The Addams Family (2019)

The Addams Family (2019)

By: Kevin Jordan

Neat. Petite.

As usual, my son is providing the meat of the review of new, animated, The Addams Family movie. But this one has a slight twist – his grandma and grandpa are asking the questions. Buckle up folks. Also, he gives lots of SPOILERS, but I doubt any kids are reading this.

Have you ever seen the old TV show The Addams Family?

Yes, I’ve seen it.

In this Addams Family, is there a hand called Thing?

Yes, there’s a thing.

Is it a smart thing?

Yeaahhhahah – it’s a really smart thing.

Is there a normal person who isn’t scary?

Yeah.

Who is that person?

Like a camera girl that’s on TV. For like furniture advertisements.

Does she have a name?

I forgot her name. Even if she did have a name.

What did you like the best about this movie?

Very best…

Something that made you laugh or you could relate to?

I think the best part – actually, I don’t know.

The best part for you.

Ohhhh. For me. When Wednesday made the frogs come back alive.

Who is Wednesday?

You don’t know who Wednesday is?! She’s the same girl from the old tv show.

Best line of the movie happens here. For me at least.

If I remember, there was a father and a mother and a brother and sister and an uncle and another big guy.

Yeah, Lurch.

Who was the Uncle?

Uncle Fester.

What did you enjoy about Uncle Fester?

That he threw bats everywhere and that he told the furniture lady “I just tooted.” And there was a toilet lady, that she sat on the toilet backwards, but the furniture girl secretly put video cameras on everyone’s house to secretly watch them.

What is the movie about? What was the big problem in the movie?

The problem is the opposite of the Addams family had a catapult and launched big giant boulders at the Addams family mansion at the top of the hill.

Oh. So they were trying to get rid of the Addams family?

They helped them rebuild the house and lightning struck the house and turned it back to the old way the house was. First, the house was abandoned and then they moved in. And there was a big sound in the house like ERRERRRREERRRRR.

Who was the bad person in the movie?

The furniture lady was the bad person and she wanted to destroy the mansion. That way, there wouldn’t be a foggy area and it wouldn’t be near the nice neighborhood anymore.

Did you say frogs?

Yeah, Wednesday made the frogs come alive in junior high.

Were they her friends?

Maybe.

Did the furniture lady have other people who were bad?

There were other people that wanted to make the Addams family go away.

What changed the town’s opinion about the Addams family?
They thought what they did was pretty rude, but the furniture lady didn’t think it was rude. But the other people did and helped them rebuild the house.

And the Addams family lived there happily ever after?

Yeah. Sarcastically.

Which Addams family character did you not like the most?

Well, I liked Lurch. My least favorite character was…the old grandma – the really tall-slash-short grandma. She was wearing a dress that made her look really tall, but she came out of the dress and was really tiny.

Was the hand, Thing, really funny?

Yeah.

Was there anything the hand did that you remember was funny?

When Lurch was trying to play on the piano, bud-du-du-duh, but the hand kept going *fart noise, thumb’s down*

So Thing knew how to tell Lurch how to play music?

Yeah, like sign language?

Do you think the Thing could help you with your music practice?

What if the Thing was our music teacher?

What if indeed.

What was your favorite part of the movie?

My other favorite part, besides the frogs, was, after the wedding, the mom and the dad were at a wedding, and when they were driving up to the mansion and they hit something. And the dad was like “we hit something!”

What was it?

Lurch.

What was the most amazing, magical thing that happened?

When the lightning struck, it turned the mansion back to its old version.

Was the movie scary at all?

Not really. But it was good for kids. Kids liked it.

Was it scary, kid fun?

Fun for kids, but not for dads and parents. They were kind of bored. They took their kids to the movie.

Did the mom and dad make the kids in the movie behave?

Oh yeah, I remember part of it. The boy, Pugsley, was on a like a rocket thing and the dad was like “you need to do your sword practice. Last warning!” And the kid went up in the rocket and blew up. Then he was in a parachute and he landed on the ground and did his sword practice.

How did he do his sword practice?

He just swung his blow up sword.

Did Morticia look like a vampire?

Yeah, but there was technically a vampire, like Uncle Fester was kind of a vampire. Who is Morticia?

She was the mom.

So just call her the mom please.

And she wore black dresses?

Yeah. She wore a dress that had squid tentacles that helped her move.

Well, we don’t have any more questions.

We have to do the rating.

Rating: The movie is better than ten dollars because it’s at least twenty-five dollars. If it was longer it would be more. One last thing – bud-du-du-dun *snap, snap*

Operation Finale

Operation Finale

By: Kevin Jordan

It is a good thing I like history.

Operation Finale is the story of how a team of Israeli Mossad agents captured Adolf Eichmann, one of the top Nazi SS officers and main organizers of the Holocaust.  Eichmann was discovered living in Argentina under a false identity, captured in 1960 and taken to Israel, where he was tried for war crimes (among other things) and executed by hanging.  Depending on how much of a history buff you are, this may be a spoiler.  Fortunately, the statute of limitations has expired on spoilers for fifty-year old stories.

While I did not know this story going into the film, it was a safe assumption that the film would end with Eichmann’s capture (an assumption I made three seconds after the characters were assigned the mission).  Knowing that, I would still recommend you watch Operation Finale because we currently live in 2018 where there are still large numbers of human garbage that will watch this film rooting for Eichmann.

If we lived in a normal world where all of our politicians and electorate still openly condemned Nazism (rather than the half that continue to sit silently as these fascist shit stains are openly supported by our President), I would tell you to skip this movie unless you are a massive history nerd who cannot get enough Ken Burns.  From the little bit of research I did after viewing Operation Finale, the actual capture of Eichmann is almost comically uninteresting.  The Israelis follow Eichmann for a while to make sure he really is Eichmann, snatch him after he gets off a bus at the end of his work day, then take him to Israel.  It could not be less eventful, and it shows in the way the screenplay tries to insert drama and suspense into the film.  It could very well be that the movie is faithful with the drama and suspense (I have not read Eichmann in My Hands by Peter Malkin), but it feels manufactured for movie reasons.  In fact, the most interesting part of the entire story might be the trial of Eichmann itself, but the film only spends a couple of minutes on it at the end.

Being a big history nerd myself, I was never bored by the movie, but I could not help noticing how inferior it was to a movie like MunichMunich is another film about Mossad agents tracking down enemies of Israel (Palestinian terrorists who kidnapped Israeli Olympians), but Munich does not shy away from the ruthlessness these agents sometimes operate with.  Conversely, Operation Finale depicts its Mossad agents as if all of the agents are rookies who needed multiple tries to pass the test.  They bumble one thing after another, perform surveillance as if they believe they are invisible, and overlook basic operational security principles like not paying their informants or in-country aides.  Perhaps the most unbelievable part is when their arranged airline delays the exfiltration flight because they want a signed letter from Eichmann confirming he is Eichmann.  This, despite the lead agent informing us that nobody knows what Eichmann’s signature looks like so they cannot forge it.  If nobody knows what it looks like, why would the airline demand it and how would they know if it was faked?  This becomes the MacGuffin and drives a relationship that develops between Malkin (Oscar Isaac) and Eichmann (Ben Kingsley).  The movie is hoping this relationship distracts you from the fact that the signature is one of the more absurd MacGuffins you will ever see in film.

However, the relationship exposes a handful of takeaways that relate to current events.  One is how Eichmann is adamant that he was just following orders when he came up with more efficient ways to exterminate the Jews during the Holocaust.  Nevermind the fact that he joined the Nazi party and SS in 1932 voluntarily.  Nevermind that he headed the department responsible for Jewish affairs through the end of World War II.  Nevermind that he could have chosen to defect or leave the country and go into hiding or disobey those orders at any time.  We heard this same bullshit excuse coming from the Department of Homeland Security and ICE when they were indiscriminately deporting immigrants (many of them legal immigrants) and separating children of asylum seekers from their families and locking them up in cages because those were there orders.  It is not hyperbole to point out how the current treatment of immigrants by the White House administration and most Republican congressmen is very similar to the treatment of Jews in Germany in the 1930s.

Another takeaway is how Argentina turned a blind eye to the Nazi war criminals hiding there and the rising number of Nazi sympathizers gathering together.  The film depicts the Argentinian police as working with Nazi groups and being led by Nazis to track down the Jewish agents in broad daylight.  While we are not quite that far here, we have high-ranking White House officials who have made no secret of their anti-Semitism and hatred of non-white people.  I know this is a movie review, but if we do not pay attention to movies like this trying to tell us something, I may not be able to write reviews in the future.

Given that it is the end of August, you probably are not paying attention to new movie releases.  Ordinarily, a movie starring Kingsley and Isaac (with shout-outs to Nick Kroll, Melanie Laurent, and Haley Lu Richardson) is the kind of movie that opens closer to award season and draws critical attention, but it is opening in August for a reason.  It is the kind of movie that history fans will find some interest in, but casual fans will not because the story just is not very compelling.  The best I can tell you is that it kept my interest for reasons that had little to do with movies, a lot to do with history, and a bit to do with the sad state of current affairs.

Rating: Ask for six dollars back and always pay attention to history, or you’ll be doomed to repeat it.

Annihilation

Annihilation

By: Kevin Jordan

Is something burning?

One of the best signs that you have just seen a worthwhile movie is you want to see it again.  It doesn’t matter if you aren’t sure whether you liked it or disliked it because bad movies almost never illicit yearning for a second viewing.  Well, unless you are into ironic viewings of garbage like Evil Dead 2 or Rocky Horror Picture Show, in which case, you keep doing you.  Annihilation is definitely worthwhile and I think I liked it, but I am not sure.  Somewhere around the midpoint of the film, one of the characters explains what was happening to them and everything around them and my brain went “I am not so sure you have figured it out.”  For the rest of the film, I tried to make sense out of the explanation and I may have smelled charred bacon at one point.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Think about it, but not too hard.

(SPOILER ALERT, but since this movie is based on a trilogy of books, I’m only mildly apologetic.)

After a year missing, special forces soldier Kane (Oscar Isaac) shows up at his home, scaring the crap out of his wife Lena (Natalie Portman).  Kane remembers nothing about the past year, then quickly becomes violently ill.  En route to the hospital, men in black grab Kane and Lena and take them to a secret facility called the Southern Reach.  There, Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) questions Lena, then recruits Lena to accompany her and three others, Anya, Josie, and Cass (Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, and Tuva Novotny, respectively), into the Shimmer, a region of swamp land that appears to be covered in a giant soap bubble.  Ventress reveals to Lena that Kane is the only person to return from the Shimmer and suggests that an answer to why Kane is dying lies at a lighthouse inside the Shimmer where the Shimmer started (from a meteor strike).  Ventress also makes it clear that their main mission is to get to the lighthouse to find a way to stop the Shimmer from spreading (which it has been doing for three years) and eventually enveloping the Earth.

Once in the Shimmer, the group experiences odd happenings (forgetfulness, rashes, paranoia, among others), as well as taking in sights straight out of Wonderland.  There are crazy flowers and plant life, mutated animals that suddenly split into copies (think cell division), and a couple of large predators that will keep you from getting a good night’s sleep after watching the film.  One beast in particular is terrifying, especially when it is fully on display in one scene (you’ll know the one).

That is not the nightmare beast.

Everything I have described so far is why you should see this movie, especially because this film asks you to think a lot.  It is similar to Arrival in that things are not exploding every five minutes and you have to pay attention to what is happening lest you miss a detail.  Cerebral science fiction flicks are my favorite kind of movies.  The problem with this film is that it asks you to think a lot and it isn’t as smart as it thinks it is.  For example, all five women have a specific vocation – psychologist (Ventress), biologist/former soldier (Lena), physicist (Josie), geologist/surveyor (Cass), and paramedic (Anya) – but those skills are used to the barest minimum, almost always simply to lend a modicum of credence to whatever exposition is being recited.  Most of the time, they are just walking.  At another point, the physicist tries to explain her theory that the Shimmer refracts everything, including DNA and that is why everything is mutating.  This is also the point I mentioned earlier regarding my brain.  It has been two decades since I studied physics, but I still remember how refraction works and that isn’t it.

That word does not mean what you think it means.

Luckily, the refraction explanation is minor enough that one can accept it and move on, but then, unluckily, you notice how thin Josie and Anya are as characters.  Like every survival movie (which is what this movie really is), there are always characters who you shrug at when they die or almost die and Josie and Anya are those characters.  We know their jobs and a nugget of their back story (thanks to Cass) and that’s about it.  To be fair, Anya’s demise will evoke a response from you, but that’s because of the scene itself, not because you are invested in her character.  Aside from Lena, the only other character who was interesting was Cass and I was sorely disappointed when she bought it so early in the film.

Having said all that, it is very possible I missed a bunch of nuance and subtlety due to thinking about refracting DNA and gaping at the gorgeous visuals in the film.  Despite its flaws, the film is very engaging and there are some genuinely tense scenes that have you holding your breath along with the characters.  I really do want to watch this movie again and, thanks to Netflix, I can do that from my couch in three weeks (much to the chagrine of director Alex Garland).  Hopefully, a second viewing will calm my brain.

Rating: Ask for two dollars back and see if that scary-ass beast doesn’t haunt your dreams tonight.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

By: Kevin Jordan

I’m not sure either side should win.

As much as I look forward to many movies every year, none of them do I anticipate as much as Star Wars.  Since writing movie reviews does not pay the bills (or anything but movie admissions, for that matter) and advanced screenings of Star Wars flicks are always in the middle of a weekday, I’m forced to decide whether or not to take a day off to see the movie.  Since my dream of being a professional baseball player died a long time ago, the decision to ditch a day of work for Star Wars is easy.  The only down-side is I have to hold my tongue the next day or two so as not to spoil the movie for anyone within hearing distance of my cubicle.  And for Star Wars, we at the screening got an extra reminder that we shouldn’t ruin the movie for others with spoilers.  But, you know how I feel about spoilers in reviews.  Reviews are spoilers by their very nature.  If you don’t have some level of spoilers, it’s not a real review.  Hence, the obligatory spoiler warning I always include.  So, to meet my extra obligation for Star Wars, here is your warning.

(SPOILER ALERT)

………

(EXTRA SPOILER ALERT)

………

(Seriously.  I’m going to include a few SPOILERS.)

………

(Are you still with me?)

………

(Are you sure you want to keep reading?)

………

(Last chance.  SPOILER ALERT)

………

(There’s no turning back now.)

………

(Okay.  I think I’ve made my point.  Here we go.  SPOILER ALERT, but nothing huge.)

This picture contains zero spoilers.

The Last Jedi picks up where we left Rey (Daisy Ridley) standing on an island facing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill).  But, really it picks up showing us the Resistance fleeing their base before the First Order shows up to destroy them.  Apparently, there were a whole lot more First Order guys than were on the destroyed Starkiller Base.  General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), commanding a fleet of star destroyers, shows up at the Resistance’s planet to kill them all and we are treated to a scene straight out of The Avengers.  I think Joss Whedon snuck into the writer’s room to add a can-you-hear-me-now gag in the opening space battle scene and I’m still conflicted on if it works in a Star Wars film.  It’s not that I didn’t laugh (I did), but that exchange turns the EVIL FIRST ORDER and General Hux into the silly first order and General doofus.  Do you know how hard it is to believe that the First Order was able to take over the entire galaxy after watching them fall for a crank call to their battlecruiser?

The opening space battle also made me realize how terrible every faction in this universe is at military strategy and tactics.  On the First Order side, they have a dozen star destroyers that never fire a single shot at the fleeing force or the planet below them, opting to wait for a dreadnaught to show up that carries four gigantic guns.  Incidentally, this was exactly how the Empire lost in Return of the Jedi.  The Empire had a whole fleet of star destroyers that never fired a single shot because they were waiting for the Death Star, even after the rebels began to specifically target the star destroyers.  Anyway, on the Resistance side, they’ve hatched a plan to take out the dreadnaught, led by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), despite Leia (Carrie Fisher) verbalizing the cost wasn’t worth the mission.  Not only does she okay an obviously tiny-odds mission, she tries to back out of it when all the assets are already well past committed, then lays all the blame on Dameron for disobeying a retreat order that was nonsensical.  It’s no wonder the wars never end in the Star Wars universe.  Both sides are militarily dumb.

(Side note: The star destroyer thing is really nagging at my brain.  Seriously, what exactly are they for, if not triangle shaped transports?  Their name implies they can actually destroy things, yet we rarely ever see them fire a shot at anything in any movie.  But, they sure do crash a lot.)

Nobody in the galaxy can actually read that map.

After this, the movie spends time jumping back and forth between the First Order fleet pursuing the remaining Resistance ships and Rey trying to convince Luke to rejoin the Resistance and train her to be a Jedi.  If this sounds an awful like Empire, at least no one gets frozen in carbonite.  Though, speaking of frozen (and here’s the one sorta-real SPOILER), Leia survives being blown up and blasted into space without a spacesuit.  Remember in Guardians of the Galaxy when Gamora and Star-Lord both survive being in space without a spacesuit?  Yeah, it sucked in that movie too.  Watching frozen Leia open her eyes and magic herself back to the ship was possibly the worst moment in the entire franchise, and this franchise includes Jar-Jar Binks.  I get that it can be explained away by the Force and Skywalker DNA, but it undercuts any danger she is in, will be in, or has ever been in.  We all know that Jedi are not invincible and most definitely cannot survive space.  Plus, Leia isn’t even a trained Jedi, making this scene even more ridiculous in the context of this universe.  She should have just been found in the wreckage of the area of the ship that was blasted and nobody would have questioned her survival.

How about a little positivity, since I liked this movie despite its flaws?  The scenes with Luke and Rey are easily the highlight of the movie because we get to learn a bunch of stuff about the past and reunite with one of the all-time movie heroes.  Hamill plays a grumpy old Luke as if he’s been practicing 35 years for exactly this moment.  He’s surly and cynical and you are screaming at Rey to whack him over the head with her staff because we want to see some Jedi stuff, dammit!  Ridley slips effortlessly back into Rey, delivering a character that grows exponentially while on the island, despite Luke’s efforts to drive her away.  There are also some really cool new Force concepts that we get to watch develop, not the least because these scenes involve Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his current mindset.  Speaking of Kylo Ren, man is that guy a mental wreck.  Losing a fight to Rey has caused Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) to lose faith in his apprentice and Kylo is trying desperately to prove his worth.  I love that Hux keeps poking at him, despite the fact that Kylo is an unstable bomb that could kill Hux with a thought.  This plotline is the heart of the movie and the space chase is just a distracting side story meant to give screen time to Dameron, Leia, and Finn (John Boyega), and deliver most of the action we all want to see.

Can’t you train me just a little you old crank?

This brings us to Finn and a bunch of extraneous stories that end up muddling the film.  If writer/director Rian Johnson had stuck with just those two story threads, the movie would have been far tighter.  Instead, a third story is tossed in where Finn and fellow space janitor Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) embark on a desperate mission to a super-rich city to find a guy who might be able to help them save the fleet from annihilation.  This sub-plot is far more social commentary on income inequality, child slave labor, and the military industrial complex than fantasy space opera with laser swords.  It’s preachy in a way that brings the movie to a screeching halt rather than delivering a subtle, but powerful message dressed in droids and blasters.  I really love Finn as a character, but he felt almost forgotten in this film.

But, oh, that action and special effects.  Mmmmmmmmm.  I know film snobs love to criticize the very existence of CGI, but CGI has allowed us to see things beyond our wildest imaginations.  Everything is this movie was visually stunning (with the exception of the stupid little porgs – penguin-like creatures on Luke’s island that exist solely for Disney to sell merchandise to children.  I’m not exaggerating, these things literally do nothing in the movie outside of being on the Millenium Falcon in some poorly conceived homage to the rightly-derided tribbles of Star Trek fame).  One shot in particular near the end of the film was spectacular to behold (which I won’t spoil) and made even the porgs worth putting up with.  Oh oh oh, and the last planet we see them on?  Just, oh wow.  Even if I did try to describe it (which I won’t), you’d have to see it to understand.  I know I’m big on providing evidence to support a claim (hence the entire reason SPOILERS are necessary in a review), but on this one I’m just going to ask you to trust me.

Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.

If you’ve stuck with me through the previous 1500 words, let me reward you with the answer to the question you really want to know.  How good is The Last Jedi compared to the last two Star Wars movies?  For starters, it definitely has way too much crammed into it (while the other two are very streamlined), but I can’t get enough Star Wars so I’m not really complaining.  I wish they had made some different decisions with a couple of the minor subplots and characters (like with Laura Dern’s vice admiral Holdo, for one).  I wish Finn wasn’t quite so slap-sticky, or the rest of the movie, for that matter, but at least there weren’t any fart jokes.  On the flip side, spending time with Luke was fantastic, Rey and Kylo’s connection is developed sublimely, and the crescendo at the end of the film makes up for all of the minor problems in the film.  All in all, it’s not as good as the previous two films, but it’s still a pretty good Star Wars film.  In other words, we still win.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, but I’m saying that far less emphatically than the last two movies.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

By: Kevin Jordan

Reviving the past.

star_wars_episode_vii__the_force_awakens

By far, the question I get asked the most is “what do you think the best movie of the year is?”  I like this question because it allows me to rant a little about how the main stream critics would never say a movie like Star Wars is the best movie of the year.  Now that Star Wars: The Force Awakens has released in theaters, that question has changed to “do you think the new Star Wars is the best movie of the year?”  As much as I loved the movie, and considering how I now believe J.J. Abrams can do no wrong, I can say without hesitation that main stream critics are pretty much dead inside.  However, The Force Awakens is NOT the best movie of the year – that would be The Martian.  However again, The Force Awakens is definitely top three (if you are wondering what the third is, you’ll just have to wait until my Year in Review is posted in a couple weeks).

A much more difficult and interesting question to answer was posed by a friend of mine a couple of days ago – “is The Force Awakens the best Star Wars movie?”  I can’t think of a more loaded question than that.  And the answer, depending on who is asking, might cause diplomatic relations to deteriorate to the point of someone jabbing you in the neck with a homemade light saber.  I’d say we could start by tossing the three prequels out immediately, but even that argument has become vociferous in recent months.  Seriously, there are people out there actually defending those films as really good movies and not doing it ironically or sarcastically.  Those people are also dead wrong – the three prequels are garbage, and no amount of rewriting history in their heads is going to change that.

In the broader argument of which Star Wars film is the best, The Empire Strikes Back is the most often picked movie, but not by me.  As a kid, I watched all three originals dozens of times and Empire was my least favorite.  It doesn’t have enough action, it has the creepy cave scene with Luke and Darth Vader, and it has the kind of ending that a kid doesn’t like.  A New Hope is similar in that much of the beginning part of the movie is slow and the trash compactor scene was scary.  Return of the Jedi was my favorite because, you guessed it, action, action, and more action (side note: even I never really liked the Ewoks and always thought that dropping rocks on a storm trooper’s head and knocking them out was tough to believe).  Yes, the rancor was frightening and the pit of Sarlacc was a thing of nightmares, but the battle on Jabba’s pleasure barge was awesome and the climactic battle where three different battles were happening simultaneously never got old.  And, to answer your new questions – no, I did not have to look up any of those references and, no, I do not own a storm trooper cookie jar.

For me to answer the question of best Star Wars movie, I have to compare The Force Awakens to Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back.  Why not A New Hope?  I’m glad you asked.  The Force Awakens is almost a remake of A New Hope, which is also the reason I don’t think it’s the best movie of 2015.  Now, if you have not seen The Force Awakens yet and you don’t even want tiny SPOILERS, stop reading now.  I’ve already told you I loved this movie and I’m even considering seeing it again and paying the 3-D surcharge (and you know how I feel about 3-D), so you know what my rating is going to be.  Last warning – very mild SPOILERS imminent.

The Force Awakens and A New Hope both feature a young hero living on a desert planning who is strong with the Force.  They both have a resistance/rebellion fighting against an evil empire, now called the First Order.  They both have a droid containing secret information that everyone is trying to get their hands on.  They both feature a super weapon capable of destroying a planet with a giant laser (this time the weapon is the size of an entire planet).  They both feature the resistance leaders looking at a hologram of the super weapon and determining that the best way to destroy it is to disable its shields and fire at a specific weak point on the globe.  They both feature a villain draped in black, wearing a respirator, and speaking with a modulated voice.  They both feature a secondary villain who is the military leader of the evil empire and doesn’t really answer to the other villain.  The point is that Abrams was most likely creatively restricted by his Disney overlords to ensure that a repeat of The Phantom Menace did not happen.  Again, I was wildly entertained by The Force Awakens, but it was impossible not to notice the volume of plot elements lifted from A New Hope.  But, what makes The Force Awakens better than A New Hope is that our hero, Rey (Daisy Ridley), is not whiny like Luke was, there is an almost perfect balance between the comedic relief and seriousness, the visuals are phenomenal (like I said, I’m strongly considering attending a 3-D showing), and of course, plenty of action.

Getting back to the question of if The Force Awakens is the best, it never asks you to believe that a bunch of primitive fur balls hurling rocks and sticks can defeat a heavily armored infantry wielding laser guns and walking tanks like Return of the Jedi.  Considering the quantity of action is roughly equal, Jedi is out.  As for Empire, thinking about it beyond its level of action (which there is plenty, just not as much as Jedi), could the plot distinguish the two?  The plot of The Force Awakens is essentially – “Where’s Luke?”  There’s a bigger story in the works – new rebellion, new empire, who is Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), what’s going on with the new Republic, why is Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) wearing a mask if he doesn’t need to, to name a few – but the movie itself is really about finding Luke.  The plot of Empire is essentially – “Learn to be a Jedi, Luke.”  Yes, there is the bigger story of rebellion versus empire and Han Solo and gang being chased by the empire for almost the entire movie, but all of that is just setup for Luke to return as a Jedi.

Characters, maybe?  The Force Awakens introduces a bunch of new characters, all of which are well-fleshed-out or intriguing enough for us to wait for more in the upcoming sequels.  We’ve already mentioned Rey, Kylo Ren, and Snoke, but there’s also everyone’s new favorite droid BB-8, storm trooper-turned-rebel Finn (John Boyega), and X-wing pilot extraordinaire Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac).  They also bring back the old gang, though nobody besides Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) do more than scowl or utter more than a couple of lines.  Considering Empire was a sequel, they too brought back the old gang, but also added Lando Calrissian, the Emperor, and, of course, Boba Fett.  Wow – this is harder than I thought it was going to be.

I can’t tell you more without giving away spoilers that would make you want to maim me, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that The Force Awakens is as good as The Empire Strikes Back.  Either answer is defensible, and both should be embraced by both my generation and the younger generation.  But, regardless of which movie you think is better, we can all agree on one thing – thanking J.J. Abrams for resurrecting Star Wars in film and making us remember why we loved the originals so much.

Rating: All this movie needed to be worth every penny was to be better than the prequels.  It’s worth many times that.