Is The Second One Really Better?: A Brief Look at Some Acclaimed Sequels

We’re just under three weeks until the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Expectations are quite high considering LucasFilm already signed writer/director Rian Johnson to develop his own trilogy. For no other reason than I’m bored I decided to take a look at some of the most acclaimed movie sequels ever and ask myself if they’re actually better than the film that preceded them.

Is The Empire Strikes Back really better than Star Wars?

Despite receiving middling reviews on its release in 1980, Empire has gone on to not just be widely regarded as the finest Star Wars movie, but seen as the archetypal blockbuster sequel. It’s bigger, longer, and darker than its predecessor. With less expository responsibility, the film is able to dive deeper into the characters. George Lucas stepped back a bit, allowing others to actually script and direct the film so he could focus more on the complicated financial and special-effects development aspects that went into such an unprecedented production. Sci-fi author Leigh Brackett was hired to pen the film, and then Lucas’ Raiders of the Lost Ark colleague Lawrence Kasdan was brought in to redraft Brackett’s script. Lucas hired indie maestro (and his USC former professor) Irwin Kershner to direct, though there’s still some doubt as to who handled which scenes, as Lucas was reportedly heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the film.

Regardless of whomever is chiefly responsible, the result is a true masterpiece. Empire is a narratively ambitious and visually stunning the film. The ending alone is unlike anything that came before it, with Luke losing his hand and Han being frozen. Star Wars was a great film; a landmark moment in cinema. But it was fairly lighthearted and driven by imagination more than anything else. Empire is an undeniable classic even the most cynical Star Wars hater has to acknowledge as special. The scene of Han being frozen is the high point in the entire saga. Exceptional mise-en-scene. Vader in control. Chewy pleading for Han to be spared. C-3PO, strapped to Chewy’s back and unable to see anything, providing comic relief. Gorgeously lit and colored, emphasizing the reds that the franchise has has always used to represent evil. Then of course there’s “I love you.”………”I know.”

Verdict: Yes, Empire is the better movie. There’s a reason it’s the film that great sequels are always compared to.

Is The Godfather Part 2 really better than The Godfather?

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 crime epic The Godfather is near the top of every “best movies ever” list for good reason. It transcended just about everything people thought they knew about cinema at that point in time with its own uniquely American aesthetic, and its thematic handling of gangsters (portraying them as a counterculture to a corrupt world rather than a collection of angry villains). The cast is of course exceptional, and nearly every scene of the film has become iconic in its own right. It breezes through its three-hour runtime. So while it’s a bit tiring to hear it always talked about, that’s not the movie’s fault.

The Godfather Part 2, released two years later, was actually the first sequel to draw real acclaim, going on to win the Oscar for Best Picture (like its predecessor). It shares many stylistic similarities with the first film, but a divided narrative (a subplot focusing on the rise of Young Vito) made it very different. Nowadays, many consider Part 2 to be the better film, and a perfect film. I just can’t get on board with that. While Pacino, Duvall, Cazale, Keaton and De Niro are exceptional…the film’s real-time narrative with Michael in Havana is, frankly, sort of boring and insignificant within the context of what makes the film compelling otherwise. During those scenes, I find myself begging to return to De Niro, or to Pacino interacting with his family members. Part 2 is just a bit too ambitious politically for its own good.

Verdict: The Godfather is a perfect film. Every scene matters. The sequel, while very much an amazing work of art, just isn’t as tight or self-aware. So, no, the sequel is not better in this case.

Is Aliens really better than Alien?

For two films that share Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the same species of terrifying extraterrestrial, Alien (dir. Ridley Scott, 1979) and Aliens (dir. James Cameron, 1986) couldn’t be more different. Alien is a close-quarters horror film, drawing much of its tension from its ambiance and what it *doesn’t* show you. Aliens is a balls-to-the-wall action film, preferring to wow you with spectacle and kineticism. Alien is a slow burn while Aliens moves quickly, as any great action movie should. Both films are very much products of their directors. Ridley Scott is a master of careful design. He understands how seemingly minor details such as single musical notes or shadows or close-ups of faces can make a film terrifying. James Cameron is an ambitious innovator. He wants to make the impossible into reality through moviemaking technology and sheer will, certainly proving himself capable of such time and time again.

I have a hard time saying which approach is better for these films, and therefore have a hard time deciding which is the better final product. I probably prefer Scott’s take, maybe because I’ve seen so many movies like Aliens but so few like Alien. But that’s just a personal taste thing.

Verdict: Too close to call, and the aforementioned reasons make this such an odd comparison. Therefore I find it silly to vehemently argue this one either way.

Is Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior really better than Mad Max?

The Mad Max franchise is my favorite collection of movies ever. All four of George Miller’s dystopian action films, including 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, are exceptional. The first film, 1979’s Mad Max, accomplished an awful lot. A huge and surprising financial success worldwide, it established Australia as a hotbed for filmmaking talent and also made Mel Gibson into a global superstar (he’d go on to become one of the most successful action stars ever). The vehicular stunts look spectacular even through a modern lens.

But The Road Warrior is something else; something more. It doubles down on the survivalist mayhem. The vehicles are bigger and louder. The dialogue is more sparse. The desert photography is more epic. The leather costumes now feature a great deal of bondage. The overall punk aesthetic of the film influenced an entire generation of artists. It’s also truly a film of nonstop action, perhaps only matched in raw intensity by Fury Road (if we’re comparing Fury Road to the original trilogy, it certainly bears the most resemblance with The Road Warrior). The Road Warrior is the rare film that actually put a bigger budget to good use. It’s unapologetic action pornography.

Verdict: Mad Max will always hold a place in my heart, but The Road Warrior is, for my money, the greatest action film of all-time. So, yes, the sequel is better.

Is The Dark Knight really better than Batman Begins?

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins remains the finest superhero origin story captured on film. Visually creative and loaded with narrative heft, it really is a thinking man’s Batman movie. While the Tim Burton-Michael Keaton rendition of the classic character was certainly very good, the Nolan-Christian Bale version is something truly major. This was the first comic-book blockbuster to be taken seriously by a cinephile community that is frustratingly pretentious at times (I’m allowed to say that because I’m part of that frustratingly pretentious community).

But let’s not overthink it. The Dark Knight is better. It’s basically Heat but topped with comic-book verve. Gorgeously shot and tightly plotted, the first two hours of TDK never let up. The opening bank robbery and vehicle chase shot on the lower level of Chicago’s Wacker Drive make for two of the finest action sequences ever staged. The story is loaded with moral and emotional complexity. Every performer breathes life into their characters. Heath Ledger deservedly received most of the praise, but how good is Aaron Eckhardt in this movie? The Dark Knight is so fucking good that when it missed out on a Best Picture nomination, public backlash forced the Academy to open the category up to as many as ten nominees.

Verdict: The sequel is better. Don’t be an Armond White. The Dark Knight is as incredible as everyone says.

Quick Hits:


  • T2: Judgement Day is NOT better than The Terminator. It may be bigger and more action-packed and loaded with groundbreaking VFX work, but it lacks the intelligence of the first film.
  • As far as the X-Men go, X2: X-Men United (while very good) is not better than X-Men, and Days of Future Past certainly isn’t better than First Class.
  • This one is probably obvious, but Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is one of the great superhero films ever and a major step up from the first film.
  • Not sure if it counts since the entire trilogy was shot together, but The Two Towers is by far the best Lord of the Rings film. It’s one of the best-edited films ever.
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Blade II, and Superman II are all significantly better than their predecessors.
  • I will probably die alone on this hill but I think The Temple of Doom is the best Indiana Jones movie.
  • As far as the Marvel Cinematic Universe goes, both Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Captain America: The Winter Soldier are much-improved sequels. They’re also the two best movies in the entire franchise thus far.
  • The Color of Money is harmless but it doesn’t touch The Hustler, and I say that as the world’s biggest Scorsese fan.
  • It’s damn near impossible to top Jurassic Park, and while The Lost World didn’t come close, I’d be mad at myself if I didn’t mention that insane “trailer hanging over the edge of the cliff” scene, the most brilliant and original action staging since the titular Thunderdome in the third Mad Max movie.
  • Mostly thanks to a better villain, J.J. Abrams topped his own solid reboot with Star Trek Into Darkness (despite that terrible title).

6 Directors We’d Love to See Get Fired From a ‘Star Wars’ Movie

A couple days ago, news broke that Colin Trevorrow of Jurassic World fame will no longer be directing Star Wars Episode IX. Much like literally every other time in history somebody in Hollywood is fired, the PR spin calls it a “mutual decision” and says it’s due to “creative differences”. Considering the film is still only in scripting/development stages it’s not the craziest thing to see the director replaced. What makes it alarming is that this is the FOURTH time LucasFilm president and super-producer Kathleen Kennedy has removed a director from a project in her still short tenure as Star Wars boss. With Rogue One, which was ultimately quite successful, Kennedy forced director Gareth Edwards to take a backseat during re-shoots and post, bringing in Bourne veteran Tony Gilroy to spearhead the film’s completion. Josh Trank couldn’t even get his standalone story off the ground, and just this year Kennedy fired Phil Lord & Chris Miller off of the upcoming Han Solo movie IN THE MIDDLE OF SHOOTING, replacing them with the experienced and competent but often bland Ron Howard. Something is clearly up at LucasFilm. Kennedy is the one in charge and if she sees things differing from her vision, she’s quick to make a move.

Our team -Zak, and Zak after five expired Coors Lights- thought it’d be interesting to put together a short list of directors we’d like to see get hired and then fired by Kennedy. 

Also, I would never actually root for someone to lose their job. This is for fun. 

Let’s begin with…

George Lucas

Much to the chagrin of the goddamn nerds who continue to push the awful myth that the prequels were anything other than crap, George Lucas has had no involvement in Star Wars since he sold his company to Disney. I would love to see Lucas brought back into the fold, only to be let go after the first draft of his script dedicates its entire third act to regulations in the scrap metal industry on Jakku.

Also, Lucas and Kennedy (and Steven Spielberg, and Kennedy’s husband fellow super-producer Frank Marshall) have all been close friends for decades. I’m a huge fan of personal relationships being destroyed by professional rifts, personally. 

Patty Jenkins

Jenkins is fresh off the wildly successful Wonder Woman, a film that champions strong ladies in an industry that is still run by a staggering number of old men. What’s lame about that is, journalists and fans are now talking about Jenkins like she’s the only female filmmaker. Any time there’s a job opening, her name is brought up as the progressive choice. Like, really? Patty has already “made it”, folks. So have Kathryn Bigelow and Ava DuVernay. If those are the only three female names you can conjure up when fan-hiring a female director, you’re part of the problem. Studios should be trying to balance the scales by finding the next Jenkins.

So I’d love to see Jenkins hired but then replaced by another filmmaker on the cusp of the superstardom Jenkins has already achieved, like Susanne Bier or or Dee Rees or Michelle MacLaren (who was actually originally hired for Wonder Woman.)

Quentin Tarantino

Here’s a hypothetical…Kennedy hires the lauded Tarantino as an unexpected coupe. Fans everywhere are excited. We all imagine the insanely talented Star Wars cast reading Tarantino dialogue. But when the script is finalized, Tarantino has Finn saying the n-word every other line and cast Samuel L. Jackson as his father. Can you imagine someone telling Finn he needs to go back to Jakku and him screaming, “N—-, what?”. Would that be too controversial for a Disney-backed franchise film? Would Tarantino be fired on the spot? Would Spike Lee emerge from thin air to remind everyone that Django Unchained was both bad and extremely problematic (which he’s right about, btw)?

Christopher Nolan

“We’re going to shoot this film on both IMAX and 65mm film stock. Actually, we’re going to invent a new film stock, like 95mm or something. Then, we’re going to build an actual working, flying Milenium Falcon. NASA will help with the costs. Then, we’re going to write a nonlinear script that closes by pondering if the entire trilogy was just a dream. Then, we’re going to cast Cillian Murphy as Kylo Ren, and have Tom Hardy in there somewhere, and maybe Michael Caine. Also, fuck Netflix. Did I mention that? Then, we’re going to enlist actual astronauts to-”

“Chris, get the fuck out of my office.”

Woody Allen

I lied earlier when I said I’d never root for someone to actually get fired. I hope Woody Allen gets fired from something. Fuck Woody Allen. Maybe getting fired from such a high profile film would make everyone realize he’s really just a rapey pedophile whose works have aged poorly for everyone who isn’t a Brooklyn-based posh fuck who subscribes to The New Yorker and never reads it but makes sure to bring it everywhere with them and have its logo hang out their Patagonia laptop case yet they couldn’t tell you who Junot Díaz is despite having the last 5 NYer issues on the over-priced minimalist coffee table in their Scandinavian-influenced apartment that smells like an odd mixture of cat urine and bush weed that they refuse to tidy up because the filth makes them feel like real Brooklynites and not the ugly mustache-having fucks guilty of gentrification that they actually are. You know, the types who’d actually be excited for a new Woody Allen movie.

Fuck Woody Allen.

Clint Eastwood

Clint works so damn fast, often developing and shooting and editing an entire acclaimed film in the span of six months, that Kennedy might even get the chance to fire him. Kennedy would show up with some script revisions only to find Clint already made the whole damn movie. 

13 actors not named Michael B. Jordan who could play young Lando Calrissian

A few days ago it was reported that Disney is looking to cast an actor as Lando Calrissian for their still untitled Star Wars spinoff featuring a young Han Solo in the lead (Alden Ehrenreich). The film will be helmed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Lando is, perhaps, the most popular minor character from the original trilogy. Little is known about his backstory -at least in canon Star Wars cinema- but it’s clear he’s had a long friendly bromance/rivalry with Han from the way the character’s scenes were written.

The minute this news broke, Twitter immediately started throwing around the name Michael B. Jordan. I understand why, but no. Just no. I fucking love Michael B. Jordan. I love him more than you. I’ve loved Michael B. Jordan since he butchered the count and defended the dude who invented chicken nuggets by saying “he had the idea, though”. I had a personal grudge against Idris Elba for a decade. That’s how much I love Michael B. Jordan. But he’s wrong for this movie. Here’s why:

  1. He’s way, way too big of a star for a supporting role opposite an up-and-coming actor like Ehrenreich. You cast Michael B. Jordan in this movie and it quickly becomes a Michael B. Jordan movie, not a Han Solo movie.
  2. See reason 1.

I have some ideas though. What I want in a young Lando is someone who can act, provide witty banter with Han, and rock a mean mustache. That’s all that matters. I could care less how closely the actor resembles Billy Dee Williams.

I did something similar over a year ago when they announced Han Solo. I didn’t ultimately nail Ehrenreich but three of the four reported finalist did appear on my initial guesses. Check that out here.

Here are 13 suggestions for young Lando, ordered from most obvious to most outside the box.

Oh, and for God’s sake, please do not make a scene showing Han winning the Falcon from Lando in card game. That’s a timeless urban legend and should be treated as such.


Donald Glover

Age: 32

You may know him from: A lot of things. Derrick Comedy. NBC’s Community. His musical output. Glover has also made the transition to higher-profile films, with appearances in Magic Mike XXLThe Martian, and the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming. His new show for FX, Atlanta, premieres next month.

Why it works: Well, he’s already the fan favorite and Devin Faraci of Birth. Movies. Death. has gone as far as to say he has a source saying Glover is Disney’s first choice. Glover is popular, funny, and a better actor than he gets credit for. It’s easy to see him fitting in with what I assume is going to be a rather lighthearted film. And he sort of looks like Billy Dee, if such things matter.

Why it doesn’t: Glover is very busy. His career doesn’t need the boost. He’s the only one on this list who could confidently turn down the role. If you cast someone as recognizable as Donald Glover you also run the risk of this turning into a “Donald Glover movie”, which probably isn’t what Disney wants for what will be a supporting part.


Corey Hawkins

Age: 27

You may know him from: He did an exceptional job as Dre in the smash hit Straight Outta Compton. Also had small parts in big films like Non-Stop and Iron Man 3. He was on season 6 of The Walking Dead. Upcoming work includes Kong: Skull Island and the lead role in FOX’s 24 reboot.

Why it works: Checks all the boxes in terms of age, acting chops, and appeal. He’s famous enough to bring a few extra moviegoers out but not so famous that he’d overshadow other cast members or the character himself. He’s a Julliard guy; you know he can act. I’m all-in on Hawkins. He’s my personal preferred pick.

Why it doesn’t: Hasn’t shown the semi-comedic ability or the effortless cool the role likely requires. That’s all I got and it’s a reach. He’s my pick.


Shameik Moore

Age: 21

You may know him from: He played the lead in the critically-acclaimed Dope and got some serious awards buzz for it. He stars in the musical series The Get Down which just came on Netflix. That’s really it beyond some random guest parts on TV shows.

Why it works: Like Hawkins, appears to check all the boxes without distracting. Dope is a really popular movie that will continue to have lucrative life via streaming. People love him in it.

Why it doesn’t: He’s five years younger than Ehrenreich, though I’d argue Moore actually looks older. Has he shown enough to land a part in a movie this big? I’d say no based on conventional wisdom but he’s more prominent than Daisy Ridley was when she was cast.


Stephan James

Age: 22

You may know him from: He played John Lewis in Selma, as well as Jesse Owens in Race, the latter of which originally went to John Boyega. That’s some pretty high-profile work for a guy whose name most people don’t know. He got his start on Degrassi: The Next Generation (he’s Canadian, after all).

Why it works: Proven actor, ridiculously good looking dude. He’s won some serious awards and acclaim in Canada and now American audiences are noticing.

Why it doesn’t: Another guy who hasn’t yet show he can be funny and/or suave. Not saying he can’t, we just haven’t seen it yet.


Jacob Anderson

Age: 26

You may know him from: He’s a fairly prominent R&B musician, but is probably best known as Grey Worm on Game of Thrones. Other acting credits include Broadchurch and the very good Adulthood.

Why it works: He’s the perfect age and is a much more versatile actor than his GOT role would suggest.

Why it doesn’t: Wouldn’t draw much internet buzz, I’d guess (which DOES matter). He’s also very very British, though he does a fine job hiding any accent when he needs to.


Tyler James Williams

Age: 23

You may know him from: He played the title character on Everybody Hates Chris. Has had a bunch of smaller TV parts, most notably on The Walking Dead. Also starred in the critically-acclaimed Dear White People.

Why it works: He’s very, very funny and has shown some dramatic ability as well. He’s paid his dues. He certainly seems ready to jump the plateau into major film work.

Why it doesn’t: Will he be able to make viewers buy him in action sequences if they’re required?


Alfred Enoch

Age: 27

You may know him from: Had a small but memorable part as Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter movies. Currently stars on ABC’s smash hit How to Get Away With Murder, for which he’s received numerous awards.

Why it works: Haven’t seen his show, so I can’t personally say much about his acting chops but he’s a very handsome dude who’s gained a lot of fans over the last couple years. Like many others on this last, his moment is coming, it’s just a matter of time.

Why it doesn’t: Is he funny? Does he ooze charisma? I’m really asking.

Jessie T. Usher arrives at the premiere of the STARZ original series "Survivor’s Remorse" on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 in Los Angeles. "Survivor’s Remorse" premieres Saturday, Oct. 4 exclusively on STARZ . (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision for STARZ EntertainmentAP Images)

Jessie Usher

Age: 24

You may know him from: Currently starring in Starz’s LeBron-produced Survivor’s Remorse. Had a major role in Independence Day: Resurgence as the son of Will Smith’s character from the original.

Why it works: Hollywood certainly sees him as a rising star. Folks who watch his show say he’s really good in it. Can pull of a ‘stache.

Why it doesn’t: I am not personally convinced that he can really act. He was truly awful in Independence Day, though that may have had more to do with the nature of the thin role.


Tristan Wilds

Age: 27

You may know him from: As a youngster, gave a powerful turn as Michael Lee on the final two seasons of The Wire. Also was the male lead on the CW’s 90210. Recently, he’s been active as a musician under the moniker Mack Wilds. Appeared in the films Half Nelson and The Secret Life of Bees. His debut album New York: A Love Story was met with general acclaim and even nominated for a Grammy.

Why it works: He’s a very capable actor if acting is still something that interests him. If we’re talking about pure looks, he’s got a slightly pudgier face than most on this list which would help him pass as a young Billy Dee (again, that shouldn’t matter).

Why it doesn’t: He may very well be more focused on music, as his acting output has slowed down over the last three years. He also carries this uber-serious demeanor about him that may not fit for this role.


Denzel Whitaker

Age: 26

You may know him from: Not the son of Forrest, but he was named after Denzel Washington. Whitaker’s most notable work came when he was young; Training Day, The Great Debaters, and Warrior. He’s got a pretty extensive list of TV guest appearance and voice work as well.

Why it works: He’s a really good actor and is the same age as Ehrenreich.

Why it doesn’t: Carries little-to-no name recognition. Very good chance the people making the casting decision don’t know who he is.


Trevor Jackson

Age: 19

You may know him from: For such a young man he’s remarkably accomplished as a stage/screen actor and singer. Probably most well known for TV work like Eureka and American Crime. He also starred as Young Simba in The Lion King on Broadway for a stretch.

Why it works: He’s fun. Charisma is clear in his work. A rising star who some studio is going to find a major role for soon, if not Disney.

Why it doesn’t: Probably too young, especially if rumors of them wanting Lando to be slightly older than Han are true.


Jaden Smith

Age: 18

You may know him from: He’s been quite famous for a minute now, mostly due to familial ties. Well-known movies include The Pursuit of Happiness, the remake of The Karate Kid, and the god-awful After Earth. He has a music career as well and currently stars on Netflix’s The Get Down.

Why it works: One of the bigger names on this list; could probably bring in a small otherwise uninterested audience.

Why it doesn’t: He’s young, he hasn’t proven he can really act, and he’s become somewhat a parody of himself in the public eye. I’m only including him because others seem to be doing so.


Joey Bada$$

Age: 21

You may know him from: His extremely successful rap career, first and foremost. But Joey has said he really wants to transition into acting and he currently has a minor but scene-stealing part on Mr. Robot.

Why it works: Don’t want to overreact to a few scenes from one of my favorite shows (Mr. Robot), but I think he can act and be funny as well. Most people going into the movie probably wouldn’t know who he is, which can help on a creative level (does the movie really need star power?).

Why it doesn’t: Still very much TBD as an actor, doesn’t really look the part, and he’s incredibly busy as a musician. He’ll be opening for ScHoolboy Q’s worldwide tour. This is, obviously, a WAY outside-the-box suggestion.

Review: With ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’, Daisy Ridley becomes the star we’re looking for.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens passed the universal cinematic measuring stick I refer to as the “pee test”. It’s a simple test. If you realize halfway through a movie that you have to use the facilities, do you get up and go, or is the movie so captivating that you have no choice but to just tough it out until the final credits roll? Even the weakest bladder will be put to the test with this one, as you’re hooked from the moment a title card reads “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” and John Williams’ surprisingly fresh update on perhaps the most famous score ever kicks in.

Note: This review is spoiler free. With that being said, I do go into basic character and plot details. All of these were told to us by Disney in advance so I’m not giving anything away, but if you’ve managed to go into it completely blind at this point, you should probably stop reading.

J.J. Abrams, the fanboy who gave a nice if a little too friendly Spielberg impression with Super 8 and successfully rebooted Star Trek, was charged by the powers that be (Disney) with helming the $400 million return to a galaxy whose stories have become scripture in the pop culture landscape. Star Wars is not canon. It’s bigger than canon. It’s a planet-sized canon, actually. A planet-sized canon capable of wiping out entire species’ with the push of a button (yes, there is one of these weapons in TFA).

If there’s one thing Abrams has established about himself as a filmmaker, it’s that he has an outstanding eye when it comes to casting. The main reason I came into TFA believing it would be stronger than the prequel trilogy was the group of performers involved, specifically the young folks taking on new characters that hope to become every bit as iconic as the old folks who grace this film as well. They do just that.


Set thirty years after The Return of the Jedi, this film isn’t exactly an exercise in tight plotting. A new empirical force called the First Order has risen and a group referred to as the Resistance is fighting to keep the galaxy free. Luke Skywalker has gone missing. We’re told this is important, the key to the whole story, though I’m not really sure why. A droid carrying the missing piece to the map leading to Luke barely manages to escape the First Order and then comes across a mechanically gifted loner on a dessert planet who happens to be a skilled pilot and have some supernatural abilities. From there, a group of characters are thrust into an epic adventure. Sound familiar?

The intrinsic flaw with TFA is that it’s more or less a complete retread of the original Star Wars. At times, this can be fun. The film is loaded with visual and dialogue-driven references to what’s happened before it. They’re not very subtle, as the six year-old sitting behind me seemed to pick up on every one. This will certainly appeal to all those who know how many parsecs it took the Millennium Falcon to make the Kessel Run. But to those who see Star Wars as a movie and nothing more, it will seem unoriginal, even campy.

When the film focuses on the wholly original is when it reaches the sort of highs the original trilogy did. The new principle cast is fantastic all-around, and I look forward to seeing them in movies for years to come. Oscar Isaac plays Poe Dameron, the best pilot in the Resistance and a hero from the start. He’s brash but well intentioned. He starts off as the character it took Han Solo an entire movie to grow into. He’s the owner of the droid carrying the map to Skywalker (BB-8, the soccer ball looking contraption sitting on Christmas lists everywhere). It’s a shame the script doesn’t give the very talented Isaac more to do. He’s absent for the entire middle chunk of the movie.


Elsewhere, we have Finn (John Boyega), a stormtrooper whose storm-trooping days end before they really start due to his conscience. Boyega is the comedic backbone and serves as the lens through which we experience the film. He feels like a fan of Star Wars plucked out of his mother’s basement and thrown right into the action. His reactions to the happenings in the film are priceless. Adam Driver plays Kylo Ren, the films primary villain and a wannabe Darth Vader. His origins reveal themselves in the most Star Warsy way but Driver manages to keep the character from bordering on the ridiculous. There’s a reason Abrams made the conscience decision to have him play key moments with his mask off.

Domhnall Gleeson plays General Hux, the First Order general who has a humorous working relationship with Ren. He gives a Hitler-esque speech to his army that tops anything the generals in the original trilogy could do. Gleeson has had quite the year. There are also a couple of wise CGI characters played by Lupita Nyong’o and motion-capture maven Andy Serkis. They don’t really work, but they’re not large enough elements to hold back the film.

And then there’s Daisy Ridley, who plays Rey, the scavenger on the dessert planet Jakku who comes across BB-8 by accident and instantly becomes an integral part of Star Wars mythos. Words cannot convey the quality of Ridley’s performance. She completely embodies the role both physically and emotionally. She’s the clear standout in a film full of very good actors. Rey doesn’t need help. When she comes across Finn, he keeps trying to hold her hand and lead her in a move that plays like a direct response to the gender politics of Jurassic World (whose director, Colin Trevorrow, will be helming Episode IX).


There are already a hundred thinkpieces about a movie as big as TFA being led by a black man and a woman. More importantly, however, is that Boyega and Ridley are so good that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in these roles. Their (for now) platonic bond is fun to watch. I really hope further installments don’t turn them into star-crossed lovers. They are each interesting on their own, and there are plenty of stories to tell with these two. I also hope Hollywood doesn’t turn Ridley, now a full-blown movie star, into “girlfriend material”. She does here what Jennifer Lawrence did in Winter’s Bone and The Hunger Games. Ridley also carries this unique oomph about her that reminds me of Emily Blunt in a way. Lawrence and Blunt have been fortunate enough to have roles thrown at them that don’t force them into archetypes. I hope the same happens for Ridley, as she already looks like one of the brightest stars we have.

I can’t believe I’ve written 1,000 words without mentioning Harrison Ford. Han Solo is back, and he’s the only member of the original story whose appearance is more than a glorified cameo. He’s a huge part of this movie and we should be thankful for that. Ford dives into the role in what may end up being his last great performance. He’s a little older and wiser but he’s still Han, and we love him for that. I’ve never witnessed a larger round of applause during a movie than when Han enters TFA with Chewy. There is a lot of forced drama with Han but Ford is just so goddamned fun that you’ll overlook it. At the age of 73, Ford still manages to bring more to this sort of role than anyone else in the game. It’s easy to see why the system continues to attempt to find the new Ford with the likes of Chris Pratt, Chris Pine, and Ryan Reynolds.

The effects work and actual action in the film is fine, though a bit misleading. All the talk has been about how Abrams preferred practical effects to CGI, and while there’s certainly a lot of great building in play here, the most exciting sequences come via the digital artists. There’s nothing wrong with this, it’s jus that as an effects movie, this is closer to The Avengers than it is to Mad Max: Fury Road. The space battle sequences are spectacular and I imagine George Lucas is wishing right now that he waited an additional decade to do the prequels. The climactic lightsaber fight is short, but it’s arguably the best in Star Wars history. It’s perfect because the parties involved aren’t masters of the force yet, so it’s done very sloppily. There’s no grace. It looks like two kids playing with toy lightsabers in the woods behind their house. This is a compliment.


On top of being very referential and self-aware, TFA is just plain funny. Tonally, it’s similar to Abrams’ Star Trek films. This is important because it distracts from the shoddy plot and overall unoriginality of the film.

TFA suffers from what it can’t really help; that it’s the first part of a planned trilogy. It’s more important for this film to lay the groundwork, to tease, and to introduce excitement than it is for it to tell a truly great story. When Lucas made the original Star Wars nobody imagined it would become what it did. A sequel was just a possibility, so he had to tell a cohesive story. Abrams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan don’t have to. TFA truly feels like a “part one”. It does its job to keep you eagerly anticipating the Rian Johnson directed Episode VIII, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit disappointed by the payoff, or lack thereof, with this one.

Diehard Star Wars fans will be salivating for all of TFA’s 135-minute runtime. Those not so close to the series may be frustrated at times, but the trio of Ridley/Boyega/Isaac and sheer wow factor of some of the bigger sequences will still keep them glued to their seats.

Only time will tell where TFA ultimately ranks amongst the Star Wars films. It’s certainly better than the prequels, though I don’t think it ever reaches the emotional highs of the original trilogy. But, again, it did its job. Star Wars is back.

Episode VIII comes out May 26, 2017. Let the countdown begin.

Oh, and thanks for introducing us to Daisy Ridley.



In defense of Jar Jar Binks.

What do we talk about when we talk about the Star Wars prequel trilogy?

First off, we’ve come to the agreement, as a collective of geeks, that the trilogy was very, very bad (or at least very disappointing). Everybody has their own favorite moments and characters. The nostalgia factor and universal love for everything Star Wars keeps the three prequel movies watchable, if not “good”. We also seem to have formed a consensus that the trilogy’s final act, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, is the best installment. This is probably true. It’s the only one of the three that is really an essential piece of the larger Star Wars mythos. It certainly features the most engrossing actions sequences (the final battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan feels like what George Lucas meant when he said technology had finally progressed enough for him to make the prequels). So, while part three undoubtedly falls victim to the same bad acting, even worse writing, and overly abundant Faustian principles that plagued both Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Episode II: Attack of the Clones, I’ll deviate towards the norm and reluctantly agree with the notion that Revenge of the Sith is, at least, decent.

The idea nearly all fans read as scripture that I simply cannot get on-board with?

Jar Jar Binks is the worst character ever; he ruined The Phantom Menace, and is a ready punching bag anytime we wish to spew vitriol upon the trilogy.

Jar Jar, a clumsy-turned-heroic Gungan voiced and motion captured by Ahmed Best, is lambasted for a great numbers of reasons, amongst them- being a failed attempt at comedic relief, being a clear and shameless attempt at appealing/selling toys to children, embodying the overabundance of bad CGI in the trilogy. To an extent, all of these complaints hold merit. But none of them are exclusive to the character of Jar Jar. He’s not an outlier in this trilogy, despite Lucas clearly responding to the negative reception by greatly cutting his role in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. I will now address the aforementioned criticisms of Jar Jar; why they’re unfair, and why it’s preposterous to loathe Jar Jar without loathing the entire trilogy.

A failed attempt at comedic relief: A few days ago, I watched The Phantom Menace for the first time in years. Jar Jar is not funny. He’s annoying. His humor is based around a voice and physical comedy that feels more fitting for a Cartoon Network show than a space epic. But when I saw this movie for the first time at the age of seven or eight, you bet your ass I laughed mine off at everything Jar Jar did. Jar Jar is supposed to be a silly, sort of pointless character that makes kids chuckle. There’s nothing wrong with that (more on this in the next section).

In the original trilogy, much of the humor came from the camaraderie between R2-D2 and C-3PO. They were, strangely enough, the most relatable characters given their relative lack of heroism and penchant for always being in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time. Their robotic physiques were never really explored, but viewers still asked if androids dreamed of electric sheep. 3PO also routinely came close to breaking the fourth wall. He’d go on and on with his anxieties, but the characters wouldn’t hear them, only the audience. It really was quite humorous, shout out Anthony Daniels.

In The Phantom Menace, 3PO hasn’t even been finished yet, and he hardly interacts with R2, or anyone else for that matter. There’s also no Chewbacca or Han Solo. Tonally, The Phantom Menace is more self-serious and brooding than the original trilogy. Aside from Jar Jar, it’s completely bereft of the comedic quips and witty one-liners that balance most action movies. So as bad as the film is with Jar Jar, imagine it without him. Would you really want to hear a nine year-old say more cheesy things like, “Are you an angel?” (the first thing Anakin says to Padme). Would you really want to hear more talk of trade federation politics and midochlorians? Would you really want more Ewan McGregor?

Jar Jar might not be funny to your older self, but he probably was to you as a young boy or girl. I highly doubt you were that kid complaining about Jar Jar from the get-go, and if you were, good god must you have had a miserable childhood.

A clear and shameless attempt at appealing/selling toys to children: A good chunk of the decisions made in all Star Wars films are made with merchandising in mind. The reality is, the toys and video games are just as big a part of the Star Wars empire as the films themselves. Jar Jar was, obviously, a goofy character aimed at entertaining children. This bothered adult viewers, the ones who grew up on the original trilogy. But they don’t have a right to be bothered by this. The prequel trilogy set out to do for my generation what the original trilogy did for my parents’ generation, and for the most part, it succeeded. Let’s not act as if Jar Jar was the only part of this trilogy drawn up with Happy Meals in mind. Take fan favorite Darth Maul, for example. He’s popular, but he’s not particularly important or interesting. He had a couple of cool fight scenes, but his main contributions came via Halloween masks and plastic double-lightsabers.

Here’s the thing those 35 year-olds who still play Battlefront 2 (greatest game ever, btw) and bitch about Jar Jar are afraid to admit…

Star Wars, at its core, is supposed to be for kids.

I mean, really. This is a universe based around some little understood magical entity called “the force” and a bunch of cloaked ninjas who harness its power and carry fucking laser swords. I hate to break it to you, Reddit user Darth something, but LucasFilm doesn’t really care what you think as long as you buy a ticket. Reddit user Darth something isn’t the one filling out a Christmas wish list. Reddit user Darth something isn’t the one rushing home after school to jump on an Xbox (well, maybe they are). The Star Wars universe is joyous and fun and enchanting, until you start to get overly defensive and serious about it.

If you don’t think there will be elements of The Force Awakens –whether they be creatures or weapons or costumes- clearly aimed at appeasing young viewers, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening.

If you believe Jar Jar is an immature and annoying character, that’s fine. You’re not wrong and you’re not in the minority. But to be offended by the fact that the producers would dare try and appease children in a family movie? Well, you care a little too much.

Embodying the overabundance of bad CGI in the trilogy: Jar Jar was at least partially created with motion capture, but many creatures and sequences in The Phantom Menace were done entirely digitally. At the time, in a pre-Gollum world, this was seen as groundbreaking. But as the years have come and gone the CGI in The Phantom Menace, save for the outstanding pod-racing sequence, looks really iffy, even by late-90’s standards. The audio dubbing for the digitally-created characters on Tatooine is laughably bad. I bet you’ll never guess who takes the brunt of the blame for this?

How does Jar Jar move more awkwardly or look worse than this guy?

Or this guy?


Lucas and the VFX teams found their footing in Attack of the Clones, a worse movie than The Phantom Menace, but a better display of visual effects. Revenge of the Sith was nothing short of miraculous on a visual level.

If you want to make Jar Jar into a scapegoat, so be it. Legions of loyal fans were disappointed by the prequel trilogy and it’s always easier to pick a small, insignificant piece of something larger and blame that. But this wasn’t a bad trilogy because of Jar Jar. It was a bad trilogy because it was a bad trilogy. Jar Jar just happened to be a part of it.

JJ Arbams has hinted at the possibility of The Force Awakens briefly mentioning the death of Jar Jar. This is easy fanfare and thousands of crowded theatres will go wild for it. Me? Well, me’sa thinks Jar Jar is okay.

13 actors not named Chris Pratt who could play a young Han Solo

A few days ago Disney/LucasFilm confirmed what had long been rumored; that one of the upcoming standalone Star Wars films will be focused on a “young” Han Solo. The project is in the very early stages of development and little is known about it, even what “young” really means. Phil Lord & Chris Miller (The LEGO Movie, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 & 22 Jump Street) are slated to direct the film. Now the question of who plays the iconic character comes to the forefront.

In the original trilogy, Han Solo worked because of Harrison Ford. There has never been an actor more perfect for a role, or vice versa. Ford’s everyman charm, comedic timing, devilish good looks, and subtle dark side were integral in creating a character that not only would be become iconic, but would also become an archetype itself. Countless characters since Han Solo have been modeled after him, even a few that Ford has himself played. Han Solo was a great hero because he really wasn’t a hero at all, just a charismatic but desperate smuggler navigating the armpits of the universe who happened to be in that cantina at Mos Eisley at the same time Luke and Obi-Wan were. Chris Pratt, whose name has been thrown around in rumors for both this film and the Indiana Jones reboot, has risen to superstardom by essentially putting his own spin on this type of character in both Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World.

In principle, I have a bit of a problem with Hollywood “re-doing” Han Solo, but the selection of Lord & Miller to direct gives me confidence. I expect an irreverent and funny film that pokes fun at itself and the Star Wars machine as a whole. However, a film about Han Solo is only going to be as good as the guy playing him. Seeing as Pratt is 36-year old superstar who’s going to command a hefty price tag (his “pay-or-play” figure is reportedly at $12M now) and brings a lot of preconceived ideas with him, I’m pretty sure the big wigs at Disney and the producers of the film are going to want to go in a different direction. Here are thirteen names I think would, at least, be interesting.

Note: All of the names I’m bringing up are WHITE MALES. I understand that the lack of blockbuster roles for both women and people of color is a serious issue in Hollywood, but this is Han Solo. They ARE going to cast a white dude, let’s be realistic. 

Ordered from most obvious to least obvious. This is 100% speculative. They’ll probably end up casting some unknown but strapping Australian guy in his young-20’s or, you know, that Chris Pratt guy.

Miles Teller

Blue Jeans Go Green celebrates 1 million pieces of Denim collected for recycling,  at Skybar At Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood Featuring: Miles Teller Where: Los Angeles, California, United States When: 08 Nov 2013 Credit: revolutionpix/

Age: 28

You know him from: Acclaimed films such as The Spectacular Now and Whiplash, not-very-good comedies Project X and That Awkward Moment, the Divergent series, and he’ll be playing Mr. Fantastic in the upcoming Fantastic Four film.

Why he would work: Teller will appear on every internet list concerning Han Solo until the character is officially cast. He fits the physical profile really well, could play both younger or older depending on the character. Teller is becoming a household name and Fantastic Four may push him over the top. He hasn’t been typecast yet- has shown off his ability to be both an action star and a funnyman (essential for playing Han Solo).

Why he wouldn’t: They might actually not want a name this big in the role. If the producers commit to a late-teens Han they’ll probably look to go younger and more unknown. Despite some of the acclaim he’s received, Teller has a lot of haters that think he gives off a pompous vibe and there would certainly be a lot of die-hard Star Wars fans who would hate the decision. Or maybe that’s just me.


Taron Egerton


Age: 25

You know him from: His breakout lead turn in Kingsman: The Secret Service.

Why he would work: There are a slew of rumors saying that Egerton and the next guy on the list are being considered by Disney execs. Egerton did a fine job with a very Han-esque character in Kingsman. He’s a rising star and Disney may want to make sure they get in on that before his price skyrockets (like they did with getting Pratt to sign a multi-film deal for Guardians of the Galaxy). And while he’s quite famous now, Egerton isn’t recognizable enough to spark any preconceived notions about the classic character.

Why he wouldn’t: He’s British, which isn’t a huge deal, but it’s something to consider. If Disney requires an established A-lister for the role (which they hopefully won’t), Egerton is probably out. That’s all I can really think of. He’d be my personal choice.


Nicholas Hoult


Age: 25

You know him from: Skins, the zombie-romance Warm Bodies, as the titular character in Jack the Giant Slayer, and war-boy Nux from Mad Max: Fury Road. Hoult is also Beast in the current X-Men timeline.

Why he would work: The other 25 year-old British dude whose name is swirling around the rumor mill already. Hoult has put together an impressive early filmography and studio heads obviously love him (at least as a supporting player). He gave a truly great performance in Mad Max: Fury Road, proving himself as a dedicated and talented actor.

Why he wouldn’t: Jack the Giant Slayer, the only blockbuster Hoult has ever headlined, was a complete box office bomb so there may be some stink around Hoult as a leading man. Hoult has yet to show the comedic chops the role will likely require. For me, Hoult is a guy who could be in a Han Solo movie, I just wouldn’t want him as Han Solo.


Sam Claflin

NON EXCLUSIVE PICTURE: PAUL TREADWAY / MATRIXPICTURES.CO.UK PLEASE CREDIT ALL USES WORLD RIGHTS English actor Sam Claflin attending The European Premiere of Marvel Avengers Assemble, Vue Westfield, London, UK. APRIL 19th 2012 REF: PTY 121517

Age: 29

You know him from: Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Snow White and the Huntsman, and as trident-wielding hearthrob Finnick in The Hunger Games series.

Why he would work: He’s a good-looking dude who straddles the line between “really famous” and “up and coming” perfectly. He’s actually very good in The Hunger Games movies, certainly better than the other young male actors involved. Oozes charisma.

Why he wouldn’t: Reports say that Claflin is actually in advanced talks to play a role in Star Wars: Rogue One, a standalone Star Wars film from Gareth Edwards, which obviously complicates the idea of him as Han a bit. He’s also British, though it doesn’t seem like he has any issues with accents. But much like Teller, his ability to fit into the role is very dependent on exactly how young they want Han to be.


Jack O’Connell


Age: 24

You know him from: Skins, his starring turn in Angelina Jolie’s noble failure Unbroken, and for ’71.

Why he would work: He’s a 24 year old who could probably play in his 30’s if need be and he’s just a damn good actor. He should at least be considered for any starring role asking for a young(ish) man.

Why he wouldn’t: Another British dude!!! But in all seriousness, while he’s a very good actor, I don’t think O’Connell would be able to pull off Han Solo’s sarcastic aura. O’Connell is very serious when he acts; he carries this determined look in his eyes. He’ll surely find a role that turns him into a global superstar soon, I just don’t think that role is Han Solo.


Lee Pace


Age: 36

You know him from: currently starring on Halt and Catch Fire, was in a Twilight movie, played an elf in The Hobbit movies, and the primary villain Ronan in Guardians of the Galaxy.

Why he would work: An American….finally!!! Pace is a very very good actor who’s given some noble supporting turns in big movies. He’s funny, he’s handsome, and he can pass as a badass. He’s currently doing an exceptional job on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire.

Why he wouldn’t: In all likelihood, Pace is probably about a decade older than the ideal candidate. It’s not impossible to hide that sort of age, but Pace is five years older than Harrison Ford was when they shot the original films. He’s also a relative unknown.


Taylor Kitsch


Age: 34

You know him from: TV shows such as Friday Night Lights and True Detective, “big” films such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Battleship, John Carter, and Lone Survivor.

Why he would work: Kitsch is a better actor than he gets credit for, though he does deserve some blame for constantly choosing bad projects. He has this certain ruggedness about him which would be cool to see as a young Han. Despite being 34, Kitsch naturally looks very young and could play someone in their early-20’s.

Why he wouldn’t: It’s hard to see Disney investing too much in Kitsch given the fact that John Carter was one of the biggest flops in the history of the studio. He’s never really recovered as a leading man.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt


Age: 34

You know him from: a lot of different things, most notably successful films like Looper, Inception, and The Dark Knight Rises.

Why he would work: JGL is great. I think most of us agree on that. He’s got a nice charm to him but has also proved himself capable of carrying action sequences. About as big of a name as you’re going to find in the acceptable age range. A popular choice amongst internet’ers and die-hard fans.

Why he wouldn’t: Perhaps JGL is a little too recognizable to slide into the role of young Han Solo. And besides, would he even want to do it? He doesn’t exactly need the career boost and maybe he wants to write and direct some more.


Evan Peters


Age: 28

You know him from: A bunch of different parts on American Horror Story, his supporting turn in Kick-Ass, and a scene-stealing appearance as Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Why he would work: Could be the perfect fit in terms of age, charisma, and actual acting chops. He was so awesome in X-Men, my only complaint is that they gave him just two scenes.

Why he wouldn’t: Not really a big name yet and he’s never had to carry a movie before. It’d be risky bet. He also sort of looks like a Skywalker which would be troublesome.


Charlie Hunnam


Age: 35

You know him from: Sons of Anarchy and Pacific Rim.

Why he would work: Undeniable physical presence in every role he plays. It’s actually a surprise that he hasn’t become a bigger action star yet, but with Sons of Anarchy now over, that might be his next foray.

Why he wouldn’t: He’s probably too old and after struggling with what was simple material in Pacific Rim, one must ask, is he actually good?


Skylar Astin


Age: 27

You know him from: The Pitch Perfect series and the comedy 21 & Over.

Why he would work: A lot of people think that this guy is Hollywood’s next superstar. Landing a role like this would be huge for him and it’d be nice to see a fresh face as Han rather than a guy we’ve seen in twenty big movies already.

Why he wouldn’t: Can he really act? Would people buy him as an action star? Would die-hard fans gag at the thought of having the dude from Pitch Perfect as Hans Solo?


Adam Devine


Age: 31

You know him from: The Comedy Central hit Workaholics, probably. He’s also in the Pitch Perfect movies.

Why he would work: Hear me out on this one. While he’s a comedy-only guy for now, Devine is about to become much more than the dude with a couple TV shows. He’s tapped to star alongside Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway in The Intern later this year, as well as next to Zac Efron and Anna Kendrick next year. While I’m not a big gan of Workaholics overall, Devine’s outlandish cockiness is quite funny. He’s the best part of the show, and probably the only member of the cast who looks like a guy who could carry a movie.

Why he wouldn’t: This won’t happen. I’m spitballin’ here. I have absolutely no clue if Devine can act. Even if he can, he’d have to prove himself before making this sort of leap, and Disney will cast the role before he has a chance to do so.


Dave Franco

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JANUARY 29:  Actor Dave Franco arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of Summit Entertainment's "Warm Bodies" at ArcLight Cinemas Cinerama Dome on January 29, 2013 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Age: 30

You know him from: The brother of James has appeared in many Hollywood films including 21 Jump Street, Warm Bodies, Neighbors, and Now You See Me.

Why he would work: For the last couple years I’ve been hoping to see a studio take this sort of risk on Franco (I really wanted him to be Spider-Man, but they went much younger). He’s hilarious, has shown some actual acting chops when given the opportunity, and really does look like someone who could pass as a young Harrison Ford. Franco is going to get a chance to star in something other than a raunchy comedy soon enough.

Why he wouldn’t: He pissed his pants that one time in Superbad which could hurt his chances. Much like Devine, casting someone known primarily as a comedian is very risky. It won’t happen. But damnit, it should.

And that’s all folks. Keep in mind that Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad has been mentioned in rumors as well.