision to incorporate real world history into the plot. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were so perfect as Professor X and Magneto that it seemed impossible to recapture that, but James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were just as inspired choices. McAvoy is great at portraying a young Charles Xavier with a 60’s attitude who grows into a caring mentor. Xavier still being able to walk is accurate, but baldness should’ve been a side effect of his Mutation like in the comics. Fassbender develops Erik Lehnsherr into an even more tragic figure. His friendship with Charles is believable and so is his path towards becoming one of the greatest supervillains in Marvel history. Before becoming a Hollywood icon, Jennifer Lawrence made her blockbuster debut as a more innocent Raven Darkhölme. Who understandably hides her blue skin in an attempt to be normal.

While Charles is celebrating his graduation from Oxford, Erik is hunting Nazis in the hope of finding Schmidt. A Mutant who became Sebastian Shaw, leader of the Hellfire Club. When it comes to villainous teams that the X-Men have faced, I knew the least about the Hellfire Club. In the comics, they’re an elite social club bent on world domination. So it made sense for them to be the primary threat with plans of escalating the Cuban Missile Crisis. Since Mutants are the Children of the Atom. Kevin Bacon is a threatening, but less fancy version of Shaw that absorbs energy and uses a helmet that blocks out telepaths. January Jones is a sexy Emma Frost with a revealing white outfit ripped straight out of the comics. Her powerful use of telepathy and diamond skin are way better than whatever X-Men Origins: Wolverine was trying to do. Unfortunately Jones is monotone and sort of lifeless as Frost. Shaw and Frost are the only comic accurate Club members while the lesser known whirlwind creating Riptide and red demonic teleporter Azazel are not.

Rose Byrne plays the very necessary early love interest of Charles Xavier. In the comics, Moira MacTaggert is a Scottish doctor who helps Mutants. In the movie, she’s an American CIA agent. She and Charles come together in hopes of aiding Mutants with Government assistance. They prove Mutants exist when Raven morphs into William Stryker Sr. A man in black takes them to a secret facility that happens to have Dr. Hank McCoy. Nicholas Hoult is just as good a choice to play a younger Beast with big feet. His intelligence helped create the Blackbird (X-Jet), a morse code version of Cerebro, and there costumes. However, the Beast and Mystique romance is also not from the comics. Charles and Erik end up becoming friends when Charles rescues him from attempting to kill Shaw. Together they recruit potential Mutants in a fun montage. From lesser known Mutants like the winged Angel Salvatore and adaptable Darwin to longtime X-Men like Banshee and Havok.

Hugh Jackman even makes one of the most hilarious cameos of all time. When Wolverine tells Charles and Erik to “Go f*** yourself.” The appearance alone would be enough, but the unexpected F-bomb is even better. While Charles and Erik get answers from Frost, the recruits bond over their powers and pick out their superhero names, but it’s not long before Shaw attacks. Angel sides with him and Shaw kills Darwin. Leaving Beast, Mystique, Banshee, and Havok as the titular first class of X-Men. They relocated to Xavier’s mansion where he teaches them to better harness their power. A welcome addition that other X-Men films lack. We see an early version of the Danger Room, Banshee receiving his flight suit, Havok concentrating his energy rings, Beast unleashing the animal within, and Charles helping Erik move larger objects.

Meanwhile, Erik helps Raven accept herself. Which she does when Hank rejects her blue appearance. She tries to seduce Erik (she even becomes Rebecca Romijn), but he instead convinces her not to hide. Which is the somewhat convoluted reason why she’s naked. Although her blue scales & makeup aren’t as good as what came before. At the same time, Hank’s attempt to normalize his feet results in his iconic blue fur and more beastly appearance. Before battle, Charles and Erik discuss conflicting ideologies over their first of many chess matches. The team finally don yellow & blue costumes, but it’s just the characters wearing them that’s inaccurate. They take the Blackbird to the beach in Cuba where U.S. and Soviet ships are close to firing their missiles. Both teams contribute their own unique power. Erik lifts Shaw’s submarine out of the sea and the fight ends when Erik takes revenge by pushing the same Nazi coin through his head.

With his helmet blocking out Charles, Erik becomes the villain when he redirects the missiles. A fight between friends breaks out and Erik accidentally paralyzes Charles with Moria’s bullet. A tragic explanation to why Professor X is in a wheelchair, but I could do without the bald jokes. Erik then claims the Hellfire Club Mutants as his own and Mystique joins him too. Professor Charles Xavier decides to start a school/team of X-Men free from the government and he kisses Moria before erasing her memory. Meanwhile, the newly formed Brotherhood of Mutants recruits Frost and Erik finally becomes Magneto. Complete with comic accurate red & purple helmet. X-Men: First Class is easily the closest thing to a faithful X-Men adaptation by Fox. The look is a lot closer and the 60’s Cold War time period is the same as when the first comic was published. It’s a shame Stan Lee didn’t have a cameo. The only real problems are the constraints of the X-Men trilogy. It’s great seeing more Mutants come to life, but it would have been better seeing the original line up. The studio continues to write their own continuity, but it still ends up being the best movie since X2. X-Men: First Class is the excellent Bond era superhero Cold War thriller that kept Marvel from gaining the rights for years to come.

10. X-Men First Class

The Hellfire Club

Followed by: X-Men Origins: Wolverine & The Wolverine

A Thousand Generations Live in You Now

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker or as it’s officially designated, Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is the messy conclusion to what is now known as the Skywalker saga. Ending the sequel trilogy and hopefully ending Disney’s barrage of constant Star Wars movies for a long time. After The Last Jedi let me down and Solo left me unenthusiastic, I just didn’t know if I could still feel excitement for the final “Episode” anymore. Then the trailer dropped along with the title reveal and I was a screaming fan again. Promotional material leaned heavily into nostalgia with familiar music and unexpected character reveals. There was also the promise of The Rise of Skywalker being an epic conclusion.

What audiences hoped would be a thrilling Star Wars opus, ending up being the most objectively bad Star Wars movie ever made. Why is it I was more excited for the season finale of The Mandalorian then the finale of the movies that made it possible? The sequel trilogy was doomed the moment George Lucas sold its rights to Disney. They didn’t see a beloved personal franchise, they saw a corporate money making assignment. The primary focus of The Rise of Skywalker was to make everyone happy. So already respected director of The Force Awakens J. J. Abrams came back to essentially retcon past mistakes and give fans all the fanservice they wanted. Resulting in a disjointed trilogy with an unclear identity that almost single handedly ruins the entire saga. SPOILER ALERT! (you’re gonna need it)…

32. The Rise of Skywalker

Rey vs. Kylo Ren

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…, Lucasfilm Ltd., Star Wars, John Williams’ theme, Episode roman numeral, subtitle, and space opening crawl are all shown for the final time. At least until Episode X, XI, & XII come out. Before Disney does that, I had to savor the in theater experience. You can tell The Rise of Skywalker is gonna be rough from the very first sentence. With the extremely vague “The dead speak,” Emperor Palpatine is back with no build up whatsoever. General Leia sends Resistance fighters to investigate the broadcast from beyond the grave while Rey continues her Jedi training. We open on the newly dubbed Supreme Leader Kylo Ren slaughtering random aliens on an unknown planet in an attempt to find Palpatine’s location. He finds the ridiculously named Sith wayfinder which leads him to the spooky Sith planet Exegol. Emperor Palpatine has always been the true villain of Star Wars, but The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi had zero indication he’d appear. But his dark presence still gives me chills. Palpatine directly quotes Revenge of the Sith by saying the Dark side is unnatural and it’s all the explanation we get.

Snoke was just his puppet and Darth Vader’s voice is what lead Ben to the Dark side. His “genius” plan is a Final Order of superlaser equipped Star Destroyers hidden beneath the planet. Complete with red Sith Troopers. Remember that Palpatine wants Rey dead as well. Rey is now ridiculously overpowered and being trained by Leia. Who finally gets a chance to show off her knowledge of the Force. By having Rey run an obstacle course. Meanwhile in space, Poe Dameron and Finn take the Millenium Falcon to receive intel from an unknown spy about Palpatine’s whereabouts. They evade an armada of TIE fighters by performing a move that’s never been done before. Lightspeed skipping through a bunch of random planets. Once the Resistance reconvene, Rey learns about the Sith wayfinder from a convenient journal page Luke left behind. After 2 whole movies, Rey, Finn, and Poe finally become the sequel trilogies main trio. A trio that constantly bickers and has no reason to be together. C-3PO, Chewbacca, and BB-8 accompany them as well. Leaving R2-D2, Maz Kanata, Leia, Rose, and the rest of the Resistance behind.

The Rise of Skywalker then becomes a rushed scavenger hunt to planets we barely get to known. They first arrive on Pasaana (the 6th freakin’ desert planet). During a festival, Rey longs for a last name. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren rebuilds his helmet and brings in the Knights of Ren. Another one of those Force bonds reveals Rey’s whereabouts. A masked stranger intervenes, revealing himself to be none other than Lando Calrissian. Now the circle of familiar faces is complete. He points them in the direction of a Sith dagger that they find while evading Stormtroopers that fly now. Then they sink in a convenient patch of quicksand. Finn tries to tell Rey something, but it’s never brought up again. They end up underground where a giant snake lives. Except it’s a poor injured creature that Rey just so happens to know how to Force heal, because who cares at this point. 3PO finally gets something to do by reading the Sith dagger, but his inability to read the forbidden language means visiting a whole other planet. But not before Rey confronts Kylo by cutting through his ship. Chewie is taken on a First Order transport that Rey stops mid-takeoff with Kylo holding on as well. Until Rey destroys it with Force lightning in a shocking twist of events. I gasped, but I was counting the minutes before Chewie turned up alive.

With the Falcon stolen, they take one belonging to the dead Jedi hunter. BB-8 is even given his own bland sidekick D-0. 3PO’s translation is handled in the snowy mountain city of Kijimi. It’s there we meet a brand new character named Zorii Bliss. A masked warrior and Poe’s old flame who reveals he used to be a spice runner. Not that any of that matters. A cute little merchandising opportunity named Babu Frik reveals 3PO’s Sith translation will wipe his memory. It should be a poignant moment, but these characters are the furthest thing from 3PO’s friends. The wayfinders coordinates are revealed and Rey senses Chewie’s survival. They mount a rescue that takes out a ton of Stormtroopers on Kylo’s Star Destroyer. Finn & Poe are captured, but General Hux reveals himself to be the spy. Before that has time to sink in, he’s immediately killed and replaced by the more threatening Allegiant General Pryde. Even in separate locations, Rey and Kylo manage to have a lightsaber duel. Vader’s helmet gives away her location as Kylo intends to reveal the rest of Rey’s story. It turns out Rey is so overpowered because she’s the granddaughter of Emperor Palpatine. An unexpectedly expected twist that reinterprets Rey’s parents being nobodies and leaves too many questions unanswered.

In the most convoluted way possible, the Sith dagger has to line up with the wreckage of the second Death Star on the ocean moon Kef Bir. Thus revealing the location of the wayfinder. But not before we meet another character we have no time to care about. Jannah is a former Stormtrooper like Finn who might be Lando’s daughter I guess. Rey goes in alone where she’s confronted by an out of nowhere vision of herself as a Sith. Complete with highly impractical hinged double-edge lightsaber. Kylo destroys the only reason we’ve been going on this quest and the 2 engage in a lightsaber duel. I didn’t think it was possible, but their moderately paced back and forth duel is boring. It eventually ends when Leia reaches out to her son and very unceremoniously dies because of it. When Kylo is fatally stabbed, Rey heals him. I can’t say I was expecting Han Solo to appear, but his heart to heart talk is what brings back Ben Solo. A distraught Rey exiles herself on Anch-To, intending to destroy everything. That’s when a much softer Luke appears as a Force ghost to catch his lightsaber. He recounts Leia’s Jedi training, gives Rey her lightsaber, and lifts his X-Wing out of the ocean.

The climax (that liberally borrows from Endgame) is split between the Resistance making a final stand against the Final Order fleet and Rey confronting her grandfather. The ship battle consists of space horses and a last minute army of Rebels across the galaxy. Palpatine does a complete 180 by saying he wants Rey to strike him down so that he can live again. A blaster wielding Ben comes to her rescue and Rey gives him Luke’s lightsaber with (you guessed it) another random Force power. Ben kills the Knights of Ren like they never mattered and he stands with Rey against the Emperor. Only to reveal another bit of Force nonsense about them being something called a dyad. Their energy rejuvenates Palpatine long enough to electrify the Resistance. That’s when Rey hears the familiar voices of past Jedi giving her encouragement. The combined power of 2 lightsabers destroys Palpatine with his own lightning. Rey dies, but Ben returns the favor by healing her. They also share a random kiss before he suddenly dies himself. Everyone across the galaxy celebrates and Rey buries Luke & Leia’s lightsabers on Tatooine. Rey reveals her own yellow lightsaber and decides to adopt the name Rey Skywalker. Despite having absolutely no connection to the name. Then the Skywalker saga ends where it started. Gazing at a binary sunset…

31. The Rise of Skywalker

Rey and Chewie prepare to take off

The Rise of Skywalker is a lot like Return of the Jedi in terms of story structure. And a lot like every other Star Wars movie, because nostalgia is all they have left. There’s more emphasis on the Emperor, a Jedi confronting the Dark Side, a desperate final battle, and even Ewoks make a brief cameo. Like most directors hired by Disney, original director Colin Trevorrow quite sighting creative differences. Proving how flawed their different director each movie scheme was. Instead of finding someone new, J. J. Abrams returned. Since Rian Johnson threw away everything The Force Awakens set up, it’s no wonder Abrams practically ignores The Last Jedi. I didn’t like its total disregard for things fans love about Star Wars, but even I can admit the trilogy suffers because of it. I can’t imagine Trevorrow being an better. The Rise of Skywalker makes its fanservice clear in its title alone. Making Star Wars about the Skywalker family after all. As well as pandering to fans by giving them everything they want. Chewie gets a medal, Leia uses a lightsaber in a flashback, and prequels are acknowledged.

Like the previous films, Carrie Fisher was supposed to have a central role. Sadly, Fisher’s passing made it impossible for Leia to fully explore her potential as a Jedi. Instead of omitting her entirely, they made the unnatural decision to work around her past deleted scenes. You never believe she’s really there and her death is so abrupt that I still felt nothing. Mark Hamill shows up just to apologize for his out of character behavior and fulfill Luke Skywalker’s goal to lift an X-Wing. Harrison Ford brings his best to Han Solo, but it’s obvious he’s stopped caring. Billy Dee Williams was last to inevitably return as Lando. Williams has notably continued voicing Lando throughout the years, but his 36 year live-action reprisal is the longest in movie history. Of course Denis Lawson makes a cameo as Wedge Antilles too. No matter the era, Ian McDiarmid has always been menacing as Palpatine. I just wish his villainous plan, cheesy dialogue, or reason for living made some kind of sense. A clone of the Emperor was an idea in the comics, but the nauseating idea of Palpatine having children was not. Honestly the reveal feels more like fan fiction.

Although it does sort of save Rey for me if I know she’s related to an existing character. I never liked the idea of her being a random overpowered nobody to begin with. Unfortunately, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac aren’t a compelling trio and we still barely know any of their respective characters. Chewie has more emotion in his Wookie growls then they do when Leia dies. Rey essentially ruins the ending of Return of the Jedi by stealing Anakin’s professed redemption. What’s the point of Episode IVI if Rey just comes in and kills the Emperor all over again. Finn only exists now to scream “Rey!!!” and possibly be Force sensitive. Except any answer to that is never addressed. Poe is still just discount Han Solo without the authority. The only consistent character with a logical arc is Kylo Ren. Adam Driver is both ruthless and heroic. I expected him to redeem himself, but fighting with his father’s blaster and uncle’s lightsaber was an added bonus. I just wish his abrupt death didn’t make audiences laugh. I know Rey & Ben’s kiss had no build up, but after Finn & Rose, I’ll accept any romance they cobble together.

I’m glad Rose got reduced screen time à la Jar Jar Binks. Even though Kelly Marie Tran deserved better. Since The Last Jedi uneventfully killed characters with potential, Abrams barely acknowledges any of Johnson’s creations. For example, “Holdo maneuver” is now impossible. Unfortunately it also meant the creation of too many new last minute characters. Keri Russell hides her face as Zorii, newcomer Naomi Ackie’s Jannah was likely added for diversity, and do we seriously need another droid. Did rolling hair dryer D-0 serve any purpose? At least the only consistent presence across all 9 Episodes is C-3PO & R2-D2. Anthony Daniels never fails to be bring 3PO to life. Considering the decade, I expected some kind of LGBT moment. But the blink & you’ll miss it (easily edited) kiss between nameless lesbian extras was totally pointless. With the exception of Babu Frik, alien extras continue to be unmemorable. While the new planets go by so fast that none of them stand out.

The overall fan disappointment of The Rise of Skywalker (and the entire sequel trilogy), was enough to give the prequel trilogy a renewed appreciation. George Lucas was misguided in a lot of areas, but at least he delivered on a different, but familiar trilogy with a singular vision. The excitement of hearing familiar Jedi voices would have been 10 times better if they appeared physically. But hearing Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, Mace Windu, Yoda, Qui-Gon Jinn, Expanded Universe Jedi Ahsoka Tano, Kanan Jarrus, Aayla Secura, Luminara Unduli, and Adi Gallia was just as satisfying. Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker isn’t unwatchable, but it crams in more than any Star Wars movie should. I’ll just stick with the Star Wars saga that put an epic galaxy full of adventure and possibility before anything else. “May the Force be with you.”

Star_Wars_Rise_of_Skywalker_Reviews1

Rey and Kylo Ren destroy Darth Vader’s helmet

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

The Kessel Run

Solo: A Star Wars Story was doomed from the start. Were people seriously asking for a Han Solo origin movie? Well the idea was originally conceived by George Lucas as part of Star Wars: Underworld. Then it become a movie, but with Lucas selling the rights to Disney, it was them that developed it. For a studio that wants to downplay the prequels as much as possible, Disney really leaned into the idea of multiple anthology films for a while. As I said before, Star Wars is not Marvel. You can’t release a new Star Wars movie every year and expect people to maintain interest in the same old galaxy and type of characters over and over again. There are so many reasons why Solo ended up becoming the first Star Wars box-office failure.

Popular directing duo Phil Lord & Chris Miller were notably let go for creative differences. Leaving former George Lucas collaborator Ron Howard as their replacement. Fans still had a bad taste in their mouths left by The Last Jedi, so giving Solo a traditional May release was way too close. It didn’t help that a trailer hadn’t arrived until a mere 3 months before it hit theaters. Solo was the first Star Wars movie that I had no anticipation for before going to see it. Crowd reactions were scarce and no one seemed to care. Solo is far from bad, but it’s far from groundbreaking. Which is a major problem for something in the Star Wars universe. SPOILER ALERT! (I’ve run out of clever things to say)…

28. Solo

Han Solo and Chewbacca look around

Solo begins with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…,” but it makes the half-assed decision to have an opening text instead of an opening crawl. Which feels just as wrong as Rogue One omitting it entirely. Only it made me a lot more angry to see the title casually flying above a planet instead of in space. The fact that “A Star Wars Story” remains in tact is just as inconsistent. Solo can only be described as a space western. Making it the most tonally different of the live-action Star Wars movies. With Harrison Ford all but retired from the role, a young Han Solo needed to be cast. Ironically the same thing happened before with Young Indiana Jones. Alden Ehrenreich wasn’t a huge star, but he fits the dashing rogue well enough. His only problem is being too nice. This Han can say he’s a bad guy as much as he wants, but you can’t make him too unlikable. Since Corellian ships have been mentioned in the past, it only made sense for Han to have grown up on Corellia. A shipping planet ruled by a criminal underworld. A strange centipede creature named Lady Proxima offers shelter in return for loyalty. Except Han and his never before seen lady love Qi’ra plan to escape with never before mentioned Coaxium fuel.

Emilia Clarke is the third beautiful British brunette heroine in a row. Okay Disney, this is getting ridiculous. Now every live-action Star Wars movie is lead by a brunette. Han and Qi’ra grew up together and they plan to make it off the planet together. A landspeeder car chase ensues and they manage to evade capture. Until Imperial forces separate them. We then see the Imperial recruitment process for the first time. They actually use the “Imperial March” in their propaganda campaign. As Han signs up as a flight cadet, a random Imperial officer takes his lack of a family name a little too literally. That’s seriously why his name is Han Solo. But the unnecessary callbacks don’t stop there. Dice that were barely visible in A New Hope now have their own backstory. I had no clue what they meant when they were shown in The Last Jedi. Now they’re an important token of Han’s affection towards Qi’ra. 3 years later, Han washed out of the flight academy and ended up in the infantry on foggy planet Mimban. It’s there he meets a ragtag band of rogues. Haven’t seen that before. I wonder who’s gonna die first?

Since he’s in everything now, Woody Harrelson plays morally ambiguous smuggler turned mentor figure Tobias Beckett. Thandie Newton is his wife Val and Jon Favreau voices blue four armed monkey pilot who won’t shut up Rio Durant. They deny him access into their crew at first and Han is left in an underground prison for deserters. The beast who’s also stuck there turns out to be Chewbacca. Although there were several first meetings envisioned for Han & Chewie, meeting in a prison with Han speaking Wookie is now canon. They work together to return to Beckett’s crew and Han decides Chewie needs a nickname. While discussing their first mission, Chewie mentions a family on Kashyyyk, and Han gets his signature blaster. On Vandor-1 (yet another snow planet), the crew attempt to steal Coaxium in a nail biting train heist. The mission fails when mysterious masked Cloud Riders, lead by Enfys Nest, hijack the shipment. The rest of the crew obviously dies and Beckett is left to answer to a crime syndicate called Crimson Dawn. This particular syndicate is lead by Dryden Vos. Basically Paul Bettany with face scars and a light dagger. Either have a lightsaber or don’t, no more of this in between nonsense.

It’s there on Vos’ yacht that we see more mock cantina singers. Han happens to run into Qi’ra, who somehow became a top member of Crimson Dawn. In order to pay off their debt, Han, Chewie, Beckett, and Qi’ra are sent to steal unrefined Coaxium on the well known spice planet Kessel. But not before Qi’ra leads them to the perfect ship. Of course it had to be Lando Calrissian’s. Donald Glover perfectly recaptures Billy Dee Williams’ cool suave personality. He even mispronounces Han’s name just to retcon past mistakes. That doesn’t mean I’d rather be seeing his spin-off. Just as The Empire Strikes Back mentions, Han won the Millennium Falcon in a card game. Sabacc has existed in Star Wars for years. Their high stakes game is rigged in Lando’s favor. Then we’re introduced to another new character ruined by political correctness. Phoebe Waller-Bridge motion captures the third comic Disney droid sidekick. L3-37’s only traits are shouting about droid inequality and trying to make robosexuality a thing. C-3PO & R2-D2 she is not. I’m annoyed that they don’t even make an appearance. The Millennium Falcon is seen in a cleaner white & blue Republic state. They agree to work together in order to get the Coaxium.

Kessel is seen for the first time as L3 starts a droid revolt and Chewie frees Wookie prisoners. It’s the only time Anthony Daniels makes an appearance, except as a Wookie. L3 is obviously destroyed, but not before tarnishing the Falcon with her navigation system. It’s then we’re finally shown the legendary “Kessel run” in less than 12 parsecs. Showing it to be an overblown CGI space tunnel with a giant tentacle monster inside. The Falcon is damaged until it more closely resembles the older version. It’s there on Savareen that Han, Chewie, Beckett, and Qi’ra encounter Enfys. Who’s just a female leader of a band of Rebels. Beckett obviously double-crosses Han and everyone turns against each other. Qi’ra manages to kill Vos, but she stays behind so that Han can pursue Beckett. Since Han explicitly stated that he’s never seen an all-powerful Force, none of that is shown in his presence. Instead Qi’ra makes an unexpected call to former Sith Lord Maul. Again played by Ray Park, but voiced by Sam Witwer. Unless you’ve seen The Clone Wars or Rebels, his appearance will leave you with a bunch of questions. His sole purpose is to use the Force and present his lightsaber. Since Disney sucks at representing Force users.

Han then confirms that he does indeed shoot first, by killing Beckett. Han doesn’t join the Rebellion, but he does win a rematch game against Lando. With the Millenium Falcon in Han & Chewie’s possession, their next move is to meet a very important gangster on Tatooine. Too bad we’ll never see it. Since Solo can only be described as uninspired. The train heist and “Kessel run” are fun sequences we haven’t seen before, but they’re nothing special. Despite fans clearly wanting an Obi-Wan spin-off, Disney keeps on doing the same old blaster duels and space battles. It doesn’t help that everything is set in the original trilogy’s time frame. Ron Howard is a suitable replacement director, but his choice of dark barely visible lighting is awful. I’m also annoyed by the excessive amount of swearing. Star Wars is no stranger to occasional language, but it just never felt right to me. John Powell’s western themed soundtrack fits at least. With so many production problems and a total lack of interest, Solo proves some character backstories should be left to the imagination. “May the Force be with you.”

29. Solo

The Millennium Falcon

It’s Time for the Jedi to End

Star Wars: The Last Jedi or as it’s officially designated, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi is the most unwatchable Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen. I’ve been dreading this review for so long due to its divisive nature. I’m very much on the dislike side, but I have no problem with people who found enjoyment where I couldn’t. Of course that wasn’t the case before the sequel came out. After Rogue One, all eyes were on the next “Episode.” The Force Awakens was safe and familiar, but it was time to see how the sequel trilogy could differentiate itself from what came before. The trailer was exciting and the title felt like a perfect fit. Critics were calling The Last Jedi a game changing nearly 3 hour epic journey.

I sat in the theater filled with anticipation until I slowly started to realize I didn’t like it. Officially ending my trust of professional movie critics. Many fans consider the prequels to be the thing that hurt Star Wars, but The Last Jedi is physically painful for me to watch more than once. At least I can still have fun with the prequels. With so many people involved in a blockbuster like this, you can lay the blame on anyone. I point the finger at producer Kathleen Kennedy, director Rian Johnson, and Disney. Kennedy for favoring an agenda over logical storytelling, Johnson for dumping on everything fans love about Star Wars, and Disney for clearly not having a plan mapped out. SPOILER ALERT! (and rant alert)…

25. The Last Jedi

Rey and Kylo Ren fight praetorian guards

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… following the Lucasfilm Ltd. logo and preceding the opening crawl are the only genuinely good parts of The Last Jedi. Okay it’s not that bad, but this was before I started to get mad. I could still maintain my excitement while listening to John Williams’ score. The rest of the soundtrack is once again by the numbers. The crawl is really just a recap of The Force Awakens. Since there’s no major time skip thanks to the ending. The Resistance’s next move is to evacuate their base when the First Order catches up to them. General Leia Organa sends a fleet of X-Wings and bombers to attack their Dreadnaught. They’re like Star Destroyers only less memorable. Poe Dameron & BB-8 are the first to make contact with First Order General Hux. The Last Jedi lost me the second it opened with a “Yo mama” joke. After rolling my eyes, the Resistance face the loss of their ships. Except for one bomber captained by a random female pilot who sacrifices herself by vertically dropping the remaining bombs. Yeah that’s not how gravity works. As the Resistance retreats, Finn wakes up from a ridiculous stasis pod asking about Rey.

The 2 year cliffhanger is finally addressed on Ahch-To. An ocean planet with a single island on it. The island is populated by both alien caretakers and Porgs. Bird penguin creatures that are obvious toy friendly marketing tools. Although everyone thought Porgs would be the worst part of the movie, they’re actually not bad. Rey hands Luke his lightsaber and I’ll never forgive what comes next. Luke callously tosses his father’s lightsaber over his shoulder as a cheap joke. The biggest insult for longtime fans such as myself. The greatest hero of the galaxy is reduced to an angry hermit who ran away from conflict. His X-Wing is submerged underwater, he goes fishing, and drinks blue alien breast milk in the cringiest way possible. It takes Chewbacca breaking down his door, visiting the Millennium Falcon, and R2-D2 replaying Princess Leia’s message (yes, I too have seen A New Hope) to encourage Luke to train Rey. Meanwhile in space, Kylo Ren physically speaks with Supreme Leader Snoke. Without a hologram obstructing his appearance, Snoke is revealed to be a large deformed humanoid dressed in a bizarrely flashy gold robe. After insulting Kylo, he has a tantrum that results in his pointless helmet being destroyed.

Back on the Resistance ship, Leia demotes Poe for being too reckless I guess. Then it’s revealed that the First Order were somehow able to track them in lightspeed. Something that’s never been established in Star Wars before. Kylo leads the charge and toys with the decision to kill his own mother. Until someone else does it for him. Resulting in the unceremonious death of Admiral Ackbar and presumed end of Leia. Only then do we finally get to see Leia use the Force. Which they had to ruin with her flying through space like Mary Poppins. Leia is then put out of commission for practically the entire movie. Leaving purple haired lady Vice Admiral Holdo in charge. For no reason whatsoever, she withholds information and talks down to Poe because he’s a flyboy. The Resistance slowly loses fuel (because that’s a thing now) and Holdo’s lack of a plan eventually leads to a mutiny. But not before a fleeing Finn meets the worst new character since Jar Jar Binks. Rose Tico is a maintenance worker who’s sisters with the deceased bomber. She’s enamored with Finn, but stuns him before finding a way to insert herself in the action. Poe, Finn, and Rose learn from Maz Kanata (who has a random action scene) that a codebreaker on Canto Bight can deactivate the First Order’s tracking device. Oh yeah, C-3PO is present as well.

In the most pointless series of events in The Last Jedi, Finn, Rose, and BB-8 travel to the out of place casino planet where we’re forced to hear about mistreated space horses and how horrible rich people are. They end up in a prison that happens to have another codebreaker named DJ. The entire trip amounts to abused stable children helping Finn & Rose free the poor space horses and destroying the casino in the process. Meanwhile, an overly cynical Luke gives Rey 3 lessons about the Force and how everything is the Jedi’s fault. Rey continues to be overpowered with barely any training. Yet another never before seen Force ability is introduced that connects Rey with Kylo. They learn they’re not so different and he’s also shown shirtless for no good reason. Rey is then drawn to a cave of endless mirrors revealing her parents to be… nobody. Later Rey learns the dark truth behind Ben’s past. That Luke thought about killing him when he swayed towards the Dark Side. Something Luke Skywalker would never do! It results in a staff duel followed by Rey’s departure.

Luke tries to burn down the Jedi Temple and Yoda’s Force ghost shows up for a lesson. It’s pleasing to see Yoda again, but why is he acting like crazy Yoda and since when is a Jedi able to control lightning. The action is still split 3 ways with DJ breaking the First Order’s code for Finn & Rose, Kylo taking Rey to Snoke’s throne room, and Leia waking up long enough to subdue Poe so that Holdo can finally reveal her plan. To take out the First Order fleet using lightspeed. Which is definitely not how lightspeed works. DJ turns out to be a traitor and Captain Phasma is revealed to still be alive. The former Stormtrooper duels with his former superior in a fight that once again ends with her disposal. Snoke Forces Rey into submission long enough for Kylo to turn against him. Snoke is ultimately wasted, but I can’t deny the impact of the moment. It leads to the only lightsaber related duel in the movie. Rey and Kylo teaming up to fight red kyber equipped praetorian guards. Only Kylo continues to push Rey to the Dark side. Her refusal splits Luke’s lightsaber in half.

After all of that, we still have a whole other battle to get to. On the snow, I mean salt planet of Crait. Where mock Walkers corner the Resistance and a Starkiller laser can fire at any moment. The only hope is to use old skimmer ships to attack. Finn attempts to fulfill his destiny through sacrifice, but Rose steals his moment and kisses him out of nowhere. It all seems hopeless until a freshly shaved Luke returns with a final farewell for his sister. Luke confronts Kylo in a lightsaber duel, but sike! Yet another random Force ability reveals Luke projected himself from Anch-To. Then Luke dies and I honestly felt nothing. The final payoff is nothing more than Rey moving rocks and the Resistance escaping. Hoping to restart the Rebellion. It all ends with a tacked on pre-credits scene revealing a stable boy to be Force sensitive…

26. The Last Jedi

Rey finds Luke Skywalker

The Last Jedi is a lot like The Empire Strikes Back in terms of story structure. Expect it’s inferior in every way. There’s villains striking back, ship troubles, a Jedi master training the hero on a remote planet, a prophetic vision, a desperate battle on a white planet with Walkers, and Master Yoda. Parts of Return of the Jedi occur with a Dark lord pitting the hero and villain against each other in a throne room. Despite the obvious similarities, The Last Jedi doesn’t understand what makes Star Wars special. Disney clearly didn’t think this trilogy through. They were so desperate to recapture the original trilogy that they thought different directors meant better movies. J. J. Abrams had ideas for the sequel, but Rian Johnson threw it all out to do his own thing. Kinda like what happened with George Lucas. Johnson has said multiple times that he prefers divisive filmmaking. That should have been a major redflag.

The Star Wars saga revels in tradition. So the lack of wilhelm screams, barely any screen wipes, a flashback, and no one saying “I have a bad feeling about this” is infuriating. As are the lack of answers for anything. Snoke is nobody, Rey’s parents are nobody, nothing matters. Subverting expectations isn’t clever, it’s lazy. Then there are other problems that Disney continues to make. I like a good space battle and blaster fight as much as the next fan, but it’s the only thing The Last Jedi seems to care about. I wanna see a lightsaber duel. Instead it’s just Rey and Kylo Ren fighting a group of disposable Royal guard knock offs. I’m so sick of weapons that aren’t lightsabers using kyber technology. Not to mention Luke and Rey fighting with sticks and Finn using a shocking weapon on Phasma. Other battles range from visually appealing, but average to completely illogical. People gasped when lightspeed was used as a weapon, but even if that did make sense, why has no one tried it before?

Johnson seems to think the Force is just magic. Communicating across distances and astral projection were only created for story purposes. The whole movie is one big car chase in space that lasts 2 hours & 32 minutes. Why did it need to be that long?  Far too much is packed in that leads nowhere. Since the codebreaker was a traitor, the entire Canto Bight sidequest was meaningless. No wonder it wasn’t featured in promotional material. Don’t get me started on the aliens and casino that’s barely different from our own. Plus the CGI is prequel quality. Practical effects were still a priority, but it’s once again questionable. I’m not surprised Yoda is a puppet, but it couldn’t look less believable. New planets are slightly more memorable. Except that Craite is an obvious stand in for Hoth. A soldier had to taste the ground just to confirm its salt. The red dust is a striking image, but The Last Jedi goes overboard with red.

Just like it goes overboard with humor. Star Wars is not Marvel for crying out loud. Quit undercutting every dramatic moment with jokes. So many bizarre moments were turned into memes. Luke drinking a space cow’s milk, Leia floating through space, and shirtless Kylo Ren don’t belong in Star Wars. Just like a forced agenda doesn’t belong. Remember when Star Wars used to be a timeless tale of good vs. evil. I don’t want to think about identity politics, why war profiteering is bad, or see Chewie refusing to eat meat because Porgs make sad faces. I just want a fun escape from the real world. Nearly every character suffers due to more effort being put into that. Even Mark Hamill agrees Luke Skywalker would never give up and become a cynical coward. I should have cried when Luke died gazing at a binary sunset, but I just couldn’t feel for this version of Luke. I couldn’t stop crying the moment I discovered Carrie Fisher passed away. So it’s a real shame she was sidelined and unable to complete her journey as Leia. At least I’ll always treasure her moment with Hamill.

Daisy Ridley continues to give Rey no defining personality and barely any reason to care about someone as powerful as her. Oscar Isaac has more to do as Poe, but he’s continually pushed around. The same happens to Domhnall Gleeson. Turning Hux into a sniveling joke. John Boyega is robbed of any chance to do something meaningful with Finn. Without Phasma and without sacrifice, his arc is over. Andy Serkis is equally robbed with Snoke’s casual death. Anthony Daniels has nothing to do as 3PO, R2 is sidelined, and BB-8 is an action droid. All the new characters feel wrong. DJ is lame and I don’t get Benicio del Toro’s weird stutter. I couldn’t care less about Laura Dern as Vice Admiral purple hair. And I truly feel sorry for Kelly Marie Tran being connected to a pointless character like Rose. Adam Driver is the only one who manages to keep Kylo Ren interesting, but even he tries to kill the past. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why The Last Jedi was scored so high or why it made so much money. Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi felt like an insult to a franchise I’ve loved since I was a child. “May the Force be with you.”

27. The Last Jedi

Chewie flies with a Porg

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens & Followed by: Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker

Save the Rebellion, Save the Dream

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was made for the sole purpose of fixing one of the biggest plot holes in Star Wars history. After Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars, they made it clear that it would be one of their major franchises. That didn’t fully sink in until after Rogue One entered serious production. Since Star Wars is an overarching saga, I had no idea what to think about anthology films. It was strange seeing 2 Star Wars movies in a row, but Disney was sure to make Rogue One as different as possible. Without losing important hallmarks of the franchise. Notable changes include a lack of opening crawl, no John Williams score, cutting without wacky screen wipes, and a lapse of time. Of course “A Star Wars Story” was tacked on so as to not confuse casual moviegoers.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens became the third highest grossing movie of all time, so Rogue One was worthy of anticipation before the next “Episode” came out. Rogue One is the only Star Wars movie based on an opening crawl. Events are meant to match up to the one’s preceding A New Hope. The idea to answer the question of how the Death Star plans were stolen is as old as the unproduced TV series Star Wars: Underworld. It was revived as Rogue One and Godzilla director Gareth Edwards was chosen to direct. Despite having no involvement whatsoever, George Lucas gave the film his seal of approval. SPOILER ALERT! (for non-fans mostly)…

23. Rogue One

Jyn and company prepare to steal the Death Star plans

Rogue One thankfully begins with “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” after the Lucasfilm Ltd. logo, but it just feels hollow without an opening crawl. Instead all the backstory is shown in the first ever extended flashback sequence in Star Wars. Frequent villainous actor Mads Mikkelsen plays former Imperial scientist Galen Erso. The Empire tracks him down to the vacant planet Lah’mu. Equally frequent villainous actor Ben Mendelsohn is the never before seen Imperial weapons developer Commander Krennic. Erso is forcefully taken to work on the Death Star. His wife is killed, but his daughter Jyn escapes. Leaving Saw Gerrera to raise her. Rogue One is the first Star Wars movie to directly reference something from the extended universe. Saw Gerrera actually first appeared in The Clone Wars as a young war rebel who suffered a great lose in the name of victory. Now he’s a radicalized Rebel extremist. Forest Whitaker is a terrific actor, but I’m not sure what he’s trying to do. Gerrera’s horse voice, cybernetic replacements, and extreme methods all seem very random.

15 years later, Jyn Erso grows into Felicity Jones. The second beautiful British brunette heroine in a row. Jyn is rebellious, wants to find her father, and that’s about all we learn about her. Meanwhile on several less than memorable planets in the galaxy, defected Empire cargo pilot Bodhi Rook gets a hologram from Galen, Rebel spy Cassian Andor learns that the completion of the Death Star is imminent, and he rescues Jyn with his large reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO. He may be just another droid with a big personality, but Alan Tudyk is genuinely funny as K-2SO. Thankfully Rogue One isn’t reliant on humor. Jyn is brought to the Rebel Alliance on Yavin 4. Despite Disney wanting to distance themselves from the prequels as much as possible, I was pleased to see Jimmy Smits and Genevieve O’Reilly reprise their Revenge of the Sith roles as Bail Organa and Mon Mothma respectively. The interesting thing about O’Reilly is that she only appeared in a deleted scene beforehand. Mothma instructs Jyn to join the Rebellion in order to find her father. Unaware Cassian is there to take him out. Diego Luna plays Cassian as a morally ambiguous Han Solo clone.

Jyn, Cassian, and K2 are sent to find Gerrera on Jedha (yet another desert planet). They discover a city where kyber crystals are being mined for the Death Star. Hardcore Star Wars fans will recognize them as the primary power source for lightsabers. While there, the Rebels make allies with heavy blaster mercenary Baze Malbus and blind maybe Jedi Guardian of the Whills Chirrut Îmwe. They’re cool looking characters, but I can’t remember their names to save my life. When they meet Bodhi in Gerrera’s prison, Galen’s message reveals he’s built a hidden weakness into the Death Star. So the Death Star being easily blown up by a simple blast from a torpedo isn’t just serious oversight. Meanwhile on the Death Star, Krennic discusses a test fire with a familiar face. Obviously it doesn’t make sense for Grand Moff Tarkin not to appear, but I don’t think anyone was expecting this. The late Peter Cushing is brought back from the dead with unsettling CGI reconstruction. By using old movies as reference. This is the only time I’d say that technology goes too far. A low power shot is fired at Jeddah where the Rebels escape, but Gerrara is killed in the process.

Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, and Luna all make for an ethnically diverse band of mostly one dimensional characters. With the message lost, Jyn and the Rebels instead locate Galen on the foggy planet Eadu. It doesn’t amount to much since Galen is killed by Rebel bombers after revealing his betrayal to Krennic. Krennic is then sent to Darth Vader’s castle on a planet that’s obviously Mustafar. Vader’s presence is indescribable, but you can hear the age in James Earl Jones’ voice. Plus the random scene is only included to show off Vader’s signature Force choking. Rogue One really picks up when Jyn and the rest of her Rebel team go rogue by hijacking an Imperial ship. Calling themselves “Rogue One,” they finally attempt to steal the plans from the Empire. They can be found on the beach planet Scarif in an Imperial compound’s crane operated archives. Jyn, Cassian, and K2 disguise themselves as Imperials in order to find the plans. Chirrut, Baze, and Bodhi hold off AT-AT’s and attempt to send out a transmission.

The Rebels learn about their plan and everyone takes an X-Wing for back up. It just wouldn’t be Star Wars without a cameo from R2-D2 and Anthony Daniels as C-3PO. Rebels fans will also recognize the name Hera Syndulla. It’s not as noticable, but important Rebel pilots are also digitally recreated. While the Mon Calamari are key to the battle as well. Since this is a prequel, don’t expect any of the new rogues to survive. The plans are successfully transmitted, but each hero dies one by one until the Death Star takes out everyone else. Leading to the greatest Star Wars scene Disney has ever produced. Darth Vader ignites his lightsaber and takes out a hallway full of terrified Rebels. That scene alone proves Vader will always be the most intimidating force in the galaxy and is well worth the price of admission. Now that requires a PG-13 rating. The lead up to A New Hope matches perfectly when Captain Antilles hands the plans over to a hopeful Princess Leia. Her CGI recreation is so brief that you barely notice if it’s convincing or not.

Rogue One went to greater lengths in recreating the original trilogy. Blasters, Stormtrooper armor, and specific costumes were even used from the original film. The callbacks are occasionally on the nose (like showing the cantina thugs), but it’s just nice to see familiar aliens and droids for a change. Michael Giacchino is no John Williams, but his score at least captures its war theme. Although Gareth Edwards was a fine director, it’s obvious from the trailers that a lot was re-shot. Specifically the omission of the cheesy line “I rebel.” Luckily Disney maintained the dark tone of a story where everyone dies. I just wish the rest the movie wasn’t so drab and colorless. Rogue One takes time to get to the action, but when it does, you’ll find it’s a surprisingly entertaining way to build on the Star Wars mythos. “May the Force be with you.”

24. Rogue One

Darth Vader confronts Krennic

Chewie, We’re Home

Star Wars: The Force Awakens or as it’s officially designated, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is the safe reintroduction to the Star Wars saga. With 10 years between Revenge of the Sith and a 32 year chronological gap between Return of the Jedi, I honestly never thought I’d see more Star Wars movies. I was perfectly happy with Star Wars: The Clone Wars, video games, comics, toys, LEGO, and anything else that was still being made at the time. All the hardcore Star Wars fans know George Lucas envisioned Stars Wars as a 9 Episode saga. The original trilogy first, the prequel trilogy second, and the sequel trilogy third. Lucas’ advancing age and unwillingness to get things started lead to his fateful decision to sell his creation to the corporate overlords at Disney.

I was stunned by the decision, but I can’t deny my overwhelming excitement. I didn’t even question the choice of director J. J. Abrams too much. The Force Awakens title felt like Star Wars, the trailer filled me with nostalgia, yet offered something new, and every tiny bit of information was worth analysis. Although we considered going with our parents, Star Wars was always something my brother and I were more dedicated to. Seeing Star Wars on the big screen again, surrounded by like minded fans, was indescribable. I was so overwhelmed by nostalgia and possibility that I didn’t let the full impact of the movie sink in until way later. As the least controversial installment in the sequel trilogy, The Force Awakens is technically the best. SPOILER ALERT! (now might be the time)…

20. The Force Awakens

Rey and Finn flee

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… continues to give me chills everytime I read it. Lack of the 20th Century Fox theme is disappointing, but no one wants to see the Disney logo before Star Wars. Now it’s just an anti-climactic silent Lucasfilm Ltd. logo. I couldn’t resist humming along to John Williams’ nostalgic theme, although none of his new stuff stands out. The opening crawl makes it clear that Luke Skywalker won’t be around for most of the movie. With only unanswered questions left about why he’s the last Jedi. 32 years after Return of the Jedi, the Galactic Empire and Rebel Alliance have been replaced by knock off versions calling themselves the First Order and Resistance. The Republic has been rebuilt, but the First Order seeks to destroy it. Since she’s now older than a Princess, General Leia Organa leads the Resistance in a search for her brother.

The Force Awakens opens on the desert planet Jakku. It’s like Tatooine, but different somehow. Ace Resistance pilot Poe Dameron is there to receive a clue about Luke’s whereabouts. Unfortunately, the First Order is not far behind. Stormtroopers are once again the army that’s used. They just have sleeker armor and are slightly better shots. Their commander and Dark side Force user is Kylo Ren. The most intriguing new character made for Star Wars at the time. His black helmet and modulated voice gave off Darth Vader vibes and his three-pronged lightsaber (however impractical) was awesome to see. Although I couldn’t help but question his new Force abilities. Specifically stopping blaster fire midair, unlocking someone’s mind with the Force, and making someone faint with it. Before Poe’s capture, he gives the map to BB-8. Basically a droid shaped like an orange beach ball. All the devastation left on Jakku becomes too much for one Stormtrooper in particular. FN-2187 is sent away by chrome armored female Stormtrooper Captain Phasma. Another interesting new character. Only FN-2187 escapes with Poe in exchange for safe passage out of the First Order. The resulting TIE fighter chase earns him the name Finn.

Finn is mostly just the comic relief, but his rejection of the First Order at least gives him more of a personal journey. He essentially joins the Resistance the moment Poe is presumed dead. We’re then introduced to Rey. A lowly staff wielding scavenger who earns food trading parts she finds from decaying Star Destroyers. We learn everything we need to know about her in her silent introduction. She’s a dreamer longing for a way off her planet. Rey’s life changes the second she saves BB-8. Even more when she bumps into Finn. Leading the First Order directly to them. Take one guess which ship they end up escaping on. That’s right, an abandoned Millennium Falcon. Rey is apparently an expert pilot who gets them out of a ground level encounter with TIE fighters. While making repairs to the ship, Finn entrusts BB-8 with his secret and the Falcon is boarded by none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca. It’s like Han and Chewie never left. Han is grumpier, but time has opened his eyes to bigger things in the galaxy. He essentially takes on the role of Ben Kenobi by becoming a mentor figure. Trying his best to explain the Force and how Luke exiled himself after failing to train a new generation of Jedi.

Everything comes to a sudden halt when Han negotiates with rival gangs and monstrous Rathtars attack. After that pointless detour, Han takes everyone to meet a Resistance ally on Takodana (a forest planet I guess). Meanwhile, Kylo Ren learns of Solo’s involvement by speaking with Supreme Leader Snoke. A villainous Dark lord with limitless possibilities who reveals Kylo to be the son of Han & Leia. On Takodana, Han, Rey, Finn, and BB-8 go to see Maz Kanata in her castle cantina. Maz is an ancient alien with a mysterious connection to the Force. Rey discovers that she somehow found Luke’s lightsaber after it fell in The Empire Strikes Back. It gives Rey a vision that leaves open so many unanswered questions about her past and Force sensitivity. Before anything is answered, the First Order strikes back at the New Republic by taking out 4 planets at once. The blast came from Starkiller Base. Basically the Death Star if it was attached to planet Hoth. Kylo Ren and an army of Stormtroopers arrive on Takodana and in the confusion, Rey is captured, Finn uses the lightsaber, and Poe & the Resistance fly in to help.

That’s when Leia and Han finally reunite after spending time apart. Of course they’re interrupted by C-3PO. Meanwhile at their base on D’Qar, R2-D2 is powered down in Luke’s absence. You know the drill, the Resistance discuss a plan to destroy Starkiller Base. The plan consists of Han, Chewie, and Finn avoiding detection with lightspeed and planting explosives directly on the Base. Finn is more interested in saving Rey who manages to easily escape on her own. After resisting an unmasked Kylo Ren and casually using a Jedi mind trick on a suave Stormtrooper. Everyone reunites, but Han attempts to reason with his son. Revealing his name to be Ben Solo. Despite the lack of personal connection Han or Leia had with Obi-Wan. In their heart stopping exchange, Ben chooses the Dark side. The death of a famous character is emotional, but I saw it coming from a mile away. So I didn’t manage to cry, but you can feel the pain in Chewie’s growls.

Finn and Rey escape as X-Wing pilots take out more of Starkiller Base. While running through the snow, Kylo Ren stands between them. Finn’s lack of Force sensitivity cuts their lightsaber duel short. Although I didn’t know what it meant at the time, I found Rey dramatically summoning Luke’s lightsaber to be very cheerworthy. Their duel is intense and just fast enough to feel exciting. It ends when Ren is scarred and the crumbling planet separates them before exploding into a sun. Back at the Base, Han is mourned, Finn is unconscious, R2 wakes up in time to complete Luke’s map, and Leia sends Rey, R2, and Chewie off on the Falcon to find him. Rey finds Luke on Ahch-To where she presents him with his father’s lightsaber. Ending with the first ever Star Wars cliffhanger…

ep7_ia_175875_j

Han Solo and Chewbacca return to the Millennium Falcon

The Force Awakens is a lot like A New Hope in terms of story structure. And by “a lot like,” I mean it’s practically a remake. There’s a longing orphan living on a desert planet, a dictatorial regime of Stormtroopers lead by a helmet wearing villain cloaked in black, a McGuffin hidden in a droid sought after by resisting heroes, a cantina, a planet destroying super weapon, the death of a mentor (followed by a big “No!”), and so much more. Among other things, lack of originality is really the biggest problem with The Force Awakens. But it was practically a studio requirement. Even when fans criticized his decisions, George Lucas remained passionate about Star Wars. I won’t act like all his ideas for the sequel trilogy sounded great, but Disney throwing them out completely was a low blow. Plus there were perfectly good extended universe stories that could have been used. Disney and newly appointed Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy essentially hijacked Lucas’ franchise to make it however they wanted. Which meant playing it safe with a throwback that would please fans. As well as releasing it around the toy friendly Christmas season instead of the traditional May.

I was never a huge Trekkie, but I have to admit J. J. Abrams leaving Star Trek for Star Wars felt like a betrayal. But I didn’t question Abrams too much because I knew he was in a difficult position. How to awaken a dormant franchise, please fans, do something new, and not repeat the mistakes of the prequels? I’d say he did well enough to earn the biggest box-office gross of the saga. So The Force Awakens refers to both the Force and Star Wars. Several decisions were made to recapture the feel of the original trilogy. The Force Awakens was shot on film, practical effects were a priority, and CGI was minimized. I understand the decision, but not every practical effect looks convincing. Why does something from the 80’s look better than something created now? You can see all the hard work that was put into the aliens and droids, but some just feel off. I’m not crazy about the lack of familiar Star Wars aliens. Outside of key characters like Chewie, Admiral Ackbar, or Nien Nunb. Easily the best practical effect is BB-8. I’m still trying to figure out how his sphere technology works.

CGI mostly went to fighter battles, lightsabers, and sparse motion capture characters. Notably Supreme Leader Snoke and Maz Kanata. Planets were almost entirely shot on location. Sure it’s not artificial, but some settings feel less memorable because of it. Outside of Jakku, how many other new planets can you name off the top of your head? Another franchise tradition was the use of newcomers and A-listers. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford were all in vastly different places before agreeing to return. Hamill preferred voice acting, Fisher limited herself mostly to cameos, and Ford continued making blockbusters. Hamil and Fisher had to lose weight, but Ford was still in perfect shape. Out of the 3, Han Solo has the biggest role and it’s like he never left the Millennium Falcon. I know Fisher grew more snarky over the years, but she brings a weary optimism to an older Leia. I’ll always treasure the brief moments she spends with Ford. Of course the sheer lack of Luke Skywalker in promotional material was suspicious. It only gave more anticipation to Hamill’s eventual appearance. I can’t say I was expecting long hair & a Jedi beard.

Although they were relegated to minor roles, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, and Kenny Baker were welcomed legacy actors too. C-3PO & R2-D2 are the heart of Star Wars afterall. New faces included British actors Daisy Ridley and John Boyega. Both of whom appeared in small independent work beforehand. Their casting was meant to add more diversity, but the idea of a black Stormtrooper or one carrying a lightsaber wasn’t exactly new. Boyega is fine as Finn, but his over reliance of semi-comedic banter doesn’t feel natural. Neither does his friendship with Rey or Poe. In fact, most character interactions feel artificial. Plus the humor feels forced at times. Ridley does an admirable job as Rey, but it’s difficult to judge her personality when she’s perfect at everything. At least her hairstyle & staff wielding gave her potential as an icon. Poe Dameron is basically a Han Solo clone, except he could have been killed off before they realized Oscar Isaac had more potential. It’s ironic that the roles are reversed with his Ex_Machina co-star Domhnall Gleeson. General Hux is a ruthless Nazi-esque Commander, but the Stormtrooper salute is a bit on the nose.

Adam Driver is the best new actor playing the best new character. It’s obvious from his name that Kylo Ren isn’t a Sith, but his idealization of Darth Vader is clear. In fact most of The Force Awakens is characters appreciating the original trilogy. The Knights of Ren, a brand new crossguard lightsaber, his fun to imitate voice, and moral complexity were all key to making Kylo Ren an intriguing new character. Gwendoline Christie had just as much potential as Captain Phasma, but she’s thrown out just like Boba Fett. The biggest new A-listers were Andy Serkis and Lupita Nyong’o. Serkis maintains his motion capture credibility as the unusually mysterious deformed villain Snoke. While Nyong’o is practically unrecognizable as Maz Kanata. Since Star Wars was a big deal for everyone, a multitude of big name actors make cameos. Abrams favorites Simon Pegg and Dominic Monaghan, 007 himself Daniel Craig as a Stormtrooper, and even Carrie Fisher’s daughter Billie Lourd. The Force Awakens continued to favor a PG-13 rating. Only it feels more forced when characters randomly swear and blood is shown indiscriminately. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens succeeds with nostalgia, but that’ll only get Disney so far. “May the Force be with you.”

22. The Force Awakens

Kylo Ren confronts Rey and Finn

Preceded by: Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi & Followed by: Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi