Marvel Cinematic Universe Discussion (Featuring MovieRob)

Hey there, dear readers!

Happy Memorial Day to those of you in the US! And to the rest of you, Happy Monday!  As I’m sure many of you may know, I am a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Marvel has accomplished nothing short of a miracle bringing so many of their properties to the big screen, intertwining them together to form one large, interconnected tapestry of stories.  Captain America: Civil War was the kick-off for what is know as Phase Three (Phase One was Iron Man to The Avengers and Phase Two was from Iron Man 3 to Ant-Man).  To celebrate this awesome milestone, my fellow movie blogger, Rob from MovieRob, and I had a discussion about our love of comic books and comic book movies.  Rob is a reviewing powerhouse, at the time of this post having reviewed 2250 movies on his site. And that number is only growing! If you don’t already follow him, go check out this reviewing madman’s site.  Now, let’s get to it!

Me:

I know that you read comic books when you were younger (or do you still?). How excited were you when you found out Marvel was trying to create an expansive shared universe with their heroes?

Rob:

Yes, I was a huge comic book fan as a kid. I remember when I was about 7 or 8, we had a HUGE box of comics in the basement that I would spend my spare time going through.  It had all kinds of titles there and I would read and reread them over and over.  Two of my favorites (that I can recall) were The Empire Strikes Back comic book adaptation and a Spider-Man vs. Hulk deluxe comic.

Spider-Man vs. Hulk

As a teen, I once again got very much into comics but usually only read war or army titles like Sgt. Rock and GI Joe.

When I saw the Armageddon 2001 series that came out in 1991, I got hooked on DC superhero comics.  Because it was a DC crossover series featured in all of the annuals of that year, I got a great taste of all of the different DC titles.

This actually started my love for the DC universe of superheroes and my perchance for reading Marvel titles here and there was abated.

For the next few years, I became obsessed with DC comics and amassed over a thousand titles.  When I moved out of the states, it made it more difficult to keep up and I eventually just stopped collecting. When my folks sold their house a few years later, they sold my comics to a local shop (with my permission of course).  I kept some of my favorites though.

I somewhat regret that decision to sell the remainder, but looking back, I still know it was the right decision.

When I got divorced in 2006, my ex threw away my comics and told me that she couldn’t find them, so I now have no comic books to my name.

For some reason, after all these years, I still have that preference in my mind between DC and Marvel even 25 years later.

When they announced the MCU movies, I was happy, but since we just had The Dark Knight come out, I thought that no matter how good the MCU will be, it’ll never be able to be better than what Christopher Nolan brought us with his TDK series.

I still dreamed that one day, they would make a Justice League series featuring all of my favorite heroes from the DC universe, but knew it would be too difficult to get such an array of stars to join in.

As I read more and more about how they were planning to do the MCU, I realized that they were essentially trying to do for Marvel what I had always hoped would be done for DC.

It’s been slow going since then because it obviously takes much more time to build a movie universe than a comic book one.  Since they only can make 1 or 2 movies a year (maximum 3), it has taken nearly 9 years to get to where they are at, but it’s been a great ride so far.

The fact that they could make origin movies for the top superheroes (Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America) and then bring them all together in an Avengers movie within just a few years really adds to the impact of each of those characters.  The MCU keeps expanding yearly and I for one can’t wait to see where it’s all going especially since they keep adding more solo movies to the fray which will make things even better as we keep going forward!

What about you? What is your comic background?

Me:

The Amazing Spider-Man #539

I started getting into the comic book superheroes in the 90s.  My Saturday mornings and time after school were usually spent watching the animated Spider-Man, X-Men, and Batman series, as well as Justice League in the late 90s / early 2000s. So I’ve always been exposed to the characters but I really didn’t start reading comics until about ten years ago.  When I was in high school, the collectable card game Yu-Gi-Oh was in its heyday and I would participate in weekend Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments at a comic shop not too far from my house.  Later in high school, I was doing some fundraising for an out-of-country trip with some classmates and went into the comic shop to see if they would donate some money for an event we were hosting.  While I was in the comic shop, the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #539 caught my eye.  This was around the time of Spider-Man 3 *shudders* so of course Marvel put Peter back into his black suit for a short time.  This particular issue had a this awesome, full body picture of Spider-Man in his black suit as the cover. Now, the black suit is my favorite Spider-Man outfit, so I picked it up and enjoyed it and started reading the Amazing Spider-Man series.  A few months later, Uncanny X-Men hit their 500th issue so I picked that up and began reading Uncanny X-men. Then the rest, as they say, is history.

My preference has always been more towards Marvel than DC.  The characters are more relatable, or at least as relatable as one with superpowers can be.  They feel like they deal with more everyday people problems than DC.  DC heroes are more larger than life, which I know is some of the appeal to some people, just not to me.  However, I still enjoy both and I keep up with the DC characters, whether that is television series, movies, or even catching up on comic story arcs using Wikipedia.

When the MCU started with Iron Man in 2008, I had no idea it was going to be as expansive as it was.  At that time, staying until the end of the credits for an extra scene wasn’t really a thing yet but luckily my buddy and I did.  When Nick Fury shows up and says “I’m here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative,” I got SUPER excited.  Here I was thinking that this was going to be an isolated franchise, like Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films or the X-men movies.  But no. Marvel was actually going to bring together the Avengers on screen.  I was ecstatic to say the least.

What would you say are the MCU’s strengths?

Rob:

That’s actually quite funny. You gave away my answer in your final thought on the differences between Marvel and DC.

I think more people can relate to Marvel characters BECAUSE of the fact that they are flawed humans with super abilities as opposed to the Larger than life super heroes of DC.

Most of the Marvel heroes are men and women who got their powers through some kind of freak accident, but still retain their human emotions and problems.

The members of The Avengers are just that…

Examples:

Captain America was a skinny patriot who was given a super soldier serum
Hulk was a researcher who got zapped by gamma Ray
Spider-Man was a teen bitten by a radioactive spider
Iron man was a weapons manufacturer who created a suit to keep himself alive after a freak accident

The fact that each of the main Avengers got their own origin movie plus a few follow ups, gives us a much clearer picture as to who they all are and we get to also see their human emotion in almost everything that they have done.

I think that really is the strength here; the emotional character development of the characters.

This development made it much easier for us to understand the individual character decisions in the recent Civil War film.

Because we are more emotionally connected to the characters, we want to see how they work together as a team and also on individual levels.

The fact that they have also included other characters that aren’t directly related to the Avengers (i.e. GOTG) is also great because they really are trying to create a whole new universe for us to embrace.

What has endeared you to the MCU?

Me:

Haha Sorry about that. I couldn’t help myself. 😛

That’s exactly what it is. I remember in collage a friend of mine sent me an article about why the article’s author preferred the DC heroes over the Marvel heroes and every point they listed on why they preferred DC were all the reasons why I prefer the Marvel heroes (I can’t remember many of them besides them being larger-than-life I mentioned before).  In the right hands, any hero can be a part of good story. However, fundamentally, Marvel heroes are better characters, mostly falling back to all the points you just listed.

I tried not to make any comparisons to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice in my review of Captain America: Civil War, but they are too similar not to.  I think the character developments you mentioned are the reason Civil War was so much better than Dawn of Justice.  There was no character build-up prior, or even during, Dawn of Justice.  The headlining fight between Batman and Superman had no emotional weight behind it so as the audience, we didn’t much care about what the fight meant.  On the other hand, we spent so much time with the characters on both sides of the “war” over the last eight years that we were invested in the conflict between these heroes and friends.  That’s not to say that Batman and Superman each needed years of build-up before finally clashing. Dawn of Justice just needed to be trimmed and more focused instead of trying to cram in so many plot lines for future movies. I feel like I’m getting off track so I’m going to end that rant there.

Guardians of the Galaxy movie poster
Ant-Man movie poster

What I have enjoyed most about the MCU is how lighthearted it is.  It can still be serious but it never becomes so dark that a few quick one-liners can’t draw out a laugh.  I think much of that is a unique combination of the writers and excellent casting.  Actors like Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Pratt and Paul Rudd are great comedic actors to begin with and might not seem like superhero movie material but Marvel somehow made it work brilliantly.  Even in movies with a serious atmosphere, like The Winter Soldier or Civil War, there is still plenty of humor to prevent it from becoming too serious.  Marvel perfected this balance in The Avengers and they have been very successful in replicating the mix of action and humor ever since.

What do you think are the MCU’s weaknesses? What can Marvel improve and do better?

Rob:

Great point about the lightheartedness.

The comics of DC are more humorous, but the movies take things a bit too seriously.

I’m a huge fan of Pratt and Rudd and definitely would never have thought of casting them beforehand, but now they feel like the perfect choices.

Well, even though the MCU films are all quite good, there definitely are some weaknesses.

The fact that we have been introduced to so many new characters movie after movie, it feels that when they do get together for an ensemble movie, most of them still get lost in the crowd and are relegated to what would seem like just cameo duty.

Take Civil War for instance.Captain America: Civil War trailer

It’s supposed to be a Captain America film, but due to the bigger storyline, they need to include lots of Avengers, new and old and then we lose focus on most of them because in just two and a half hours, they need to establish a capable story (which they do), but also highlight over ten different superheroes.

I believe that this is part of the reason that Thor and Hulk are absent here; too many characters that they needed to send them off on other quests in order to not have two more main characters with little to do but fight each other.

This is the main reason it’s so hard to do this as a movie series as opposed to a TV show or comic book. In a TV show you have 22-24 episodes a year in order to lay out your plan of attack, develop the players and then execute the final confrontation. If each episode is roughly 45 minutes, that gives them between 17 and 18 hours to tell a full story arc a year instead of just 2.5 hours (maximum).

I haven’t yet seen Dawn of Justice, but from what I’ve heard, they try to cram too much into such a short span of time that things get entirely lost. Civil War as a similar runtime, but they have already used so many films to build things up that it doesn’t feel as wasted.

With a comic book, there is even more flexibility to create a greater story arc because there are titles that have 50 comics a year and something like this would allow for crossovers with the added bonus of not having to pay actors high salaries to appear for 5 minutes of screen time.

Another problem with the MCU is that the general arc feels focused, but until Infinity Wars, we won’t know the full extent of it all and that is frustrating that one must wait over 10 years; Frodo and Sam did it in 3.

What do u think the weaknesses of the MCU are?

Me:

I am disappointed that WB is keeping the DC TV shows and movies as separate universes. I have always said for the last couple years that they should be shared. The TV shows could be use to build the characters, then the films used for crossovers and their big names, like Superman or Batman. That would help with the problem of needing to fit the characters’ development into 2+ hours. Plus that would make it feel very comic book-y, where each episode is an issue and each film is a crossover event. At least for DC.

For me, I’m really looking for Infinity War’s payoff. The big picture has been teased for so long now I can’t wait to see what all of it has been building towards. The only thing I am worried about for beyond Phase Three, though, is how do you top a galactic conflict like the Infinity Gauntlet storyline? I feel like the scale of anything after Infinity War is going to feel so small compared to it. There is a long way to go until we get there so I’m not losing too much sleep over it… yet.

I liked the way Captain America: Civil War balances all the characters. The two core aspects of the film are Steve and Bucky’s relationship and the conflict between Steve and Tony. In both of those, Steve is a part of it, making it the Captain America movie it should be. Excluding Black Panther and Spider-Man, we have already spent time with the other characters so there wasn’t a need to see a lot of screen time from them for development since that happened in their own movies. As for Black Panther, he received the development we needed to see why he would enter the conflict and gave us just enough of him to be excited for his upcoming film. Spider-Man was the only one that remotely felt shoe-horned into the movie.

LokiThe biggest weakness I see with the MCU after Phases One and Two is that there is only one significant villain: Loki. Not all movies need deep, Magneto- or Loki-style villains. For example, Guardians of the Galaxy was just fine with a very flat villain. His sole purpose in the film was to bring the team together and he accomplished that. I have heard many people talk about the lack of good villains in the MCU films for a while but it didn’t really bother me until Ant-Man. Darren Cross was in the perfect position to be an evil mirror to Scott Lang. He and Scott could have been two sides of the same coin. With Cross’ history with Pym, he could have been this deep(ish) villain, showing what could happen to Lang if he is not careful and building on Pym’s character with his past mistakes. Instead, Cross was evil for evil’s sake and that bothered me for the first time since the MCU started in 2008. If we can get more villains to stick around going through Phase Three and be developed more, that would make me so happy.

What do you hope to see out of Phase Three?

Rob:

Your DC crossover idea is great. It’s not easy to do a movie/TV crossover but that could actually work well and serve the greater good… too bad it probably won’t happen.

I also agree that after Infinity War, it might be hard to go grander, but I guess we need to hope (and pray) that they know what they are doing and that Phase 3 won’t kill the whole thing.

I liked the intros that Spidey and BP got in Civil War, but we’ll have to wait and see how they are developed further in the future.

I think the lack of great villains is on purpose because they are all supposed to just be pawns in a huge game of chess. Thanos is basically the supervillain playing the puppeteer in order to get what he wants, the Infinity Gauntlet, so the lack of great villains doesn’t bother me as much.

Thanos

I think the DC universe has better “minor” villains than Marvel and I would love to eventually see some of them in future DC movies; Monarch, Eclipso, or even Hal Jordan’s transformation into Parallex.

Regarding Phase 3, I can’t say I have much expectations either way. I’ve liked the path that they have taken so far, and I think we need to rely on the fact that they know where they are going with all of this and that they will continue to entertain us along the way.

My biggest concern tho is that since the MCU movies have so far been spread out over a decade and the end is still not in sight (thankfully), I wonder how they plan to keep the same actors for so many years (both contractually and physically). Yes, The Hulk has so far been played by 3 different actors, but that’s one character, to start changing them all might be more problematic. The comics have been around for decades, but drawings don’t age, actors do…

What do u think would be the best way to continue the continuity of the actors and characters over another decade of movies?

Me:

That is a good point about Thanos being the puppeteer. But that doesn’t mean all the other villains need to be flat. It’s not like Thanos is directly manipulating them like he was Ronin in GotG.

The easiest thing for Marvel to do to continue for a decade or more of movies is to cast younger actors, like they have done with Tom Holland. However, the most practical thing for them to do is when the actors become unable to play the parts, pass the mantle along to another character, and therefore another actor. Mantles are being passed on all the time in comics so it wouldn’t feel out of place if it happened in the film. Recasting actors that we have become so ingrained to us as these characters would not feel right. Plus it would take away from this thing they are doing where the MCU timeline occurs in real-time if they bring in a younger actor for the same role.

To wrap up, what are your top five MCU films so far?

Rob:

I know that DC hands off mantle’s but I’m not familiar enough with Marvel to know who has done that. But that does seem to be more prudent than just recasting the characters with younger actors.

Here’s my Top 5

1. Guardians of the Galaxy – This is actually the only MCU movie I regret not seeing in the theater (I’ve actually seen none of them in the theater). I loved the characters and the way that they created a whole new populated and “lived in”. Can’t wait for the sequel…which I plan to see in the theater!

2. Captain America: Winter Soldier – Cap has always been my favorite Avenger due to his honesty, bravery and patriotism. This film showcased it all when he had to battle Hydra lingering within SHIELD.

3. Captain America: Civil War – Great addition to the MCU because it gives the characters a moral dilemma that they must decide which of two sides to join where neither is really the wrong choice.

4. Captain America: First Avenger – Being a HUGE fan of Cap, I loved his origin story that was told so well for us to understand what he went thru back in the 1940’s and then his arrival in the 21st Century.

5. Avengers: Age of Ultron – This was the movie that ignited the whole Civil War storyline and they helped introduce is to some great characters who would have a larger impact on the MCU moving forward.

How does ur Top 5 pan out?

Me:

That’s a lot of Captain America! My top five are:

1. The Avengers – The big payoff after four years of set up, bringing all the characters from Phase One together. It had humor, action, and drama all together and well balanced and was simply a ton of fun.

2. Guardians of the Galaxy – This is probably the funniest of the MCU films. It showed that Marvel can do great with even their lesser known properties. GotG is how you do an ensemble origin story.

3. Iron Man – The one that started it all. Robert Downey, Jr. was spot-on casting. Like GotG, this is the perfect superhero origin story.

4. Captain America: Civil War – The Civil War comic is one of my favorite events from Marvel. Marvel adapted it very well, keeping the elements that made the story great even with the smaller scale. Not to mention the airport fight scene is one of my new favorite action pieces.

5. Ant-Man – By the end of Phase Two, the MCU films became very intertwined. Ant-Man establishes itself in the universe but is able to maintain a certain level autonomy. Paul Rudd was an unexpected casting choice but he could not have been more perfect. Plus Michael Pena as Luis alone is worth the watch.

Thank you so much for the discussion, Rob. The MCU is one of my favorite film franchises so this has been great to talk in depth about it.

Rob:

I’m so happy this worked out. This was lots of fun!


Many of the points I talked about I have said in discussion with my friends but I haven’t written them here on my blog so this was a great way to finally share them with you all.

How about you? What are your thoughts on the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Its strengths? Weaknesses? Things you like or didn’t like? Favorites?

Cheers!

Ranking the Disney Renaissance Films (Featuring Flick Chicks)

The Disney Renaissance is an exciting era of Disney’s history.  For those of you who don’t know, the Disney Renaissance is the period of Disney films starting with The Little Mermaid in 1989 and ending with Tarzan in 1999.  During this time, Disney films saw a resurgence in their quality and most (if not all) of the films were critical success and mostly financial successes.  The Little Mermaid was Disney’s first animated fairy tale since Sleeping Beauty in 1959 and the first Disney animated film to have a Broadway musical feel to it.  Alan Menkin composed scores for many of the Disney Renaissance films, working with lyricists Howard Ashman in the early films before Ashman’s passing.

For many kids who grew up in the 90s, this was a fantastic era of Disney films to be a child.  Feeling nostalgic, I asked the ladies of Flick Chicks, the wonderful Allie and Jenna, if they would join me in taking a look back at this time of animated film history.  They were all too eager to join in! Jenna and Allie review all sorts of films and television series in their unique style you will see below, as well as offer monthly movie trivia.  Their love for Disney probably rivals my own.  Go give them a visit once you are through here if you don’t follow them already.

Disney Renaissance Banner

The girls and I decided to make our best attempts to rank the films from the Disney Renaissance.  There are ten films so that made things nice and round. This is obviously not a definite list since our opinions are constantly changing and all these films are great but we made our best attempts at it.  Allie will give her list first. Allie’s contributions are in purple and Jenna’s are in red.

Take it away, ladies!

When Drew dropped us an email asking if we would be up for collaborating on a post with him, we were super excited. When we carried on reading and found out he wanted to rank the Disney Renaissance movies with us, we were a little hysterical! We don’t need to be given an excuse to gush about Disney movies! I am in a great place at the moment because my niece is discovering the old school Disney films for the first time so when that little face looks at me and says ‘Aunty Jenna, can we watch The Little Mermaid’ my face lights up and I proceed to sing and make her dance to every song. Makes my heart happy.

This has been so much harder than we thought, though. I mean, ranking any kind of list is near on impossible for me, but there are movies at the bottom of this list that I love! The Renaissance period between 1989-1999 was undoubtedly one of, if not the best times for Disney movies. I feel like there is an immediate divide between the ones I have watched thousands of times and the ones I have watched only once, there is no in between. It’s the period we grew up in, and I hold these movies very close to my heart. So without further ado, let’s do this!

10) The Rescuers Down Under (1990)

Now, I feel mean putting this one last, but it’s the one I remember the least. I do remember crying though, for sure. I definitely cried when the eagle (I thought it was a seagull haha! Omg maybe it was and I’ve remembered wrong?!) was captured, and I probably cried at the end as well because of how happy it was. There’s definitely a running theme between Disney movies and me crying, ha! I think what I enjoyed the most about The Rescuers Down Under was that it taught me how to treat animals, and that’s stayed with me my whole life.

9) Tarzan (1999)

Again, I feel mean for putting Tarzan here, but in my defence, when I first watched it as a child, I was on a Jungle Book hype, and my child brain only had room to love one jungle-related movie, so this one got pushed aside (I wish I had thought of this excuse!). It’s only really now, after far too many remakes, that I can fully appreciate this version. It was absolutely fine, it was full of adventure, and I really wish we didn’t have yet another version coming out soon!

8) Mulan (1998)

I was so into this when it first came out. I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, and as much as I enjoyed rewatching my favourite Disney princess movies, watching a female become one of the boys and kicking ass was all of my dreams come true. Mushu really captured my heart too, and that developed into a love of all things dragons and knights in shining armor. I only ranked it this low because I haven’t seen it for years, and I don’t know why. I’ll remedy that soon!

7) Pocahontas (1995)

Ugh, isn’t Pocahontas just one of the most beautiful movies of all time? I wasn’t a fan of this one as a child, it’s adult me who appreciates this for what it really is. I think it was released too soon after The Lion King, and suffered because of that. In fact, if anyone hasn’t watched this since they were little, I’d highly recommend giving it another try now. I’ll think you’ll enjoy it much more this time round. How strange, I have actually said that I don’t feel like I appreciated it as a child and I need to give it a go now I’m grown up! Now it’s a must!

6) Hercules (1997)

Oh I can’t believe I’m about to admit this, but I didn’t watch Hercules until this year. I know! I bring shame to myself. I feel guilty even typing this. I don’t even know why I didn’t watch it years ago. Maybe I was studying Greek mythology at school and it felt like homework? Who knows. All I know now is that this movie is so much fun.Just don’t watch it with my fiance. This is his favourite Disney movie of all time and he can repeat every single line, how did I not know this, I feel a Zero to Hero duet for the wedding!!. It’s quite scary actually. He’s going to enjoy Disneyland more than I will, I just know it.

5) The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Now it’s getting harder to rank these. This movie made me feel so sad at the cinema, I cried non stop for about ten minutes. It’s one of those movies that I watch and then hate myself for it. It’s so good, but it makes me so sad afterwards, it’s heartbreaking. It’s also got one of the greatest songs in movie history, The Bells of Notre Dame. It gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it.

4) The Little Mermaid (1989)

This is the first Disney Renaissance movie, and definitely kicked the time period off with a bang! It came out when I was born, but it was most likely one of my first Disney movies that I got to watch at home. It’s the soundtrack that made me fall in love with it, and started my childhood obsession with collecting any and all odd objects that I would find throughout my days. I haven’t seen it for years, but thanks to my Mum’s impressions, I can remember clear as day the line Ursula says about ‘body language’! this is my favourite villain line in any Disney movie EVER!

3) Aladdin (1992)

Disney has always been about making dreams come true, but Aladdin brought a much more adventurous way of this, with the help of Robin Williams voicing the Genie, one of the greatest Disney characters of all time, agreed!. This is one that’s still just as much fun to watch as an adult, and the songs are just so catchy. I can’t forget how terrifying the carpet dash out of the cave was either. I had an Aladdin Super Nintendo game, and that cave level still gives me nightmares. I feel like I may forgotten parts of this film, I need a Disney Renaissance marathon.

2) The Lion King (1994)

The Lion King was my first experience at the cinema, a day I’ll never forget. I was that kid who was probably in every screen around the world that year, who started sobbing and asked aloud ‘Mummy, is he dead?’(best cinema story ever!). It took a whole year to get over that trauma I think, but The Lion King rapidly became my favourite movie ever. I had the stuffed toys, I wanted trips to the zoo every weekend, and unfortunately for my poor Mum, I wanted this movie put on every tea time.

1) Beauty and the Beast (1991)

My number 1 spot literally changes every day, but in my heart I know Beauty and the Beast has to come first. Belle was (and is) my favourite Disney princess, she was the one I could relate to the most when I was younger. I had no interest in clothes, or shopping, all I wanted to do was find somewhere quiet to read a book. Just everything about this movie makes my heart ache, from the gripping story, the beautiful romance, the fun characters, and the songs that I still play in my car now. I have found a new love for Gaston (the song) and have blasted it out of my car every day this week on the way to work!

Now Jenna’s turn!

10) Tarzan

I feel bad putting this at 10, however I have to because I can’t comment on it as I haven’t seen it. Drafting this post has reminded me how little I have actually seen of Disney films or only seen once and can’t remember. I would guess I would like Tarzan and it is now on my watch list but that’s the best I can do!

9) The Hunchback of Notre Dame

This film scared the bejesus out of me when I was a kid, I don’t know why I just really didn’t like it. (I can’t argue with you here but for some reason I still love watching it!) I am also not so keen on the story, not that Disney films in general have a great track record for reflecting the real world preferring to focus on fairy tales, true love and happily ever after, but this one really stuck with me. The good guy is supposed to get the girl, not the better looking one!! Maybe in hindsight, this one actually reflects real life moreso than the others with the not so great looking nice guy gets friend-zoned for the good looking jock!

8) Mulan

Mulan, the most under rated Princess in all of the Disney-verse, Ariel left her family and whole life to be with a man, Jasmine gave up the throne for a man, Belle gave up her freedom for a man/beast and Mulan…..well she saved CHINA!!! That being said, I’m not that keen on this film, I actually found it really boring and haven’t watched it again since the first time. Admitted, I think I’m a sucker for the happily ever after and true loves kiss!!

7) Pocahontas

Did anyone ever watch this film more than once? I’m not sure when I watched it as a kid I actually understood a lot of it. I will say that it does have a killer soundtrack that I regularly sing full volume in my car. I always remember not liking the animation, it looked so different to the Disney films I had watched before and it always put me off. Plus I didn’t like the love interest, with the likes of Eric and Aladdin to compete with, John Smith had no chance. Maybe I need to give this a go now I’m older and able to appreciate the story a bit more. See, what did I tell you!

6) The Rescuers Down Under

Just to clarify, that’s an eagle. Either that or the biggest seagull ever.

I had completely forgotten about this but I did in fact have it on VHS and watched it until it wore out. I don’t remember much of the story to be honest but I get a warm and fuzzy feeling in my tummy when I see images from the film or clips. I do remember the flying scene on a bird or seagull, I can’t remember the detail but I loved it. Excuse me while I go and watch it again and also having only just realised that this is a sequel, give the first one a go as well!

5) Hercules

This is another one that the soundtrack makes the movie. This must be good as I have seen the whole movie but in multiple sittings and all the wrong order and I still love it. Zero to Hero is a singing staple in my car (even though I sing all the wrong words – I think songs are even better when you make up your own lyrics). I really love all the random pop culture references and spot new ones every time, my favourite quote ‘It’s a small underworld after all….’

4) Aladdin

The Genie, need I say more! This film would have been waaaay down on the list if it wasn’t for Robin Williams comical genius – am I right in thinking he had complete creative freedom and pretty much improvised most of his lines?! Amazing soundtrack (would expect nothing less from Disney) and an action packed fun fest with a genuinely scary bad guy.

3) The Lion King

Oooooh Mufasa (still my favourite think to shout at slow moving cars, Mufasa!), that scene still haunts me, all the feels! I love everything about this movie and I pondered whether to put it at number one, but I was such a princess when I was a little girl that the other two just pipped it. However, this film has some of the best characters, Timon and Pumbaa, such legends. The sing along factor also has to be considered, who doesn’t know the words to Hakuna Matata.

2) Beauty and the Beast

I always wanted to be Belle at any fancy dress party (unfortunately my Mom put me in a red tshirt and a cotton wool beard and sent me as Doc instead!!) and I love the music and would sing along to the video all day. The animation in this is truly stunning, especially the dancing scene in the ballroom, really beautiful. This was really close to being number one but my heart will always be under the sea…..

1) The Little Mermaid

Like Allie my first cinema experience was a Disney film but it was The Little Mermaid for my 5th birthday, I don’t think I moved through the entire thing. I was completely awestruck by the colours and the characters and that feeling has just grown with me over the years. I still get goosebumps during ‘Part of your world’ and I still jump every time King Triton shouts and now I get to watch it with my niece who does exactly the same and it makes my heart melt. I had all the merchandise for this one, lunch box, thermos, Ariel doll, flounder soft toy. You name it, I had it.

My turn!

10) The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Maybe it’s because I haven’t watched this as many of the other films on this list, but I am not a big fan of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  This was one of the first movies I remember watching in the theater and it did not sit well with me.  It was very dark for my childhood eyes. As a child, it was hard for me to understand why Frollo acted the way he did toward Quasimodo or the Gypsies.  When compared to the other movies from the Disney Renaissance, the music isn’t as memorable.  However, the voice cast is great with Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Tony Jay, and Kevin Kline. Maybe if I give this another watch now that I’m older my feelings will change.

9) The Rescuers Down Under

Despite being only ninth on my list, I watched The Rescuers Down Under regularly as a kid.  Bernard and Bianca are such a fun pair to watch travel through an unfamiliar place.  Especially when Jake gets between them.  John Candy as the albatross Wilbur is probably my favorite character from the entire film, though.  Candy is such a funny comedic actor and brings those chops to his voice work as Wilbur.  The Rescuers Down Under is kind of the odd-man-out compared to the rest of the Disney Renaissance films since it’s not a musical. However, it is an exciting adventure that can still stand with the rest of the films of the era.

8) Tarzan

The first two films were easy to place but now I’m beginning to move into the part where it becomes more difficult. I think one of the things I enjoy the most about Tarzan is that it was the original songs were done by Phil Collins. Tarzan isn’t a musical per se but it still feels like it a little bit.  The characters aren’t the ones singing but it still has many songs.  It sounds so different than the other films since Collins is the one singing.  Taking place in the jungle, the animation looks great with all the beautiful greens.  CGI and hand-drawn animation were in complete sync, a great feat considering the technique of mixing the two had only began little more than ten years earlier.

7) Pocahontas

Pocahontas is probably the most colorful of the Disney Renaissance films.  I mean, just look at “Colors of the Wind!”  But I think where Pocahontas falls short of the other films is the story.  It doesn’t quite have the engaging story that many of the other movies on this list. The music also was good but it wasn’t as memorable.  In its defense, it did follow The Lion King, which is a tough act to follow.  That said, it still is a lot of fun.  Flit and Meeko are a great comedy pair.  I really liked Mel Gibson as the voice of John Smith and David Ogden Stiers as Governor Radcliff. I’ll watch Pocahontas if I come across it on TV but it still is one of my least watched movies from the era.

6) Beauty and the Beast

I know what you are thinking, “Beauty and the Beast is only number six?!” I know, I know.  Although it is a great (fantastic) film, even being the first animated film nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, I just never watched this a lot when I was little.  I think that being a boy, I didn’t get into the princess stories as much. My favorite part is the music. “Be Our Guest” is one of my favorite Disney songs of all time. I think “Gaston” is one of the more underrated villain songs next to “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” I love Beauty and the Beast, I just don’t love it as much as the films in the top half of my list.

5) The Little Mermaid

Ah, the one that started it all. The Little Mermaid was more my cousin’s and my sister’s movie than it was mine but I still always had fun watching it.  “Under the Sea” rivals “Be Our Guest” as one of my favorite Disney songs.  Ursula is one of my favorite Disney villains, if only for her awesome song, “Poor Unfortunate Souls.”  I think between King Triton, Flounder, Ariel, or Eric, everyone can find a little bit of themselves in the characters.

4) Hercules

I didn’t watch Hercules more than a few times when I was younger but when it got it on DVD, I couldn’t watch it enough.  The animation is very unique and makes it look like you are watching a Greek painting come to life.  Disney really knows how to do its villains during this time because Hades was an absolute blast.  He was a quick and smooth talker.  James Woods added a lot to the part.  Meg isn’t your usual maiden.  She may be a damsel and she may have been in distress on more than one occasion but she is plenty capable of handling herself.

3) Mulan

Years and years ago, I was with my mom looking for birthday gifts for my little sister (not the one who loved The Little Mermaid).  I came across the DVD of Mulan and told my mom that’s what I wanted to give my sister as her birthday present. She looked at me and said “Are you sure it’s for her and not for you?” Despite my mom being right, I played it off. “No, no. It’s for her. She loves this movie.” I didn’t know if that was true or not but I really wanted Mulan in our collection and being a kid, I figured this was going to be my best chance of getting it. My mom reluctantly bought it and I gave it to my sister a few days later. What happened next could not have played into my little lie any better. My sister loved it! She watched it everyday for probably two months straight.  Mulan was to her as Toy Story was to me when I was around her age. I think I thought I managed to trick my mom but I’m pretty sure she knew all along the real reason why I wanted to get it for my sister so badI love everything about Mulan. Every song is catchy and awesome. The characters are fun, especially Mushu and Crickey. The story is great and is particularly empowering for girls. This film came towards the end of the Disney Renaissance so it had a lot to live up to and it managed to live up to those expectations and then some.

2) The Lion King

I know that Beauty and the Beast is considered the crown jewel of the Disney Renaissance but I think that honor should actually belong to The Lion KingThe Lion King probably has the best story of these ten films, the songs are just as good, if not a little better, and Lumiere and Cogsworth have nothing on Timon and Pumbaa.  Not to mention Scar, who might be the best Disney villain. His plan actually works! Let’s think about that for a moment. Out of all the Disney villains who came before, he became king, exactly like he wanted.  Sure, you might say he was defeated by Simba but I would come back and tell you that was after what was probably a few years (the time wasn’t really mentioned). He held onto the crown for a decent amount of time.  Not many (if any) other Disney villains can make that claim.

1) Aladdin

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, it should be no surprise that Aladdin is my number one Disney Renaissance film. It shares the number one spot as the film of my childhoodAladdin was my go to movie for years (still is sometimes).  I couldn’t get enough of it! Although it is titled Aladdin, Genie steals the show. Robin Williams proved that he could do anything. Iago probably is another favorite character of mine.  Can I mention Jafar for a second and how menacing he is? That cackle of his gave me goosebumps. More than Belle, more than Simba, more than Ariel, I enjoyed being by Aladdin’s side as he was called a street rat, was tricked into going to the Cave of Wonders, found the lamp and escaped to become a prince, went on a magic carpet ride with the princess, was discovered as a fake prince, and when he finally defeated the evil sorcerer.  It was an adventure I was thrilled to be a part of.


And there you have it! Huge thank you to Jenna and Allie of Flick Chicks for taking the time to write this post with me. It was a ton of fun and gave me another excuse to revisit one of my favorite times in cinematic history. It’s exciting to see how much Disney films have influenced our lives, even being among each of our first theater experiences. The writers at Disney truly are master storytellers and know how to affect people across generations, across oceans, and across time.

How about you? What are your favorite films of the Disney Renaissance?

Cheers!

PS, Jenna, I need to see a picture of you dressed as Doc!

Movie Score Discussion (Featuring Emmakwall (explains it all))

Hey there, dear readers!

How are you doing this fabulous Tuesday? We all know how much a movie’s score can add to its experience. I have brought it up in several of my reviews and so have many other movie reviewers and critics.  My fellow movie blogger Emma, over at Emmakwall (explains it all), is one such person.  Emma loves movie soundtracks, probably even more than I do!  She is a huge movie music fan and regularly looks at and analyzes movie soundtracks, even devoting an entire section of her site to soundtracks.  Being the movie music fans that we are, we decided to have a chat about our common interest. Let’s get to it!

Me: Hey, Emma, I’ll start with a simple question: Why do you think a good score is important in a film?

Emma: Well it highlights and accentuates what’s going on in the movie scene. Even if the person watching doesn’t always realise! Whatever the emotions are being played out on screen, they can be heightened even further by the background music, giving the viewer an even better experience.

Me: I agree. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been watching a film and all of a sudden emotions build inside me, simply because of the music.

Emma: Can you think of any scores that made an impression on you when you were younger?

Jurassic Park logo

Me: There were two scores that really impacted me when I was younger: Jurassic Park and the Star Wars original trilogy. Both of which happened to be written by the great John Williams, who is my favorite film composer. When John Hammond says “Welcome to Jurassic Park” and the Jurassic Park theme begins playing, I get so excited, even today after several dozen viewings.  Same with when the music starts when the opening crawl begins in any Star Wars movie.  Although, you can’t beat the Imperial March! I’m pretty sure I listened to that on repeat all day once at work.

Emma: That’s brilliant! I love that Drew, I’m the same. Sometimes I listen to my favourite scores just to build up that feeling of emotion again. You chose two brilliant scores there I must say, I’ve always really loved the music in Jurassic Park. Doesn’t John Williams score every Spielberg movie?

Me: Williams has done a good chunk of Spielberg’s movies but he hasn’t scored all of them.

John Williams

John Williams

Emma: Ah I see, I stand corrected said the man in the orthopedic shoes! I better educate myself on which Spielberg films Williams didn’t end up scoring. Sounds marginally interesting, there must be a reason behind it?  I love “Somewhere in My Memory”, the cute music he wrote for Home Alone. That’s an awesome story about listening to the Imperial March on repeat at work. I might try that when I’m next walking into the boss’s office!

Me: It was a ton of fun! I was just sitting there coding and I felt like a boss. Any score by John Williams is gold. Who are some of your favorite composers?

Emma: I really love dramatic scores, one of my favourite composers is Ennio Morricone and that’s largely down to his Spaghetti Western stuff (which is fairly dramatic in places!). If I hear something like the “Ecstasy of Gold,” I feel pretty much invincible. I also really like John Murphy. He wrote “In the House, In a Heartbeat” for 28 Days Later and the “Adagio in D Minor” for Sunshine (both Danny Boyle films!). “Adagio in D Minor” is pretty much my favourite score, like ever. I wasn’t even enjoying Sunshine that much the first time I saw it (in the cinema) then this incredible, amazing music started and I was transfixed. I now love the movie as well and I guess I have the score to thank for that!

Me: I’ve only heard of Ennio Morricone from several of Quentin Tarantino’s films, I’ll have to look up some of his stuff some time.  I remember watching Sunshine a while ago and not really liking it.  But since then I’ve heard a lot of people saying they think it is an awesome sci-fi movie. So between that and you really liking the score. I think I’ll have to give it another shot.

Ennio Morricone

Ennio Morricone

Emma: Are there any scores that have made a real difference to you, when watching a movie? Made you like it more, or even dislike it more?

Me: I don’t think the score has ever been a make-or-break factor in a film for me.  If I liked it or didn’t like it, it was usually because of something else about the film.  I can’t really think of a time when I’ve watched a movie and thought “Man, this music is terrible” and it took me out of it.  I imagine that would be more of a factor in horror movies where atmosphere is a huge part of it, than in something like action or sci-fi films.  However, there have been plenty of times when I hear the music and think “this is making it so much better.” Star Wars, like I said before, Pirates of the Caribbean always comes to mind, too, or more recently, Sicario.

Emma: I totally agree with you that scores (or indeed just regular soundtracks of songs) can’t make or break a film but when I look at my favourite movies most of them do have a pretty rocking soundtrack. The most recent movie I watched that made my “top 10” was The Guest and its subsequent soundtrack reeeeally made an impression on me. I only have three playlists on Spotify and ‘The Guest OST’ is one of them! Would I have loved the movie as much without the music? I’m not sure. The music was the movie. I wrote a review around the time and said something along the lines about how it relied somewhat on the music to emphasise its scenes and atmosphere. And look at something like Guardians of the Galaxy, that mix tape of pop songs made it so much more fun and memorable. Though a great soundtrack can’t make a great movie, perhaps it can make an average movie that bit better?

Guardians of the Galaxy movie poster

Me: I think personally, I tend to notice a good score or soundtrack more than a bad score or soundtrack.  So I agree that a great score can make an average movie better. It sounds like a score has made you like a film where you didn’t enjoy the rest of it. Have you ever had a score ruin a movie for you?

Emma: Yes, I have had a film ruined by a rotten soundtrack! There’s a low rent horror (my kinda movie) called The Woman and its soundtrack was so awful, so offensive, so abysmal and so bloody loud – I almost turned it off. Investigation on IMDB later showed many viewers had thought the same thing as well! The music was stupidly loud for starters but the worst thing was it was SO awful! A cross between “I’m an angsty teenager” and a dripping tap.

The Woman movie poster

An example of how not to score a film.

Me: That sounds terrible! At least you aren’t alone in your thinking.  Guardians of the Galaxy is a great example to bring up for a fun soundtrack.  I saw that with my mom and she doesn’t normally like the big superhero movies but she loved Guardians for its soundtrack, among other things.

Emma: Aww I love that about your mum! I must say Guardians of the Galaxy was certainly an above average film anyway, I loved it! But the mix tape just added that extra sparkle and genius. I’m excited for the sequel just to see what the song selection is! When that early scene with Chris Pratt started, where he was dancing around and shooting things (I think?) I was thinking yes, I’m gonna love this!!

Can you think of any awful music experiences in film? And don’t say High School Musical!

Me: Haha OK. Rock of Ages. That movie sounded like it was going to be really good.  I listen to classic rock music the most so I was looking forward to seeing a movie based around many of my favorite tunes. And then it was just one of the worst movie experiences I’ve had.  I’ve been really reluctant to go back and watch it again.

Rock of Ages movie poster

The tagline should have read “More Songs, More Dancing, More Bullshit”

Emma: I’ve never seen Rock of Ages… I’m kind of glad I haven’t after that! But I will go look it up in a minute out of interest. Must have sucked though, being so disappointing especially when you were looking forward to it. You’ve got me thinking about movies based around music now, I’ve barely seen any! Ooh and I wanted to ask will anything will ever beat the Imperial March for you?

Me: Probably not. The Imperial March is embedded in my head. It’ll be awfully hard to beat it!

Emma: I did love Magneto’s Theme in X-Men: First Class and thought that was a good contender for baddie music! Shame they didn’t use the same music in Days of Future Past, it was kick arse!

Me: I’ll have to listen to Magneto’s theme again because I don’t remember it right now. Do you prefer a big, bold score? Or something a little more subtle and intimate?

Emma: Excellent question and I know my answer immediately – big and bold! Something that consumes me and makes me feel something – whether that ‘something’ is being scared or triumphant or sad. I like subtle stuff too, I love the Warm Bodies score for example and that’s very delicate and cute. Maybe the two aren’t mutually exclusive anyway? I mean something could start off subtle, only to lead into a bold crescendo?

Me: The great thing about music is that it is dynamic. It can start off small and grow big.  So I would say that the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  Two examples would be John William’s Indiana Jones scores and Alan Silvestri’s Captain America: The First Avenger score.  They both have songs that start softer and get more dynamic as the song progresses.

Alan Silvestri

Alan Silvestri

Emma: A lot of Morricone stuff can start soft but end big. Actually thinking about it, I think those kind of scores are my favourite! I also now have Peter Griffin’s rendition of the Indiana Jones score going through my head!

There’s a really clever track on the Kill Bill: Volume 1 soundtrack, it played when Elle Driver was dressed as a nurse, about to finish off The Bride. It starts off so cute and sweet, like you’re walking next to a pretty little river with loads of flowers. But it subtly (so subtly!) changes so that by the end of the track it’s actually very sinister and scary sounding. It’s awesome!

Me: That’s awesome that you bring up the Kill Bill movies. We were talking earlier about how a soundtrack can make a movie for someone.  The Kill Bill duology are my favorite Tarantino movies and a huge part of that is because of the soundtrack (mainly in Volume 1).  It’s so energetic and up-tempo.  It somehow fits perfectly with all the violence going on screen.

Kill Bill Vol. 1

Emma: That’s brilliant Drew, I love that! I must say Quentin Tarantino soundtracks are among my favourite anyway, they’re always so good and just as exciting for me, as the movie. I did a post a while ago trying to put his soundtracks into order of ‘brilliance’ and Kill Bill: Volume 1 featured in the no.3 slot, I’ve always loved it too. Pulp Fiction has always been my favourite soundtrack, ever and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. I just find it so… listenable!

Do you listen to any soundtracks as though they were ‘regular’ albums? I mean, as great as movie scores can be, they’re not always listenable on a daily basis (unless it’s the Imperial March!). The Pulp Fiction soundtrack I can listen to like I would a pop album – singing along etc. Ditto with the aforementioned Guardians of the Galaxy. But with some scored soundtracks often I’ll have my favourite tracks and pick them out as and when I want to listen to them, rather than listening to it as a complete record.

Me: I listen to soundtracks all the time! I have a film score and a Disney music stations on Pandora radio that I often listen to at work. I also have several soundtracks on my home computer, including most of the Disney Renaissance films, the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Frozen, and Into the Woods.  Like you, I also have specific songs from other movies as well.  A catchy song is a catchy song, no matter where it comes from.

Hans Zimmer

Hans Zimmer

Emma: That’s so cool Drew! Do you sing along? Which Disney soundtrack is your favourite? Whenever I’m at a party with my girlfriends I swear we always end up listening to Disney songs by the end of the night! My favourite is The Little Mermaid and I’ve owned no less than three copies of it. True love!

Me: Pssh, do I sing along? Of course I sing along! I think my favorite overall Disney soundtrack is Mulan. The Little Mermaid is good too, and so is Beauty and the Beast, but every song on the Mulan soundtrack is great, not just most songs like the others mentioned.  Some of my favorite individual songs not from Mulan are “Friend Like Me,” “Be Our Guest,” “Under the Sea,” “Bear Necessities,” and “Let it Go.”

Emma: I’m not really familiar with Mulan which is really, really annoying! Rest assured I will be looking up the soundtrack on Spotify. There is something unique to the Disney soundtracks, or at least the older ones. I love your favourite songs! All good ones to belt out whilst on your own in the car! Some of my favourites include ‘Under the Sea’, ‘Part of Your World’ and ‘A Whole New World’ (how predictable).

Me: How do you feel about musicals? Do you like movies that use songs heavily? Or do you prefer music to be used to enhance the film and not be centered around it?

Emma: I’m not a fan of musicals generally… I love Grease, Chicago and Bugsy Malone but that’s about it. It’s not the music I don’t like, it’s more the ‘stage school’ style of singing and I find them a bit [over the top].

So generally I prefer music that just enhances the movie but there are  exceptions. I love the TV shows Glee and Flight of the Conchords. And of course, Disney songs! And one of my favourite movies is a British gangster film called Love, Honour & Obey. There are segments throughout where each character sings a fluffy pop song in a karaoke style. It’s quite bizarre but quite brilliant! Are you a fan of musicals?

Me: Before today, I would have said “No, with Disney being the exception.” But after thinking about it, I think I like them more than I thought I did.  I like watching non-Disney musicals like Footloose, Grease, Sweeney Todd, and Into the Woods.  It’s not a genre I actively look for but guess I have liked more of them than I haven’t liked.

Kind of a side-bar, but did/do you play any instruments?

Emma: I don’t play any instruments but I’ve always wanted to play the piano! I did teach myself the first bit of “A Whole New World” on my tiny Casio keyboard when I was a kid! And you know the song they do on the giant keyboard in Big? I taught myself that too. Haha Tragically I had no-one to play both parts with so just took it turn to play them both myself!

Me: Haha Oh, no! That’s no fun playing it by yourself. At least you have a start for learning piano. Maybe in the future you can teach yourself some more and put on a show!

I ask because I played alto saxophone and I think that gave me an appreciation for the work that goes into a writing and playing a musical score.  I think that note is a good one to wrap up on.  Thank you so much for the chat Emma! I’ve had a ton of fun talking movies with you.

Emma: Thanks so much for having me Drew it’s been a lot of fun and you’ve certainly given me some new things to think about!


We want you to join in on the discussion. What are some of your favorite movie scores? Who are some of your favorite film composers? What makes a good soundtrack?

Big thanks to Emma for taking the time to talk movies with me. I always enjoy discussing the different aspects of films so this was simply a blast!

Cheers!

My Fave Five Star Wars Characters (Featuring Box Office Buzz)

There is no doubt that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a critical and box office success.  It currently has a 93% with the critics and 90% with the audience on Rotten Tomatoes.  It shattered Thursday preview records, opening weekend records, beat Jurassic World‘s box office record by 1 day, and has made nearly $2 billion worldwide! Currently, it is the third highest grossing movie of all time, behind Avatar and Titanic.

The anticipation and hype surrounding the film was like nothing cinema had seen before.  I doubt we will ever see such anticipation or excitement for an event again, at least not anytime soon anyway.  To celebrate the success of my favorite film franchise, I wanted to take a look at my favorite Star Wars characters.  I have asked fellow Star Wars fan and the mind behind Box Office Buzz, Ashley, to join me in the celebration.  You can check out her review of The Force Awakens here.  Ashley reviews all kinds of movies that are so much fun to read.  Go peruse her site, after you finish reading this article of course. 😛 Now, let’s get onto our five favorite Star Wars characters. Be warned, there are spoilers ahead. Ladies first!

Star Wars is my all-time favorite film franchise. While I love the science fiction setting “long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away,” the main reason I love these movies so much is because there are so many great, memorable characters. It’s hard to narrow down my list of favorite characters to just five, but here goes…

5) Finn

I loved many of the new characters introduced in The Force Awakens, but my favorite so far is Finn. While Finn does provide some of the funniest moments in the film, his character is far more than just “the comic relief.” I love how he doesn’t necessarily start the film as a hero; he’s just a regular guy, forced into a situation he’s not prepared for, and his instincts are to simply run from danger. But deep down, he’s sensed just how evil the First Order is, and his feelings for Rey empower him to become a true hero by the end, standing up to fallen Jedi Kylo Ren even though he doesn’t have any Force powers himself. I’m really looking forward to watching Finn’s character grow in the next two movies, and I also hope we’ll learn a little more about his past.

Luke Skywalker4) Luke Skywalker

Luke Skywalker might not have made my top five list a few years ago, but the character has really grown on me, especially as I rewatched the original trilogy in preparation for The Force Awakens. Luke Skywalker starts the trilogy as an ordinary guy, wishing he could travel the stars. Then, he gets pulled into an adventure he never imagined, and he learns he has the power of the Force. One of the things I love most about Luke is his stubborn sense of idealism. Even when everybody else has written off Darth Vader as an irredeemable villain, Luke still senses the good in him and is willing to risk his own life to bring his father back from the dark side. I’m excited to see what happens to his character in Episode VIII, especially if he’s going to train Rey (spoiler alert — possibly his daughter?).

Ben Skywalker3) Ben Skywalker

Although in the plot for The Force Awakens, Han and Leia have a son named Ben Solo who goes to the dark side and becomes Kylo Ren, in the original Expanded Universe novels (which are now called “Star Wars: Legends” and are considered non-canon by Disney), Luke actually has a son named Ben. Ben was a great character, which is why I was a little sad when Disney ended the Expanded Universe. In the books, Ben is trained by his cousin Jacen Solo, Han and Leia’s son; like Kylo Ren, Jacen does fall to the dark side, but Ben doesn’t succumb to temptation. Like his father, he’s a powerful user of the light side of the Force; he’s determined, smart, and has a great sense of humor. My favorite moments with Ben are in the “Legacy of the Force” and “Fate of the Jedi” series.

Darth Vader2) Darth Vader

Darth Vader is my all-time favorite movie villain and has one of my favorite character arcs in the Star Wars saga. When we first meet him in A New Hope, he’s terrifying: he’s a powerful wielder of the dark side, and he appears to show no mercy to those who oppose him. Although he definitely doesn’t seem like a sympathetic character, the other films in the saga reveal a far more tragic story. Regardless of how you feel about the prequels, Darth Vader does have a really sad back story: he falls from the Jedi Order, unintentionally kills his wife, and is trapped inside a life support suit for the rest of his existence. However, he is not beyond redemption; in the end, he turns away from the dark side and sacrifices his life to save his son, Luke. It’s one of the most powerful and poignant moments in the Star Wars saga.

Han Solo1) Han Solo

When I was a kid, I thought Han Solo was pretty much the coolest person ever, and I’ve still got a soft spot in my heart for a certain scruffy-looking nerf herder. Han Solo starts off as a roguish smuggler with a devil-may-care attitude, and he’s pretty good at pretending he’s just looking out for himself. However, his friendship with Chewie and eventually Luke and Leia show he’s got a softer side, and he eventually becomes a hero in the Rebellion. Spoiler alert! He doesn’t get a happy ending in The Force Awakens, but I like how he’s willing to die doing the right thing, attempting to save his son. And he’ll always live on in the original trilogy as the fearless pilot of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy.

Thanks a lot, Ashley! Now it’s my turn.  I have so many favorite characters, it was hard to narrow it down to simply five. My solution to this problem is to make two lists. One of movie characters, as well as one of characters from the old Expanded Universe (where Ben Skywalker resides) and the Clone Wars television series.  First up, are my five favorite non-movie Star Wars characters.

Jaina and Jacen Solo5) Jacen and Jaina Solo

Jacen and Jaina are twins and Han and Leia’s two oldest children from the old Expanded Universe (EU), mentioned earlier by Ashley.  They both become very powerful Jedi under the tutelage of their Uncle Luke.  For the longest time, the two are inseparable.  They quickly proved themselves to be skilled pilots and duelists.  Unfortunately, Jacen couldn’t resists the temptation of the dark side and became Darth Caedus.  It falls on Jaina’s shoulders to stop her brother from taking over the galaxy in the second Galactic Civil War.  What is it with Solo boys and falling to the dark side?

Ahsoka Tano4) Ahsoka Tano

Ahsoka Tano was Anakin’s apprentice during the Clone Wars.  She is everything Anakin is: skilled duelist, great pilot, brash, and constantly spoke out against authority, which earning her the nickname “Snips” from her master.  As Star Wars: The Clone Wars progresses, the viewers get to watch her grow, both in her skills as a fighter and her wisdom as a Jedi. At the beginning of the series she has a single lightsaber.  Eventually, she begins wielding a second, shorter lightsaber and becomes very proficient using dual lightsabers.  After being framed for a crime she didn’t commit, she left the Jedi Order.  For those who watched the entire series, like myself, her leaving was a huge emotional blow.  There is a silver lining however, as since she was no longer a Jedi, she survived Order 66 and she makes another appearance as a much older and wiser Ahsoka in the television series Star Wars: Rebels.

Darth Bane3) Darth Bane

Darth Bane is notable in the Star Wars mythos because he was the Sith responsible for creating the Rule of Two: One Sith to posses the power, the other to crave it.  During his time, there were many Sith, fighting a war with the Jedi all around the galaxy.  He became fascinated with ancient Sith teachings and realized the Sith could not prosper in such numbers because of their selfishness and lust for power.  To eliminate the rest of the Sith, he tricked the leaders into using the Thought Bomb, a strong dark side technique that killed the users, as well as everything around them.  Shortly after, he took up his first apprentice, Darth Zannah.  Darth Bane was an intimidating person, standing at two meters tall! He was also very muscular from working in a mine most of his life. Often he was able to defeat his opponent simply by overwhelming them with strength. For a few years, he even had an organic suit from creatures called orbalisks, making him impervious to blasters and lightsabers.  Darth Bane is one of the most powerful Sith that ever existed, or at least he was in the pre-Disney canon.

2) Mara Jade SkywalkerMara Jade Skywalker

Mara Jade Skywalker is the reason I am so sad the EU is no longer canonical.  Hands down she is one of the most bad-ass women in the entire Star Wars universe.  When she is first introduced, she is a secret warrior for Palpatine called an Emperor’s Hand.  As an Emperor’s Hand, she traveled across the galaxy performing missions for Emperor Palpatine in secrecy.  After the events of Return of the Jedi, she fell in love with Luke Skywalker and birthed their son, Ben.  She was very strong in the force, managing to fight off an alien virus while pregnant and still was able to defeat her enemies in combat.  Talk about girl power!

Cade Skywalker1) Cade Skywalker

Cade Skywalker is hands down my favorite Star Wars character.  He is the main character of the comic series Star Wars Legacy, which takes place 137 years after A New Hope.  What makes him so fascinating is he is a Jedi who doesn’t want to be a Jedi.  Ten years before the story takes place, the Sith rise up once again and eliminate most of the Jedi Order, including Cade’s father, Kol Skywalker.  He becomes a pirate and bounty hunter and refuses to acknowledge his Skywalker heritage.  Before too long, he is once again drawn into the galactic conflict and reluctantly picks up the lightsaber.  But he doesn’t always stay on the straight and narrow.  He regularly channels the dark side, drawing from its power to increase his strength as well as heal others.  It’s a intriguing dynamic that isn’t seen anywhere else in Star Wars.

And now what you all have been waiting for, here are my five favorite Star Wars movie characters.

Darth Maul5) Darth Maul

Darth Maul is criminally underused in the movies.  He is one of the coolest characters to come from The Phantom Menace, and George Lucas kills him! Or so it would seem.  He later returns in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars series with a new set of robotic legs.  Maul is one of the few in the Star Wars universe who uses a double-bladed lightsaber and time and again proved his skills with it in duels with characters ranging from Qui-Gon Jinn, General Grievous, and Count Dooku.  It was great that Maul was able to get the development he deserved but it would have been great if he would have had a bigger presence in the films.

Rey4) Rey

Rey is my favorite character to come out of The Force Awakens.  She has no problem taking care of herself in a fight, easily taking down two or three guys at once.  Towards the end of the film, she even takes on Kylo Ren, who has been trained by Luke Skywalker, and manages to hold her own.  Her heritage is a huge mystery right now.  Personally, I’m hoping there is nothing special about where she comes from and she is just a strong, force-sensitive person.  Alas, I don’t think how it will play out. Rey’s story arc is the one I am most looking forward to in the upcoming movies.

Han Solo3) Han Solo

OK, let’s be honest, what Star Wars fan doesn’t like Han Solo?  He’s the bad boy, the guy who your parents warned you about.  When Luke and Obi-Wan first meet him and his co-pilot Chewbacca, he’s only in it for the money. Han doesn’t care about anything except the check.  His charm is irresistible and he tries to play it like he looks out only for himself.  As the series progresses, we realize there is a lot more to him and he actually has a big heart.  In the end, he cares for his friends and family and dies doing what he feels is right.

General Grievous2) General Grievous

General Grievous was introduced in the Star Wars: Clone Wars micro-series that aired from 2003 to 2005, between the releases of Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith (not to be confused with the series with Ahsoka I mentioned earlier).  When I first saw him, I instantly liked him.  Here was this cyborg, wielding four lightsabers, facing multiple Jedi Masters at once, and winning!  What is more bad-ass than that!?  It is hard to tell from just the movies alone, but Grievous is actually quite the skilled duelist.  Grievous and his MagnaGuard droids trained under Count Dooku.  Before he became a cyborg fighting for the Separatists, he was already an accomplished and skilled fighter on his home planet of Kalee.  Grievous is another character, like Darth Maul, who deserved more screen time to show how great he can truly be.

Darth Vader1) Darth Vader

Darth Vader is without out a doubt the coolest character in the Star Wars saga.  He has one of the best entrances in cinema, his presence alone is unnerving, he is a Sith Lord, fully in control of the dark side of the force, and his men fear him.  It is hard for me to accept that such a strong character came from the Anakin we saw in the prequel trilogy.   The entire saga is based around his rise, fall, and redemption, making it one of the most emotional film series there is.  Anakin just wanted to save the ones he loved and was willing to do whatever it took.  Unfortunately, that path lead to the dark side. Thankfully, his son Luke was able to see past that black armor and realized the good that was still inside of him.  His redemption is one of the best moments of the entire Star Wars saga.


Big thanks to Ashley for joining me in celebrating our love for Star Wars. Be sure to check out her website, Box Office Buzz.

Who are some of your favorite Star Wars characters?