Story: “There Has Been An Awakening”

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve written here on my blog… but I remembered something today that inspired me to post this.

Today, December 18th, 2017, marks the two-year anniversary of the night I first saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As you can read in my review, I loved the movie and still do, so much that I wrote a story about it for my Creative Writing class this semester. So, I thought it would be cool to celebrate this occasion by sharing that story here on my blog.

I hope you enjoy! Also, I’ll be writing my review of The Last Jedi here quite soon, so keep your eyes open if that interests you!

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“There Has Been an Awakening”

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November 28th, 2014. The trailer was released. For days, it was all anyone could talk about.

Anyone who wasn’t me, that is.

I had already made a solemn vow to myself that I would avoid it all. Trailers, news articles, YouTube videos, clothing and toys—anything that gave even the slightest hint at what was to come. It all had to go. I was going dark.

Whenever I tried to explain this to people, they stared. Or laughed. Or simply looked exasperated as they said: “Oh, come on! It looks sooooooooo good!”

I was adamant. I explained to them that this meant a lot to me. For many, it was simply a great series of movies. But for me, and countless others, it meant so much more than that.

“I don’t want to know anything,” I told them. “This movie is really important to me. I want to be surprised. I don’t want any part of it to be spoiled . . . nothing. Not even what the new characters look like! I want it all to be completely new and fresh when I finally see it on opening day.”

It didn’t matter to me that people still sometimes thought I was nuts. All that mattered was that, in just over a year’s time, the Force would awaken once again.

~*~*~*~

Star Wars. Two small words. So simple, yet so powerful.

I could still recall the feeling I had at the age of five, when my family gathered in the basement in front of our old tube TV to watch a movie together. My dad inserted the VHS tape of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope into the VCR. The lights went off, and my siblings and I joined my parents on the sofa’s pull-out mattress. I stared at the screen in anticipation, not knowing what to expect, not knowing that I was about to experience something sublime.

As soon as the movie was over, I had to let my feelings out somehow. All I could think to do was scream “that was so cool!” at the top of my lungs and run around the house making “pew pew!” laser sounds and pretending to swing a lightsaber, also with accompanying sound effects.

That one night of my childhood changed my life. It was more than just a movie; it was the gateway to my own powers of imagination. It was because of Star Wars that I began making up my own stories in my head. It was Star Wars that opened my eyes to the magic of movies and the power of a good story. Later in life, it was Star Wars that made me fall in love with film scores—and, subsequently, what made me fall in love with music and playing the piano.

Countless hours of my childhood were devoted to Star Wars. I pieced together LEGO kits of ships and scenes. I played video games starring LEGO versions of the characters and events. I pored over books detailing the galaxy far, far way, absorbing gobs of information that the majority of moviegoers didn’t care about.

I cared.

It was more than a movie. It was a universe that inspired me time and time again in so many ways, from the big picture of the story down to the smallest details: the parts of a lightsaber, the names of the planets that weren’t even seen in the films, all the different alien species, the cross-sections of the ships—you name it, I wanted to read about it.

Despite all this, my enthusiasm for Star Wars faded into the background as I entered high school. I still loved it, of course, but there had not been a new film for years. George Lucas had finished telling the story he wanted to tell, and I’d long since accepted that I would most likely never see any more Star Wars films than the six I already knew. The story was finished.

Right?

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In 2012, I was a senior in high school, and my world was rocked by the news that George Lucas had sold his film company, Lucasfilm, to Disney. That included Star Wars. And Disney confirmed that new films were on the way, the first of which being the yet-to-be-titled Episode VII, due out in 2015.

I was ecstatic. The story that had inspired me so much, the story I thought was over, was continuing. As excited as I was, I tried to put it in the back of my mind. 2015 was a long way away, after all. However, I allowed myself to be giddy whenever a nugget of news came out about the movie over the next several months.

“J. J. Abrams has been confirmed as the director of Episode VII.” Awesome!

“John Williams will return to compose the score.” Fantastic!

“Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher will reprise their roles of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia.” Woohoo!

“The official title of Episode VII has been revealed: The Force Awakens.” Wow!

I was perfectly happy to enjoy this kind of news. But on November 28th, 2014, just over a year before the release of the new film, it was time to go dark.

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I stuck to my guns. Three trailers in total were released over time. I didn’t watch a single one.

Oh, I couldn’t avoid everything. Otherwise, I would have had to disconnect from the Internet entirely, and probably never leave the house either. Neither was an option. So, I did come across a few things.

Within a day of the first trailer’s release, my Facebook feed blew up with pictures of the new villain and his untraditional lightsaber design.

Months later, after the second trailer dropped, I caught a glimpse of some promotional art next to the new merchandise while out shopping. It depicted a young man and woman. The man had dark skin, short black hair, and was wearing a tan leather jacket. The woman had fair skin, dark brown hair tied into three buns at the back of her head, and wielded a staff of some kind. I assumed these must be the two new main characters and lamented the fact that I’d seen them. At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder who they were and what their stories would be.

With just one image, Star Wars was beginning to inspire me all over again.

Two months before the film came out, the official poster was released. I caved to my desires and looked at it. Mesmerized, I stared at it for a while and tried not to wonder too much about how everything on the poster would play into the film. The main characters I’d already seen loomed large, the woman with her staff and the man now holding a familiar blue lightsaber. The masked villain with the untraditional red lightsaber cast a huge presence, while a mixture of familiar and new faces peppered the rest of the poster: a grizzled old smuggler, a princess turned general, a daring pilot, a trio of droids, and more.

Along with the new poster came the final trailer, and some people were expecting me to have given up by this point and watched it. They were wrong.

Some said I was (and still am) obsessive. “I don’t know why you make such a big deal out of this. It’s just a movie. Just watch the trailer, man, it looks awesome!”

But I refused. The time was almost here, and all I wanted to know when I finally walked into the theater was one thing and one thing only:

I am about to see a brand-new Star Wars movie.

The rest would follow.

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And follow it did. After years of waiting, of hoping . . . it was finally time. It was finally December 18th, 2015, a date I had obsessively been counting down to for months. I shivered along with my younger brother, my three younger sisters, and one of my two older sisters as we braved the biting, chilly wind to enter the theatre. I took in the familiar smell of popcorn and the sight of the purple carpeting as we approached the left hallway in which, I guessed, the line had already begun to form.

We had secured our tickets two months before. But I wanted to get the best seats possible. So, being the nut that I am, I had suggested that we get to the theater an hour and a half early, hoping we would be one of the first in line.

The plan worked. As we turned into the hallway, we saw that there were just four or five people already there. As my siblings and I got in line behind them, I grinned from ear to ear. Shortly afterward, three of my friends arrived and joined us: Abby (fellow nerd), Stephen (my best friend since before high school), and Eli (who had dressed up as director J.J. Abrams for the occasion, his hair spiked up and large thick glasses framing his face).

Everyone was here and accounted for. Now all we had to do was keep doing what we’d been doing for years.

Wait.

I didn’t mind too much for a while. I talked and laughed with everyone who had come with me, but all the while, anticipation grew to bursting point in my chest. As the minutes snailed by, a real crowd formed, and the enthusiasm in the air was tangible. Around 7 o’clock, I hopped up and down a little on the balls of my feet. Showtime was at 7:30. Any minute now and they’d open the auditorium doors.

I gasped as I watched the theater workers do just that.

Now it really, truly was time.

My companions moved with me amid a buzz of excitement. As we walked through the doors into the dim theater, I literally shook with nerves.

“Oh my gosh,” I said. “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh—”

“Are you excited, Matthew?” Eli asked, grinning.

“It’s happening,” I told him, my eyes wide. “It’s happening. This is real. This is really happening.”

I could hardly say anything else as we all found near-perfect seats around the middle of the auditorium. Not too far back, not too close, and not too far off-center.

The ads were a blur. The first couple of trailers passed without much thought on my part.

And then, I made a decision that almost ruined everything.

I didn’t really have to go at the moment. But I wasn’t taking any chances. I hated having to leave the theater to pee, and there was absolutely no way I was going to leave the theater during this movie. Not wanting to take that risk, I got up and left to use the restroom, thinking I still had plenty of time before the movie actually started. There would be at least another five trailers or so.

As I speed-walked back into the auditorium, though, the lights were dimming down.

I panicked.

As quickly and quietly as I could, I scrambled back to my seat. My companions looked relieved. They had clearly been panicking too, knowing how much I would hate missing even one second of the movie.

And just as I sat back down in my seat, it began. The word “Lucasfilm” slowly faded in and out on the screen in silence, and a hush fell over the crowd around me.

I held my breath as the next few words appeared.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

I covered my mouth with my hands. I didn’t blink. I didn’t breathe.

And then, the orchestra blasted out of the speakers as the huge yellow words zoomed into the infinite field of stars.

STAR WARS

I smiled. I clapped and cheered along with everyone else. The joy was tangible. My smile only got bigger as more words scrolled slowly up the screen.

EPISODE VII

THE FORCE AWAKENS

Luke Skywalker has vanished. In his absence, the sinister FIRST ORDER has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi, has been destroyed.

With the support of the REPUBLIC, General Leia Organa leads a brave RESISTANCE. She is desperate to find her brother Luke and gain his help in restoring peace and justice to the galaxy.

Leia has sent her most daring pilot on a secret mission to Jakku, where an old ally has discovered a clue to Luke’s whereabouts. . . .

For the next two-odd hours, I could hardly stop smiling. Just about everything was pitch-perfect.

I loved the two new main characters. Rey was strong, endearing, hopeful and vulnerable; Finn was brave, funny, and wore a big bounding heart on his sleeve.

I loved the new villain, Kylo Ren, a young man struggling with standing in the shadow of Darth Vader—his idol—and who lashed out unexpectedly with fierce venom.

I loved the new daring pilot, Poe Dameron, who was equally at home with wisecracks as he was with swashbuckling acts of heroism.

I loved the droids both familiar and new. I loved seeing Han, Leia, and Luke again. I loved the story, which felt familiar but with plenty of brand-new touches and twists. I loved the filmmaking skills on display: cinematography, lighting, editing, sound design, music.

And a couple of times, I was so awed by something that happened that I wanted with all my heart to leap out of my seat and scream for joy.

In other words, Star Wars was back.

For many people, Star Wars: The Force Awakens was just a movie. A good one, absolutely, but just a movie. For me, it was a rekindling of my childhood, my imaginative spirit, my love of great stories.

When I walked into the theater, I was a twenty-year-old college sophomore. For the entirety of the movie, though, I was once again a starry-eyed five-year-old sitting on a pull-out mattress in the basement watching an old movie on VHS with his family.

The Force had awakened, and it was with me once again.

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My Favorite Screen Villains

“A hero is a hero, but everybody loves a great villain.” — Ferb Fletcher

A while back, I did a post outlining some of my favorite characters from movies and TV. At the end of that post, I said that I might do a similar one in the future, like favorite side characters or favorite villains.

Today, I’m doing the latter!

Like last time, this is a list of ten characters, but it’s not technically a “Top Ten” list. It’s in no particular order, and I’m limiting myself to one character from each franchise. So, without further ado, my favorite screen villains!

Darth Vader (Star Wars saga)

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“If only you knew the POWER of the dark side!”

What better way to start off the list than with one of the most iconic villains of all time? There’s really no explanation needed. The mask, the lightsaber, the mechanical breathing, the voice, the theme music, the story — everything about Darth Vader is just fantastic. And I hear he’s going to make an appearance in Rogue One, so that’s exciting!

Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (Phineas and Ferb)

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Wait! Doof gets to be on both lists? You’d better believe it! No further explanation necessary.

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Discord (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

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[maniacal laugh]

This asymmetrical combination of several animals is the spirit of chaos. He loves toying with people (er, ponies), sowing the seeds of confusion and enmity while having a blast doing it. He’s also hilarious, even after he’s converted to the good side (spoiler alert for a show about cartoon horses, lol).

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“You’re a wizard, Twilight!”

Hades (Hercules)

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This guy has got to be my favorite Disney villain. Anyone who’s seen the movie knows that this fast-talking trickster is a blast to watch, especially when he goes on one of his rages. I crack up every time.

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Gollum (The Lord of the Rings)

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One of the most fascinating villains on this list. You’ve all seen the movies and/or read the books (or, at least, you’d better have), so I don’t need to explain. Have a GIF instead!

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“Not listening. I’m not listening!”

Vizzini (The Princess Bride)

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Another one that doesn’t really need any explanation.

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Vector (Despicable Me)

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This guy really isn’t all that threatening, and he’s such a dork. But that’s probably why I like him so much. How can you not like a guy who makes a piranha gun and a squid launcher?

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“Oh yeeeeeeaaaah!”

Voldemort (Harry Potter)

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Sure, maybe Voldy could have been done better overall in the films. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s still one of the most interesting baddies I’ve ever found. He’s less bent on world domination and more focused on his fear of dying — heck, his name even roughly translates to “flight from death!” And no one gives better hugs, either. Kind of.

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#anotherawkwardmoment

Lord Business (The LEGO Movie)

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Sometimes a villain strikes a great balance between being threatening, hilarious, and even a bit sympathetic. This guy is a great example!

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“The ‘S’ is silent.”

Bill Cipher (Gravity Falls)

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This “all-seeing eye” lookalike is not only the best villain of any kids’ show I’ve seen, he’s one of the best villains I’ve ever seen ever. Sometimes he’s mysterious, sometimes he’s hilarious, and sometimes he’s downright terrifying. And show creator Alex Hirsch absolutely nails his voice. Pictures and GIFs can only do this guy partial justice — you need to see him in action to see why he’s one of my favorites.

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And that’s it! What’d ya think? Did I forget any villains that you’re particularly fond of? Let me know in the comments!

See you next time!

The Best Thing About “Star Wars”

Wait, it’s Easter! Why aren’t I writing a post about Easter?

Technically, I am. You’ll see. To start, though, I want to share what I think is the best thing about Star Wars.

Okay, so maybe it’s not the best thing about Star Wars, but it’s definitely one of the best things, because I find it to be very inspiring. And it’s this.

When the original film was being made, most people thought it was going to fail.

Many of the cast members were dissatisfied with the script. The studio executives were sure that such an unconventional film wouldn’t make much money. Even George Lucas himself was very disappointed with the film that he got versus the film he had in his head. As grand and exciting as the final film turned out to be, he had always imagined something even grander and more exciting. The technology at the time simply didn’t allow for it.

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“I was compromising left and right just to get things semi-done,” he said in an interview. “I was desperately unhappy.”

In May 1977, the movie opened in 32 theaters in the U.S. Just 32 theaters in the entire country! Crazier still, instead of attending the premiere, George Lucas took a vacation to Hawaii with his friend Steven Spielberg, because he was absolutely convinced the movie was going to flop.

The rest, as they say, is history. It was an instant blockbuster hit. And now, almost forty years later, Star Wars is just as popular (if not more so) than it has ever been.

So what’s my point? My point is that, sometimes, things don’t go our way. Sometimes our plans are destroyed by circumstances. Sometimes reality doesn’t meet our expectations at all.

Sometimes, it looks as though things couldn’t get any worse.

But then, lo and behold, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s a simple message that we’ve heard many times, but I think it’s worth repeating, especially at Easter time. (See, I told you this was actually a post about Easter!)

Happy Easter, and I hope you remember never to give up hope. Later!

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — A Film Review

***THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, BOTH MAJOR AND MINOR. FOR THOSE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN THE MOVIE YET, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. BUT SERIOUSLY, JUST GO SEE IT ALREADY. GOSH.***

Wow.

Years ago, I thought I would never live to see the day when a seventh Star Wars film would be made. Yet here we are. The saga now continues with Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

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Yes, it’s still “Episode VII” (the words are in the title crawl). I don’t know why I was worried about that.

This movie had unbelievable hype. When it was first announced in 2012 that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and promised that new Star Wars films were being planned, I for one was feeling many things. I was excited, because I thought there might never be more films in the franchise. I was nervous, because Lucasfilm was now in the hands of Disney; what if they turned Star Wars into nothing more than a cash cow? I was also insanely curious as to what the new story would be. The possibilities were virtually endless.

For a while, though, I forgot about the movie. That is, I still knew about it, but I put it out of my mind. 2015 was a long way away, after all.

Fast forward to late 2014, when the first teaser trailer for the new movie was released. I had already decided at that point that I didn’t want to know ANYTHING about the movie. I didn’t want to know the story, the characters, the look and feel of it, NOTHING. Crazy of me? Probably. But I was determined. Star Wars has meant a lot to me from a young age, and I wanted the new film to be as fresh and new to me as possible when I finally ended up seeing it.

Over the next year, two more trailers were released, and a TON of promotional stuff was everywhere — merchandise, news articles, YouTube ads, you name it. So, inevitably, I did end up learning a few things, such as what the main characters looked like. I stuck to my guns, though, and didn’t watch any of the trailers.

I was pretty much shaking in anticipation when I finally — FINALLY — sat down in that theater to watch the film. A hush fell over the crowd as the Lucasfilm logo appeared on the screen, followed by the now famous phrase:

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .

Then, the first note of the theme that everybody knows blasted out of the speakers, and I smiled. As the music played on and the words of the prologue crawled up the screen, my smile only got bigger. It was happening. It was really happening.

I could hardly contain myself as the prologue faded out and the music turned from triumphant to mysterious, the camera slowly moving down to reveal a planet, like in most of the other films. And as the shadow of an enormous ship slowly began to envelop the planet, I was utterly mesmerized. Within mere seconds, director J. J. Abrams had sucked me in and wouldn’t let me go for over two hours.

Enough rambling, though. Time for the actual review. What did I think of the movie?

In a sentence, I thought it was phenomenal.

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Where do I even begin? The story? Yeah, let’s go with that.

If you’re reading this review, you’ve either already seen the film or you don’t care about spoilers. Either way, I’m not going to waste your time or mine by summarizing what the story is about. Instead, I’ll just say that the story overall is quite well-done. I was fully invested in the actions of the Resistance against the First Order from start to finish, and the mysteries and other plot elements intrigued me. Luke Skywalker has gone missing and is now the stuff of legend? Han and Leia had a son who has now become a Darth Vader wannabe? Stormtroopers are now fully human, and one of them realizes that he’s on the wrong side and does everything he can to escape and fight back? A scavenger from a desert planet called Jakku (a very similar place to Tatooine) is pulled into the fray and is discovered to be incredibly strong with the Force?

That’s just a few of the story elements that really stood out to me. The point is, I found it all compelling, especially the questions that don’t necessarily get answered in this movie. Why is Rey such a natural with the Force? What is the full backstory of how Ben Solo became Kylo Ren? We don’t know yet. This is the start of a whole new trilogy, and it’s a fantastic start indeed.

I do have a small handful of criticisms of the film, though (hey, there’s no such thing as a perfect movie). The main one is in the story department: it is admittedly a little over-reliant on the films of the past. I don’t find it to be nearly as big of a problem as others have, but the story does mirror that of the original (A New Hope). Rey is like Luke, BB-8 holding important information is like R2 with the Death Star plans, there’s a superweapon that the rebels/resistance need to destroy, etc. You’ve seen the movie, so you don’t need me to outline every single parallel.

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However, while I definitely think the parallels could have been toned down a little bit, I really don’t think they hurt the film in any significant way. Sure, I found myself mentally groaning a little when the Resistance outlined the plan to blow up Starkiller Base and then went to do it, but blowing up Starkiller Base was not the main point of the story, like blowing up the Death Star was in A New Hope. Instead, blowing up the base gave way for what was actually important to this story: the confrontation between Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren.

In fact, a lot of the time I actually liked how some parts of the story felt familiar, and I think it was a pretty smart decision on the part of the filmmakers. Keep things familiar to a certain degree, but incorporate plenty of the new as well so it doesn’t feel like the same story with a new paint job. I do hope, though, that as this new trilogy continues they branch out even more with new ideas. I liked how The Force Awakens was a tribute to A New Hope, but I do NOT want Episode VIII to be a tribute to The Empire Strikes Back. That would definitely be crossing the line for me.

Next, characters! Holy cow. They’re fantastic. I’ll touch on each one briefly.

First we have Rey, the female lead. I thought she was awesome in every way. Not only was she a main character who was female, she was WELL-WRITTEN too! She was neither weak and helpless nor the stereotypical over-the-top butt-kicker completely devoid of any emotion who is strong, independent, and don’t need no man.

Instead, Rey is strong, but she is also caring. She is skilled in combat, but she is also smart. She is brave, but she also has her moments of doubt and fear. She’s relatable. She’s human. She’s AWESOME.

(Quick note to all those people complaining about how she was able to use the Force in various ways and beat Kylo Ren, a trained Sith lord, without any formal training: you’re free to think what you will, but I thought her abilities were perfectly reasonable. She’s simply a prodigy in the Force [I suspect she has Skywalker blood, personally]. She is established early on as a capable fighter, so it’s not outlandish that she was able to wield a lightsaber reasonably well. Kylo Ren is not a Sith lord, and his training is not complete — not to mention he had just killed his father and been hit with Chewie’s blaster before his fight with Finn and Rey. So of course he had a disadvantage against Rey, who was able to calm herself with the Force and allow the light side to work through her. Anyway, I’m sure we’ll get more insight into her abilities in the next movie. And come on, that scene where she called the lightsaber to her was AWESOME.)

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I also loved Finn.  Late in the opening scene, when the stormtroopers are ordered to kill the villagers, I was instantly drawn to him when he aimed his gun with shaking hands but then slowly lowered it. A stormtrooper realizing he’s on the wrong side and having the courage to leave? This is so cool! And not only is Finn a heroic guy, he’s also just plain funny. From his little wisecracks to his chemistry with Han (“We’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force!” “That’s not how the Force works!”), he had me laughing throughout the whole movie.

One of my favorite scenes was when Finn helped Poe escape and they had an instant friendship, with Poe giving him his name and Finn freaking out excitedly after blasting through the First Order defenses (“DID YOU SEE THAT?! DID YOU SEE IT?!”). That scene had me fully convinced, less than 15 minutes into the movie, that J. J. Abrams was the right man to direct.

Speaking of Poe, I want to see more of him. He had such great charisma, and even though he played a relatively small role in this movie, I already regard him as one of my favorites. I knew I was going to like him right from the moment when he was facing Kylo Ren and said: “So who talks first? Do I talk first or do you talk first?” Just . . . yes. *slow clap*

Poe’s droid, BB-8, is also a scene-stealer. R2-D2 and C-3PO are classic, but this little guy fits right in with them. He’s new, fun, cute, hilarious, and brilliantly executed onscreen. He’s an entirely practical effect, and it shows in the best way possible. I can’t wait to see more of him (and I wouldn’t mind a BB-8 T-shirt, either).

The last new character I’ll talk about in some detail is Kylo Ren. I’ve seen some people in comment sections complaining about him, calling him weak and whiny and things like that. But I found him a very interesting villain. He’s no Darth Vader or anything, but that’s the point. He’s a petulant child who intimidates others with a mask and is not in control of his emotions (I loved the scenes where he took out stuff with his lightsaber, especially the one where the two stormtroopers were like “nope” and walked away). He is still drawn to the light side of the Force, even if it’s not a particularly strong pull. I’m not sure whether I want him to be redeemed later in the trilogy, but here, I found him interesting and maybe even a bit sympathetic. (And the scene in which he kills his father was really well-done, especially with how he says “thank you” after doing it and Han touches his face before falling into the pit. Great stuff.)

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There are, of course, other newcomers: Snoke, General Hux, Captain Phasma, and Maz, for instance. In summary, I liked all of these characters as well even though we don’t know some of them very well yet — and at least one of them (Phasma) was definitely underused. I hope we’ll continue to get to know them better in the next film.

Let’s talk about the visuals next — effects, production design, cinematography, costumes, all that stuff. Ahem.

HOLY HOT BELGIAN WAFFLES, THIS MOVIE IS STUNNING!

I was hooked right from the opening shot. J. J. Abrams very wisely wanted to use as many practical effects and real sets and locations as possible. That’s definitely part of why The Force Awakens is simply one of the best-looking movies I have ever seen. There is still some CGI, of course, but overall it’s done quite well; the only really noticeable instances of it are in the characters of Maz and Snoke. While I do think they could have looked better, they still looked good.

Seriously, though, I cannot overstate how freaking GOOD everything looks. The costumes (both familiar and new) look great; the ships look better than they ever have; the props, the sets, the whole LOOK of the film is just outstanding. And I noticed something at the end of the credits that I’m sure helped with that: they actually shot this movie on film. Like actual, old-fashioned 35mm film. That was a brilliant decision and I think it played an important part in how gosh-darn authentic the whole thing looks.

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The cinematography is also top-notch. Much of it is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a Star Wars film, and yet it never feels like it isn’t Star Wars. It feels like Star Wars, but it also feels like a new Star Wars. It’s perfect. There are shots in here that George Lucas would never have dreamed of using, and it all flows incredibly. For a prime example, the scene in which Finn and Rey fly the Falcon for the first time and escape the TIE fighters on Jakku is downright thrilling. The cinematography is just part of that, of course, but a crucial part nonetheless. I wanted to jump out of my seat, punch the air, and scream “YEAH!” after that scene. Just amazing.

Star Wars has long been known as a textbook example of great sound design in movies, and The Force Awakens is no exception. All the old sounds you expect are here: the laser blasts, the roaring of TIE fighters, the hum and clashing of lightsabers, the bleeping and blooping of droids, and so on. But there’s also plenty of new sounds to enjoy; the rathtars stood out to me, and BB-8’s vocalizations are both reminiscent of R2-D2 and completely new at the same time.

With sound also comes the music. I was beyond ecstatic when I learned that John Williams would be returning to score the new movie. As I watched, however, not much of the music stood out to me apart from the uses of the original themes. I picked up on it more during my second viewing, but there was still not much new music that really grabbed me. And after purchasing the soundtrack and listening to it without the movie distracting me, I can confirm a slightly disappointing thing: this is definitely the weakest of the Star Wars scores to date, which is a real shame. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still good music, and there are definite standouts (Rey’s Theme in particular), but it’s still simply not on the same level as the previous soundtracks, in my opinion. Maybe John Williams is simply losing his touch as he ages, or maybe J. J. Abrams specifically requested a more low-key score than usual. Whatever the case, I do think the new music is good, but I must also confess my slight disappointment with it.

But still, I can’t stop listening to Rey’s Theme. Help me.

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Apparently, this shot from the trailer wasn’t actually in the final film. Weird.

How have I not talked about the acting and the writing yet? The acting, for the most part, is wonderful. The new actors and actresses won me over with ease. Daisy Ridley is perfectly endearing and mysterious as Rey. John Boyega is heroic and funny as Finn. Oscar Isaac is charming and charismatic as Poe. Adam Driver is suitably torn and troubled as Kylo Ren. I loved them all, and I can’t wait to see more of them in the next movie.

The old returning cast is good as well, though not quite to the same degree. I liked Harrison Ford the best reprising his role as Han Solo; I never once felt that he had lost touch with his character. He really felt like an older Han Solo. Carrie Fisher was fine, but nothing she did in this movie really gripped me, admittedly. And I can’t wait to see Mark Hamill doing more things in the next one, because his scene at the end was so well-done! And he didn’t even say anything! His facial expressions (and Daisy Ridley’s) were all that scene needed to be a powerful cliffhanging finale.

Huge props go to J. J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Michael Arndt for the great screenplay. The dialogue was leagues better than in the prequels, keeping a healthy balance of serious and lighthearted. There were dark moments, and there were also hilarious moments. Heck, this might just be the funniest Star Wars film yet, and that’s a good thing. None of it felt overdone or forced (*cough* Jar Jar *cough*). It felt natural and real. And the actors had such great chemistry throughout the film! You could easily tell that they were having a blast making this movie, a plus that the prequels never really achieved. After leaving the theater, a friend of mine said that the characters in this movie had more chemistry than all of the prequels combined, and I have to agree. Awesome job, everyone.

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Time to wrap this thing up.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a phenomenal, triumphant return to the galaxy far, far away. J. J. Abrams and everyone who worked on it clearly poured a lot of love into it. It’s visually stunning. It sounds awesome, even if the music isn’t quite what it should have been. The cast is brilliant, especially the new players, and their characters are compelling and a blast to watch. The story, while a little bit too obvious in its parallels to A New Hope, is well-done, easy to follow, and exciting. The film is many things at once: a passionate tribute to what has come before, an exhilarating setup to what is yet to come, and an altogether rollicking good time for fans both old and new.

In fact, it might — it just might — be my new favorite Star Wars film. I’m not quite sure yet, but at the very least it’s miles better than the prequels. I think I’m going to need a few more viewings and some time to decide for sure, but I really do think it could take the place of Empire Strikes Back in my mind.

J. J. Abrams has said that, above all, he wanted the movie to be “delightful.” Well, J. J., you’ve definitely succeeded, and then some. I’ve seen your movie twice and I still want to see it at least twice more on the big screen. Congratulations on creating the most financially successful movie of the year, as well as one of the most critically acclaimed. You and everyone who worked on this film deserve it.

Bravo. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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I hope you enjoyed my review! What did you think of the movie? Comment below!

See you next time, and may the Force be with you. Always.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — My Hopes/Expectations

Guys . . . it’s almost here.

The new Star Wars movie is a mere ten days away.

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Has it really been about three years since it was first announced that Disney had acquired Lucasfilm and that they would be making at least three more movies in the series? Apparently.

And has it really been over a year since the first teaser trailer was released? Yup.

Hard to believe. But here we are, in December of 2015, eagerly awaiting the seventh installment in the saga. I don’t think I need to explain all the hype surrounding this movie. You’ve seen it. Even if you’re like me and haven’t watched any of the trailers, you’ve still stumbled across images here and there on social media. You’ve still found out the names of the new characters and what they look like. You’ve still picked up on theories about what the storyline will be.

So, what are my hopes and expectations for this movie?

Good question. And I’ve got a little bit of a curveball for you. I’ve decided that I should do my best to keep my hopes and expectations neutral. Not low, necessarily. Just neutral. As in not really having any hopes or expectations at all.

Let me explain. Just hypothetically, what if this movie is subpar? I know for most of you that idea is hard to believe, but it could still happen. Maybe not likely, considering the people who have made the film, but still possible. Imagine how heartbreaking it would be going to the theater expecting a cinematic masterpiece and just getting a so-so action flick. I’m not saying I really think that’s what will happen, but I am saying we should be prepared just in case.

On the other hand, what if the movie is absolutely spectacular? Everything we dreamed of and more? Well, if we keep our expectations neutral, we’ll be in for a huge and extremely pleasant surprise.

So, what I’m proposing (not just for myself) is to try to forget about the movie. Don’t think about it. Don’t worry, don’t speculate, don’t hope, don’t fear, don’t expect, don’t get caught up reading threads upon threads of people’s comments explaining why they think the film will either be incredible or awful (guilty).

Just wait.

Patience is the key. The movie is coming very soon. It will be here before we know it. If we just stop laboring over anxieties of whether it will be good or not, we’ll be all the more excited when that fateful day finally comes.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be excited. But I am saying that we should stop being hyped. I think it’s a subtle but important distinction.

So, with that being said, I hereby resolve to not read or watch anything related to Star Wars until after I’ve seen the movie. Further, I will not even use the Internet unless absolutely necessary in the week leading up to the film’s release — and not just because it’s going to become Spoiler Town in less than 12 parsecs. I don’t even want to know what critics are saying about it in advance. All I want to know as I enter that theater is that I’m about to see a new Star Wars movie. The rest will follow.

May the Force be with us all. Ten more days. We can do this.

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The next post on this blog will be my review of the film. I hope you check back after you’ve seen the movie!

“Star Wars” — My Overall Thoughts

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WHO’S EXCITED FOR THE NEW STAR WARS MOVIE?!?!?!?!

Actually, I think a better question would be: who’s NOT excited?

Well, as much as I’d like the answer to be “nobody,” I have slowly begun to accept that not everybody likes Star Wars (or has even seen it). It’s hard. But I’m learning to live with it. *sigh*

Regardless, the new Star Wars film is coming in less than a month! So, in preparation, I’ve decided to write a post describing my thoughts on the saga so far, one episode at a time.

So, let’s hop into it!

I saw the original trilogy first, and I still think every newcomer to the films should do the same. I vividly remember seeing the first one (now called A New Hope) when I was about five years old. I was completely and utterly mesmerized. Everything about it — how it looked, how it sounded, the story, the characters — my mind was blown. It was unlike anything I had ever seen or could have imagined at the time.

In fact, as soon as the movie was over, I remember going absolutely nuts. I ran upstairs shouting “THAT WAS SO COOL!” And then I proceeded to run around pretending to shoot things, going “pew pew!” until my parents insisted that I and my siblings go to bed.

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To this day, I still think the original film is one of the very best (#2 on my list, as a matter of fact). Sure, it’s not perfect, but that doesn’t stop it from being a rousing, funny, laser-brained adventure that I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of.

I saw the first film when I was five, but I didn’t see the next — The Empire Strikes Back — until I was about eight. Honestly, I don’t really remember the first time I saw it. I don’t remember my reaction to the big reveal (you know the one). What I do remember, though, is that Empire Strikes Back was never one of my favorites of the films when I was younger. Oh, sure, I liked it — it was Star Wars, for crying out loud — but it just wasn’t my favorite.

Then I got older.

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And now, Empire Strikes Back is my personal favorite of all the films so far. I think it’s the most well-constructed and well-plotted, improving on the original film in many ways. Also, despite being the darkest of the original trilogy, it’s also probably the funniest (I blame Han and Leia’s banter and C-3PO’s whining for most of that).

Next up is Return of the Jedi. I saw it not too long after I saw Empire Strikes Back, if I recall correctly. In contrast to that film, I actually like this movie a little bit less nowadays than I did when I was younger.

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Oh, it’s not bad. Not by a long shot! It’s a satisfying conclusion to the original trilogy, with plenty of action and humor as well as some emotionally intense scenes (particularly the climax of Luke’s battle with Vader and the Emperor). However, I do think it suffers from cheesiness, sometimes in the dialogue but mostly due to those darn Ewoks. They’re fine, but I really just can’t take them seriously anymore. (Please don’t hurt me.)

Also, the second Death Star was a bit . . . lazy to me. It’s still exciting to watch them blow it up and all, but still. Couldn’t they have come up with something a little bit different? Anyway, despite its flaws, Return of the Jedi is a good film, even if it is the weakest of the original trilogy.

Now on to the topic everyone loves to argue about: the prequels! Whoo boy. Well, I don’t think I need to elaborate on why there’s so much conflict about the newer trilogy, so I’ll just get right into my thoughts on each of them.

I think I saw The Phantom Menace fairly soon after Return of the Jedi, and I remember having a little difficulty explaining to my dad that it was “Episode I” but not the first movie they made. It was one of the “new ones,” which he and my mom were unfamiliar with. Thankfully, he brought the correct VHS tape home from the video rental store (blast from the past right there), but it was late at night, so I and my siblings needed to wait until the next day to watch it. Even when the next day came, though, I remember my mom insisting that we spend a certain amount of time outside before watching it (it was a rather gorgeous day). So we drew with chalk on the driveway for a while (maybe an hour), and it was probably one of the longest hours of my life. I was that excited to watch a new Star Wars movie.

And when I watched it (cue drumroll), I was not disappointed. Not in the least. In fact, for a while, Phantom Menace was one of my favorites of the Star Wars movies.

*collective outraged gasp*

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Well, can you blame me? I was younger then. I easily looked past the wooden acting and wonky script. I thought Jar Jar was funny. I loved the battle droids. I loved the podracing. I loved seeing the younger Obi-Wan, and Qui-Gon was cool. I loved Darth Maul (and I even dressed up like him for Halloween when I was six — three years before I even saw the movie). It was awesome!

In fact, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I finally realized it wasn’t quite as good as I remembered it being. I saw it when it was re-released in theaters in 3D a couple of years ago, and that was when I was first really bothered by the acting and script.

To this day, I still don’t hate the movie like a lot of people do. I acknowledge that it’s flawed, of course, and I think it’s the weakest of the movies. But I still enjoy it for what it is.

Now, strangely enough, the next one I saw was Revenge of the Sith, not Attack of the Clones. I forget why exactly. I was ten years old, and I thought it was awesome — one of my favorites.

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Even to this day, it actually still is! I rank it at #3 for the six movies. I think it does an overall good job of portraying the tragedy of Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader. It’s got less awkward writing and acting than the other two prequels; sure, it’s not phenomenal, but it’s better. I can think of just one scene with cringe-worthy romantic dialogue between Anakin and Padme, although I might be forgetting other scenes. And while Hayden Christiansen’s performance as Anakin could definitely have been better, I thought he generally did well (although some lines here and there feel off). And the “Execute Order 66” scene hits me with the feels every time.

Overall, I think Revenge of the Sith does more right than it does wrong, which is why I think it’s easily the best of the prequel trilogy.

And that leaves Attack of the Clones. A definite improvement over The Phantom Menace, but still not without problems. The number one offender, of course, is the love story for Anakin and Padme. While the concept of it is intriguing — you know it’s doomed from the start — the execution is, well . . . not great. Often laughable, actually. There’s not much real chemistry between the two, so their romantic scenes often feel forced.

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On the plus side, though, there’s plenty of action to go around! The speeder chase through Coruscant is pretty cool, as is the whole arena scene. Seeing Christopher Lee as Count Dooku was neat. There’s also better humor at work here than in the previous film, mostly from Obi-Wan (“You don’t want to sell me deathsticks”).

Oh, and Yoda’s fight with Dooku cracks me up (in a good way) every time. Sure, it’s over the top, but it’s awesome.

So, Attack of the Clones is one of the weakest of the movies, but there’s still plenty to enjoy about it.

So what’s next? The Force Awakens, of course. I don’t know about you, but I am beyond psyched for it. I haven’t watched the trailers, but I’ve seen some screenshots here and there, and I read an interview with J. J. Abrams that made me really hopeful. He really sounds like he knows what he’s doing. And everyone I’ve talked to has told me that the trailers look incredible.

Just to whet my appetite a bit, I actually found the music from the trailer on YouTube. Just the music. And just listening to the music made me more excited than I’ve ever been!

Anyway, time to wrap this up. I love Star Wars. I hope you do too. I hope you enjoyed reading my thoughts on the saga. And I really hope you’re as excited as I am for the new movie!

Just a few more weeks, guys. We can make it. We’re getting close. As Obi-Wan would say: “Patience!”

See ya in about two weeks! I’ll be posting my hopes and expectations for The Force Awakens then.

My Favorite Screen Characters

Hey, all! I’ve been tagged by Christine over at Musings of an Elf to do a post listing my ten favorite screen characters (from movies and TV shows).

Will this be impossible?

Absolutely. Which is why I’m going to cheat a little bit. (Don’t give me that look!)

Rather than actually try to narrow down a legitimate top ten list, I’m simply going to pick some of my favorite shows and movies and pick my favorite character from each (or one of them, if it’s too hard to choose one favorite character).

Yes, I know. I’m pathetic. Don’t judge me. :P

ANYWAY! Let’s do this thing. In no particular order, THE CHARACTERS!

Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (Phineas and Ferb)

"And I shall take over the entire Tri-State Area!!!"

“And I shall take over the entire Tri-State Area!!!”

Phineas and Ferb is my favorite show, and I’ve got to say that Doofenshmirtz is my favorite character from it. Everything about this guy makes me laugh: his voice, his outrageous evil schemes, his cluelessness about everyday things . . . for instance, one of my favorite moments from him is when he “invents” a vehicle that is “like a car, but it can drive on the surface of water!” He calls it the BO-AT (“BOH – at”), which stands for Buoyancy Operated Aquatic Transport.

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I nearly gave myself a hernia from laughing so hard the first time I saw this. And believe me, there is PLENTY more where that came from. What a character.

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Pinkie Pie (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

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Pinkamena Diane Pie, more commonly known as Pinkie Pie (or just Pinkie) is a blast to watch. She’s friendly, fun, sometimes over-the-top crazy, and often hilarious, taking a lot of cues from cartoons like Looney Tunes with her physics-defying antics and fourth-wall breaks.

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Besides her humor, she’s great because she’s always on the lookout for ways to make her friends happy. That’s her number one goal in life: to make others smile. And that’s pretty awesome.

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Mabel Pines (Gravity Falls)

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All of the main characters of Gravity Falls are fantastic, but if I had to pick just one, it would have to be Mabel. She’s funny, she’s adorkable, and she’s always looking on the bright side of things. Observe:

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Yup. With her plethora of colorful sweaters, her pet pig, and her braces, Mabel is a joy to watch in every episode.

Luna Lovegood (Harry Potter films 5-8)

I'm not quite sure, but I THINK Luna is supporting Gryffindor in today's Quidditch match.

I’m not quite sure, but I THINK Luna is supporting Gryffindor in today’s Quidditch match.

Moving on from TV shows to movies, it’s everyone’s favorite Ravenclaw! Well, at least mine. Now, if we weren’t talking specifically about screen characters, I probably would have mentioned a different character as my favorite from Harry Potter (probably Harry himself). However, I felt that a lot of the characters in the movies weren’t quite right. Luna, though, is about as close to perfect as you can get in terms of casting.

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Forget the casting, though — this character is awesome! She seems quite odd to most of the other characters, what with her “not quite all there” kind of personality, her strange fashion sense, and how she speaks her mind no matter how others might react. But looking past her eccentricity, you can find a girl who’s perhaps more loyal and kind a friend than any other. In the words of Ron Weasley:

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Han Solo (Star Wars original trilogy)

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Star Wars has so many great characters, this one was tough. But it’s hard not to love the arrogant, smart-talking smuggler whose heart of gold eventually wins out over his selfishness in the end. He’s funny, he’s brave, and his romance with Princess Leia is . . . well, I don’t have to explain it, really.

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Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings trilogy)

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Again, LOTR has many amazing characters. But Sam definitely takes the cake for me. Not only is he funny, he’s an exceedingly courageous hobbit, and stubbornly loyal. Without him, Frodo would never have gotten anywhere near Mordor, let alone managed to destroy the Ring. Devoted and caring, everyone should have a friend like Sam.

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Dory (Finding Nemo)

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My favorite character from the movie, and quite possibly my favorite Pixar character. Dory, as we all know, is a lovable blue tang with an unfortunate tendency to forget things almost instantly. The results are always hilarious, and people still quote her these days, more than a decade after the movie was released. If that’s not a memorable character, I don’t know what is. (Also, fingers crossed that Finding Dory will actually be good!)

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Benny (The LEGO Movie)

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It was a close call between this guy and Princess Unikitty, but I think Benny is my favorite character from The LEGO Movie — and that’s saying something, what with it being one of my favorite movies and all. There’s really not much to him, honestly — he’s a nice, fun, enthusiastic guy, and . . . well, he really, really loves spaceships. And building spaceships. And flying spaceships.

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Let me tell you, that part had me rolling in my seat without the ability to breathe. And that’s really all I’ve got to say about Benny. He’s the definition of entertaining.

Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean series)

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While not all the Pirates movies are great, this guy is the best character in each one of them. Never before I saw these movies did I think a pirate could be this funny. Much like Dory, he’s massively quotable, both for humor and for unexpected wisdom. Here, have a few.

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Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jurassic Park)

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Malcolm is my favorite character from this movie. Why? Do I really need to explain?

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In his own words: “Uh . . . well, there it is.”


*exhales deeply* Whew! That took a while.

Just as a reminder, no, this is not necessarily my actual top ten favorite screen characters of all time. This is just a sampling of some of my favorite screen characters from across the board. If I was to actually narrow it down to my actual top ten . . . well, let’s just say that post would never actually get written, because I would have spontaneously combusted trying to decide. *nods*

I think I’d like to do another list soon! Perhaps my favorite villains next, or favorite side characters. We’ll see.

Hope you guys enjoyed this list, and see you next week!