It Was Beauty Killed the Beast

King Kong (2005) is the most affectionate remake I’ve ever seen. After the immense success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, everyone wondered what Oscar winning director Peter Jackson would do next. I don’t think anyone was expecting the third remake of a 1933 classic. As I said in my King Kong (1976) review, the rights were split between two seperate studios. Universal first approached Jackson with a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake in the 90’s, but changed their strategy when they learned King Kong (1933) was his favorite movie of all time. Even as a child Jackson had nothing but sympathy for the big ape. Skull Island is actually referenced in his movie Braindead.

When Godzilla (1998) failed and other ape remakes started to come out, production was halted. Until The Return of the King made Jackson the most bankable director in Hollywood. King Kong (2005) is a rare passionate remake made with nothing but love and respect for the original. All Jackson did was give it the same level of dedication he did with The Lord of the Rings. Detail in every frame, breathtaking special effects, three-dimensional characters, and a lengthy 3 hour & 21 minute runtime. King Kong (2005) was a major obsession for my brother and I growing up. After our mom showed us the original, the three us saw the remake in theaters and fell in love with it. I had a Kong doll, a Skull Island field guide, and my brother was especially obsessed with completing the official tie-in video game…

7. King Kong 2005

King Kong holds Ann Darrow

King Kong (2005) is part homage, part epic. Only Peter Jackson could take an hour and a half film and make it three hours. Even though there are several new additions that could’ve been trimmed down or removed, I can safely say I was never bored. The perfect three-act structure is maintained with each act being roughly an hour long. That means more than an hour until we finally get a glimpse of Kong. In the meantime, an almost excessive amount of time is spent in New York and on a very long boat ride. Unlike the 1976 remake, King Kong (2005) is a period piece set in 1933 like the original. Basic ideas are either elaborated upon or given added depth. Ann Darrow is now a struggling vaudeville actress who falls on hard times during the Great Depression. Naomi Watts looks the part of the classic beautiful blonde woman, but Ann is more than just a pretty face. Her motivation for accepting a movie role is much more understandable.

Carl Denham has the same passionate motivation to complete his picture on Skull Island, but his recklessness gets him blacklisted and nearly arrested. Casting singer/comedian Jack Black as the iconic 1930’s director is one of the most bizzare casting choices of all time. Most of the time I can accept his Orson Welles-esque performance, but other times it feels like he could go full School of Rock any minute. Denham hires Ann with the promise that she’ll meet her favorite playwright. Rather than a strapping first mate action hero, Jack Driscoll is now an average screenwriter forced to stay on the Venture. Adrien Brody is more than capable of playing the charming love interest and the unlikely hero. The Venture is full of mystery and a crew with far more characterization.

Captain Englehorn is now a nonsense hands on German ship captain played by Thomas Kretschmann. Colin Hanks plays Carl’s undervalued personal assistant Preston. Jamie Bell is given an entire subplot as a troublemaking teenager named Jimmy who wants to prove himself. Evan Parke plays his African American mentor Hayes who has World War I training. Andy Serkis does double duty by physically playing the crusty ship’s cook Lumpy. Lord of the Rings composer Howard Shore originally returned before he was replaced by James Newton Howard. The role of strapping action hero is literally filled by Kyle Chandler as famous actor Bruce Baxter. Some of the more sexist dialogue from the original is cleverly worked into the remake as a scene in Denham’s picture. Jack has nothing but respect for Ann as he writes her a play and they fall in love. When they finally reach Skull Island, Englehorn is adamant about turning back.

Denham leads a small crew through what appears to be the ruins of a lost civilization. The always necessary island natives are a no win situation no matter the interpretation. These natives are much more tribal and savage. Their skin is dark brown, but each native is actually portrayed by a variety of non-white ethnicities. They kill crew members before returning to capture Ann. Her sacrifice is grander with a complex bridge extending from their great wall. Kong is at first veiled in shadow, but his first full appearance doesn’t disappoint. Kong is often labeled a monster due to his burly upright appearance. Jackson instead made the creative decision to focus on a Kong that was essentially a massive 25 foot tall silverback gorilla. This Kong is still a little monstrous with black fur, sharp teeth, and many battle scars. My very in-depth Skull Island field guide explains Kong’s origin as a 100 year old Megaprimatus who is the last of his kind.

This is by far the most sympathetic King Kong ever put to film. His relationship with Ann is more than mere infatuation. Ann screams at first, but they come to form a deep mutual understanding. She even surprisingly makes him laugh by performing her vaudeville routine. Kong’s lifelike ape mannerisms are thanks to the always brilliant stop-motion work of Andy Serkis. After Gollum, Serkis was sure to bring just as much dedication to even the most subtle gorilla movements. The CGI is absolutely stunning on Kong, Skull Island, and a 1930’s New York. It’s part of the reason King Kong (2005) was the most expensive movie made at the time. Just as much detail is given to the dinosaurs that inhabit Skull Island. Each with a fictional name like Vastatosaurus rex that separates it a bit from something like Jurassic Park.

The only iffy effect is a herd of stampeding Brontosaurus baxteri that Denham and his crew are somehow able to survive. They’re also chased by raptor-like Venatosaurus saevidicus. Other terrifying creatures like the Piranhadon didn’t make the final cut. What did make the final cut was a scene that was originally intended for the 1933 original. After Kong overturns a log with the crew, they fall into a disturbing pit full of giant insects. The Carnictis worm thing that eats Lumpy is particularly icky. King Kong (2005) doesn’t recreate everything, but the fight between Kong and a T-Rex was an absolute must. The primal fight is increased big time with not one, not two, but three V. Rexes against Kong. It’s a truly exciting match that sees Kong juggle Ann from his hands to his feet in a desperate attempt to fend of the beasts. Each are killed one by one until Kong breaks the last ones jaw just like the original. Concluding with a satisfying chest pound.

Ann willingly stays with Kong and even teaches him the sign for beautiful. She’s still rescued by Jack when Kong is distracted by attacking rat-bats called Terapusmordax. Although I still wouldn’t label him a villain, Denham does begin to make rash decisions when his camera is destroyed. He lures Kong to the wall where the natives are nowhere to be seen. Not that Kong doesn’t kill a few of the attacking crewmembers. When stunned by chloroform, Denham makes his classic declaration to put “Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!” on broadway. The New York show has all the familiar beats of Denham making a statement, Kong chained up on stage, and everyone in town coming to see it. Since Ann feels for Kong, she doesn’t take part in the show. A stage number pays homage to the dancing natives, but Kong breaking loose is now caused by another actress playing Ann. Kong rampages through the city with most of his anger focused on Jack. Kong does grab blonde women that look like Ann, but he drops them from a safer distance.

Unlike any other interpretation, Ann walks directly to Kong and they enjoy a moment together before the military arrives. Kong makes his way to an epic climax atop the Empire State Building. The sequence honors the original by having Peter Jackson cameo as an airplane pilot. The fight is both thrilling and emotional. Much like the V. Rex battle, Kong manages to take out three airplanes instead of one. Ann desperately pleading for them to stop and Kong falling to his death makes me cry everytime. In fact, Jackson loves Kong so much that he created an alternate ending where he survives just for the video game. Unfortunately, Kong meets his iconic fate and Denham delivers his final line that “It wasn’t the airplanes, It was Beauty killed the Beast.” Something Fay Wray nearly said before passing away. Although not the same kind of Academy Awards favorite as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong (2005) nevertheless won 3 Oscars. Best Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and of course Visual Effects. King Kong (2005) is a larger than life companion piece that appreciates cinematic history.

8. King Kong 2005

King Kong vs. the V. Rex

Remake of: King Kong (1933)

I Drink Your Milkshake!

There Will Be Blood struck oil in a big way. Hailed as one of the best films of the 21st Century, There Will Be Blood follows events from the 19th-20th Century oil boom. The story was a very loose adaptation of Oil! by Upton Sinclair. I have no interest in oil production, but I knew I needed to see the movie for Daniel Day-Lewis’ critically acclaimed performance. It was enough to earn Day-Lewis his second Academy Award for Best Actor. There Will Be Blood follows a prospector turned oil tycoon named Daniel Plainview.

Day-Lewis disappears in the role of a greedy oil rich man in search of more land. It’s his slow descent into madness that really lives up to the title. Plainview seems to care for his only son H. W., but it’s not long before he abandons his child and admits it was all a ploy to boost his image. Plainview is almost the embodiment of Mark 8:36. Since his struggle with faith repeatedly clashes with business partner Eli Sunday. Paul Dano deserved just as much appreciation for his dual performance as an exaggerated young preacher who has almost schoolyard confrontations with Plainview.

The most memorable part is the ending where a Plainview who’s officially descended into madness, taunts Eli with the out of nowhere line “I drink your milkshake!” The easiest way to understand how oil drilling works. I haven’t seen many Paul Thomas Anderson movies, but I wouldn’t argue that this is his finest work. Even with an extended runtime, the Best Picture nominated There Will Be Blood keeps you engaged with powerful scenery and an old fashioned score with sinister undertones. “I’m finished.”

There Will Be Blood

Daniel taunts Eli

Chariots on Fire

Ben-Hur (2016) is what happens when you try to remake a classic. After 4 previous adaptations of the 1880 novel, there’s just no way to improve upon the 1959 Best Picture winner. But the 2010’s saw a beautiful resurgence of Biblical faith based movies. So I was cautiously open to the idea. Then I got nervous the more Hollywood it ended up looking. Just like with Noah, the material isn’t handled with enough care. Ben-Hur (2016) is more concerned with a brotherly relationship between Judah Ben-Hur and Messala. Jack Huston doesn’t have Charlton Heston’s presence. While Messala’s dedication as a Roman is given far too much attention to the point he barely feels like a villain. Or maybe it’s just Toby Kebbell’s sympathetic portrayal.

One of many sloppy changes made to this reimagining. Esther has a bigger role, but her marriage to Judah is hastier. Judah’s enslavement is less of an accident when Jewish “zealots” are involved. His mother & sister are taken away, but he’s barely motivated by seeing them again. The galley battle that follows, feels inconsequential without rescuing a Roman. It’s clear that they care more about building everything around the chariot race. Morgan Freeman distracts with a larger portrayal of chariot trainer Sheik. You can’t really go wrong with the race in any interpretation, but it is talk heavy. The CGI is more distracting in the galley scene.

Ben-Hur (2016) tries to preach forgiveness in the end, but I wish it was supported by their portrayal of Jesus Christ. They make the mistake of showing Jesus in the most casual way possible. No weight is given to the water scene without an unseen presence. By the Crucifixion, I felt like Rodrigo Santoro as Jesus would have worked better in his own movie, instead of this mediocre one. It doesn’t help that Ben-Hur’s mother & sister’s leprosy feels like an afterthought. Ben-Hur could have been a major success like its predecessor if only they stuck to the scripture.

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur rides his chariot

Remake of: Ben-Hur (1959)

The Great Chariot Race

Ben-Hur is one of the last great Biblical epics from classic Hollywood. Since there was a silent version of the 1880 novel released in 1925, that technically makes it a remake. One of the greatest remakes of all time. Since Ben-Hur was such a magnet for records, milestones, and cinematic firsts upon its release. In fact, Ben-Hur is one of my mom’s top favorite movies she’s ever seen. It was released in her birth year, 1959 (hence why I’m reviewing it on her birthday). I always knew I needed to see Ben-Hur, but the 3 hour & 44 minute runtime was daunting.

My lifetime knowledge of the Bible and seeing the silent film helped me to familiarize myself with the story. So I barely felt the extended runtime. Granted the length does include an overture and intermission. Ben-Hur was by far the biggest movie made at the time. Sets were the biggest ever built, props & wardrobe were in the hundreds, actors & animals were in the thousands, and all were established a year in advance. That’s not even factoring in the three month shooting of the great chariot race. I wish Christian epics like Ben-Hur still had this level of dedication. It’s a miracle everything came together so well…

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur rides his chariot

Ben-Hur is the same story told in the novel and silent film, but changes were made in places. Most were done to increase the length and dramatic weight. Now characters are more complex with better character development. When you wanted a great Bible epic, you called Charlton Heston. It already worked so well in The Ten Commandments. It’s mostly the reason why Heston is one of my mom’s favorite actors. Since he appeared in so many of her childhood films. I value him too, so it increased my appreciation of Judah Ben-Hur. His life as a wealthy Jewish prince in Jerusalem is given more attention. Along with his close friendship with childhood friend turned Roman tribune Messala. You can really see the anguish between them, as they know they can’t be friends anymore. The ways of the Romans turn Messala towards evil. While Ben-Hur remains faithful to his Jewish people. His relationship with freed slave Esther is given more weight as well.

Ben-Hur is betrayed by Messala after an accident and separated from his mother Miriam & sister Tirzah. He fights back a bit more, but that’s not enough to save him from enslavement aboard a galley. The large scale rowing is just as grand as the battle that follows. Miniatures were used in that scene and I couldn’t tell the difference. Heston’s Ben-Hur is a bit more vengeful in his quest to return home. He’s adopted by the Roman Consul after he saves his life and a promising chariot racing career follows. Hugh Griffith received just as much admiration for his role as Judah’s spirited chariot sponsor. It’s only after thinking his mother & sister are dead that he pursues his vengeance against Messala. When in reality, Esther is the only one who knows they have leprosy. The most isolating disease anyone could get at the time.

The chariot race is one of the most epic climaxes ever filmed. The grandeur was so big that an ultra wide screen was needed. The race is fast paced excitement with very real danger. Racers flipped off their chariots, horses run into each other, and Messala popularized the bladed wheel method. He also cheats when he starts whipping Ben-Hur. The race may be won, but his family is still missing. What makes Ben-Hur truly important is the parallel between Judah and Jesus Christ. As a Christian, I of course recognize every important moment. From the Nativity to the Sermon on the Mount to the Crucifixion. Every scene filled me with emotion without ever seeing my savior’s face. My favorite scene will always be Jesus giving a thirsty Ben-Hur water. The Roman’s awestruck reaction is a nice touch too. The encounter drives Judah, but he does struggle with faith at first.

Esther listens to the Sermon, so she’s the one who encourages her husband’s step towards Christianity. They take his mother & sister to the heartbreaking Crucifixion where Judah returns the favor of water. My mom cries every time a miraculous rain storm cures them of their leprosy. Ben-Hur is truly a wonder to behold years later. So much detail was put into the multitude of sets. It may have been a massive film to complete, but William Wyler pulled it off. It helps that he was a Jew that understood the importance of the material. Despite its enormous budget, Ben-Hur became the second highest grossing film of all time. Encouraging it to win a record 11 Academy Awards. Best Picture, Director William Wyler, Actor Charlton Heston, Supporting Actor Hugh Griffith, Art Direction, Cinematography, Costume Design, Special Effects, Film Editing, Music, and Sound Recording. The only Oscar it didn’t win was for Screenplay. Ben-Hur remains one of the grandest cinematic achievements of all time.

Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur rows the galley

Remake of: Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ

Glory of the Ages

Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ is the story of faith, revenge, and triumph over adversity. Ben-Hur is a tale known for generations. Ever since the book was published in 1880, then adapted as a 1907 short. Like many, I was only familiar with the most famous adaptation. Until I sought out the silent 1925 original. Which is just as impressive in its own right. I learned the story of Ben-Hur by watching this version.

Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy Jew betrayed by his childhood Roman friend Messala. Separated from his mother & sister, Ben-Hur vowed revenge. As he survived working on a slave galley, was adopted by its Roman admiral, grew as an athlete, and fell in love with Esther. The centerpiece of the story will always be the great climactic chariot race. I don’t know how they pulled it off back then, but it sure does hold up now. The sequence even features a who’s who of classic Hollywood stars in background roles.

Ben-Hur’s story is pure fiction, but it’s paired up with the reality of Jesus Christ. As both stories are done in tandem with Jesus as an unseen presence. These parts are extremely easy to follow since I know the tale of the Christ by heart. The moments they cross paths are pivotal with Jesus giving a thirsty Ben-Hur water and Jesus healing the sick before his crucifixion. Like the tagline says, every Christian outta see it. I’ve gotten used to silent films and the color isn’t always black & white. Scenes from the Bible are in Technicolor. As difficult as it may have been to film, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ remains an epic first step.

Ben-Hur A Tale of the Christ

Ben-Hur rides his chariot

I Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning

Apocalypse Now is horror and moral terror personified. After experiencing almost every facet of the Vietnam War, I feel like everything was leading up to this. Apocalypse Now is the war movie to end all war movies. The ultimate statement of the many horrors of war. Some have even called it the greatest movie ever made. Something famed director Francis Ford Coppola is no stranger to. Apocalypse Now would go on to become a definitive work from the New Hollywood Era of the 70’s. Inspiring countless imitators, parodies, and even an entire comedy paying homage to it. But the road to get there may be one of the most infamously trying in movie history.

You can’t blame me for being a little fascinated by that. The film was based on the 1899 novella Heart of Darkness. The Congo was just changed to Vietnam, among other differences. The Vietnam War is still one of the most controversial wars ever fought. Always an endurance test no matter the presentation. With a little help from his friend George Lucas, Coppola’s shoot took years to finish, went over budget, and drove the crew as insane as Vietnam itself. All of which can be seen in the documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse. Only the most passionate filmmaker could be dedicated enough to pull off something like Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning”

Apocalypse Now was already a challenge since no other screenwriter successfully adapted Heart of Darkness. George Lucas and writer John Milius were both too busy to director, so Francis Ford Coppola became involved. His familiarity with character driven epics makes him an ideal choice. Casting was the next headache since it became a who’s who of 1970’s Hollywood. Harvey Keitel was initially cast as the lead, Captain Willard, before being replaced by Martin Sheen. Sheen was so drunk and facing a mental breakdown during his infamous hotel scene that he cut his hand punching a mirror. Then he suffered a heart attack that halted production and had to be temporarily filled by his brother. I’d never guess his brother was the one performing all of the narration. Sheen’s subtle performance is just as great as all the other major stars.

Robert Duvall’s war obsessed Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore earned him an Oscar nod. His most iconic line being “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Young Harrison Ford even appears as one of the officers who wants Willard to terminate rogue Army Colonel Kurtz with extreme prejudice. Everything in Apocalypse Now leads to his reveal. Although plenty of uncomfortable war atrocities are seen including the “Ride of the Valkyries” beach scene, a river boat is the real setting. Willard is accompanied by a variety of Vietnam soldiers with the same secret mission. Albert Hall steers the boat and questions Willard’s leadership as Phillips. Frederic Forrest cooks up a notable performance as Chef. Sam Bottoms tries to bring levity to Lance, but ultimately loses it. A 14 year old Laurence (or Larry) Fishburne had to lie about his age just to play 17 year old Mr. Clean. Ironically turning 17 by the time shooting wrapped. He’s easily the most tragic figure in this unforgiving war.

Not even a Playboy Playmate performance can distract from their mission. As they’re forced to kill innocents and question their own morality. Until only two remain. Kurtz is said to have lost his mind and present himself as some sort of god to a Cambodian tribe. Dennis Hopper doesn’t help the assumption as a war photographer who calls him a poet. The reveal of Kurtz is practically mythical. Shrouding him in darkness with philosophical lines off the top of Marlon Brando’s head. Only an actor as brilliant as Brando could make that work. His weight was just an issue since more scenes with him would be difficult to pull off. Although Willard makes it to Kurtz, he’s unsure what to do next. Kurtz makes him question the war, his role in it, and the horrors he’s witnessed. Endings vary, but Willard finally decides to finish his mission. Rising from the river camouflaged in another iconic shot. Before becoming the very thing he sought to destroy.

Other filming difficulties included entire sets being destroyed, a payroll being stolen, strained actor relationships, and the killing of a real water buffalo. The movie wasn’t even finished when it first premiered. Even then the theatrical release wasn’t the only version. As a 3 hour Redux was made with more nudity and character moments. Then again with a Final Cut that Coppola prefers. The lack of opening and closing credits still confuses me though. No matter the version, Apocalypse Now captures the look and sound of Vietnam flawlessly. Whether it’s helicopters against an orange sun or use of “The End” by The Doors. Although the Academy Awards went with the safe choice, Apocalypse Now still earned 8 nominations. Best Picture, Director Francis Coppola, Supporting Actor Robert Duvall, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction, and Film Editing. Winning for Best Cinematography and Sound. Apocalypse Now is a lesson in perseverance that shows war for what it truly is. “The horror… the horror.”

Apocalypse Now

Willard rises from the river

Earn This…

Saving Private Ryan may be the most realistic war movie I’ve ever seen. A feat that’s earned it admiration as one of greatest movies ever made. I expect nothing less from Steven Spielberg. After tackling World War II in a variety of ways, the famed director never made an outright war picture. Along with an epic score from John Williams, Saving Private Ryan became just the project Spielberg was looking for. Like most people my age, Saving Private Ryan was something teachers showed in school. Since its opening accurately portrays WWII in explicit detail. While not as much as my brother who bares the movie’s name, that scene was all I saw for years. Only recently have I experienced the battle in all its glory.

Saving Private Ryan goes to great lengths in depicting the pivotal D-Day of 1944. As American troops made their Normandy landing on duck boats to Omaha Beach. The unrelenting conflict never lets up with brave men losing their lives and suffering horrific injuries. The impactful scene was part of the reason I needed to work myself up to watching the film. Saving Private Ryan refers to young soldier James F. Ryan who lost all three of his brothers to combat. To ease his mother’s suffering, George Marshall himself orders Captain John H. Miller and his men to bring Ryan home. What follows is an intense journey that tests the patience, morality, and stamina of these troops who must risk it all to save one man. Tom Hanks as Miller is a performance that made me respect him even more as a dramatic actor.

The entire cast is great, but what really threw me was just how many unexpected actors play a role. Paul Giamatti, Nathan Fillion, and even a young Vin Diesel take part. As if unceremoniously, Ryan is finally found in the form of Matt Damon. He doesn’t make it easy for them, but in their final hour against the Nazis, Ryan must earn his right to survive. Beginning and ending with the real life Normandy memorial is exactly the catharsis a story like this requires. Saving Private Ryan earned its 11 Academy Award nominations. With 5 wins for Best Cinematography, Sound, Film Editing, Sound Effects Editing, and Director Steven Spielberg. Yet despite its reputation, Shakespeare in Love won Best Picture. After seeing both, I agree that there isn’t a bigger Oscar upset than this. Saving Private Ryan is about as perfect a war epic can get.

Saving Private Ryan

Captain Miller examines the battlefield

What Have I Done?

The Bridge on the River Kwai is an epic war film best remembered for 2 reasons. One is for featuring one of the riskiest practical effects in movie history. The other is for featuring the famous war march whistle. A whistle people would sooner think originated from The Breakfast Club. I hadn’t seen many Best Picture winners from the 50’s, but I knew I needed to see it for these reasons alone. The film is based on a book of a similar name, which in turn was loosely based on actual events.

The Bridge on the River Kwai is set in World War II. British POWs are tasked by the Japanese to build a bridge over the Kwai river. After decades of only knowing Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan, I finally saw his Best Actor winning performance as Colonel Nicholson. A stubborn and duty bound British officer who refuses to allow his officers to work. It puts him at odds with the Japanese Colonel Saito. Although it was the only Oscar they didn’t win, Sessue Hayakawa is just as engrossing in a way that makes you see things from both sides.

When an agreement is made, Nicholson seems to lose sight of which side he’s on. Taking pride in the bridge his men built. Meanwhile, William Holden’s Major Shears is the only serviceman to escape. Except he’s brought back on a mission he doesn’t believe in, to blow up the bridge. With the help of local women, charges are set, and the once in a lifetime blast goes off. The tension is great and the explosion is well worth nearly 3 hours. With so many grey areas, The Bridge on the River Kwai makes it clear that war is simply madness.

Alec Guinness, Jack Hawkins in Bridge on the River Kwai (1)

The bridge on the river Kwai

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 quit 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 any 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 Wookiee 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

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. Except 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