Math Tells Us the Best Movie Franchise

What’s the best movie series? Impossible to know, you say? Movies are works of art which can only be known in the human heart? True. But also, the correct answer is Peter Jackson’s MiddleEarth movies.

Somedays you just want to start a fight, you know?

Sometimes, when I’m mired in the bogs of middle-chapters, I like to take a look at what I like, and why.

Today’s diversion is reveals a truth that’s been staring us all in the face. As a culture, these are the movie series we love most, laid out with cold, hard numbers.

While I was surprised the series made up of Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT trilogies came out on top, I was not shocked to see Michael Bay’s THE TRANSFORMERS series coming in below EVERYONE ELSE.

While lists and ranked lists especially are rightly scoffed at, sometimes they can reveal some interesting trends. But enough yapping. I’ve put it all together in this table for us to look at and distract ourselves from what we should be doing right now.

Best Movie Franchises Ranked-FINAL

Playing Oscar Aftermath with Friends

Jett Jergens-Crow

Here comes my entree of crow!

Why live in ignominy alone when I can eat crow with friends? This week on Assignment X’s THE POP SHOW is our Oscars post mortem, and boy is it mortem! Wonderfully mortem. We also hit on the last episode (one can hope) of THE X-FILES!

So listen along with friends Sonia Mansfield, Peter Brown and Ryan Mitchelle!

You can listen HERE, or get it in your favorite podcast app HERE.

My Oscar picks 2016

Jett Jergens-oscar_statue

Update: 15 for 24. I think I speak for myself and Mr. Sylvester Stallone when I say DAMN YOU RYLANCE!

ORIGINAL POST:

So here are my picks for Sunday’s Academy Awards. I’m expecting a bumpy ride this year. A lot of the leading indicators have been more mixed than usual.

This entry will be short because I said most of what I know and think about how to pick the winners here.

I’m listing all the nominees and who I think will win, so you can play along with me. You can get a printable list of nominees here. I’ll be live tweeting and updating this entry during the show Sunday.

But enough bet-hedging! Onto the picks:

Best Picture

The Big Short

Bridge of Spies

Brooklyn

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant – PREDICTED WINNER

Room

Spotlight – ACTUAL WINNER

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Matt Damon, The Martian

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Brie Larson, Room – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies – ACTUAL WINNER

Sylvester Stallone, Creed – PREDICTED WINNER

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Rooney Mara, Carol

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Best Director

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

Room

Spotlight

Best Animated Feature Film

Anomalisa

Boy and the World

Inside Out – PREDICTED WINNER  and ACTUAL WINNER

Shaun the Sheep Movie

When Marnie Was There

Best Cinematography

Carol

The Hateful Eight

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Revenant – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

Sicario

Best Costume Design

Carol

Cinderella

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

The Revenant

Best Documentary, Feature

Amy – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

Cartel Land

The Look of Silence What Happened, Miss Simone?

Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Best Documentary, Short Subject

Body Team 12  – PREDICTED WINNER

Chau, beyond the Lines

Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah

A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness – ACTUAL WINNER

Last Day of Freedom

Best Film Editing

The Big Short

Mad Max: Fury Road – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

The Revenant

Spotlight

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Foreign Language Film

Embrace of the Serpent

Mustang

Son of Saul – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

Theeb

A War

Best Make-Up and Hairstyling

Mad Max: Fury Road – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

The 100-Year-Old Man

Who Climbed out the Window and Disappeared

The Revenant

Best Music, Original Score

Bridge of Spies

Carol

The Hateful Eight – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Music, Original Song

“Earned It,” Fifty Shades of Grey

“Manta Ray,” Racing Extinction

“Simple Song #3,” Youth

“Til It Happens To You,” The Hunting Ground – PREDICTED WINNER

“Writing’s On The Wall,” Spectre – ACTUAL WINNER

Best Production Design

Bridge of Spies

The Danish Girl

Mad Max: Fury Road – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

The Martian

The Revenant

Best Short Film, Animated

Bear Story – ACTUAL WINNER

Prologue

Sanjay’s Super Team

We Can’t Live without Cosmos

World of Tomorrow – PREDICTED WINNER

Best Short Film, Live Action

Ave Maria  – PREDICTED WINNER

Day One

Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)

Shok

Stutterer – ACTUAL WINNER

Best Sound Editing

Mad Max: Fury Road – ACTUAL WINNER

The Martian

The Revenant – PREDICTED WINNER

Sicario

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Sound Mixing

Bridge of Spies

Mad Max: Fury Road – ACTUAL WINNER

The Martian

The Revenant – PREDICTED WINNER

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Best Visual Effects

Ex Machina – ACTUAL WINNER

Mad Max: Fury Road

The Martian

The Revenant

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – PREDICTED WINNER

Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay

The Big Short – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

Brooklyn

Carol

The Martian

Room

Best Writing, Original Screenplay

Bridge of Spies

Ex Machina

Inside Out

Spotlight  – PREDICTED WINNER and ACTUAL WINNER

Straight Outta Compton

How to win your Oscar pool

What follows is the fruit of a writer procrastinating. You’re welcome. Now, onto the show…

Jett Jergens-Chris and Walt Disney Oscars-IMG_1155

Some jerk standing in front of some of Walt Disney’s Academy Awards.

So you and your friends are going to bet on the Academy Awards this Sunday and of course you want to crush them.

Entering an Oscar pool is, after all, the best kind of party pastime: High bragging rites, gossipy thrills and while winning the hard earned money of your friends is satisfying, the real-world stakes couldn’t be lower.

You get money, no one gets killed. Win, win.

So what I’ve tried to do here is create a one-stop cheat sheet to help you lock in a win. As someone who’s had more than a passing interest in chasing golden statues given out by industry peers (cough insert bragging here cough) and as someone who’s loved movies and watched the Oscars all my life, over the years I’ve gathered the relevant tea leaves to be read, tracked the early indicators, and thrown out the things which can cloud your efforts.

I’m looking at you, Golden Globes.

I’m hoping now you can benefit from my pursuit of trivia. Here goes.

Step 0: Go big

I’ll give you the credit to assume you want to play with the big kids. Amateurs choose the Big Six (Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress). But let’s not be amateurs. For the real movie lovers, the way to go is to predict all 24 categories, from Best Picture, running through Best Song, all the way down to Best Sound Mixing. These guidelines will help playing with amateurs, but they’re meant to win big in the pros.

Over the last few years, I’ve honed and improved these to the point where this was my batting average last time I entered a pool, so I’m hoping now you can benefit from my pursuit of trivia.

In the interest of showing my data, here are my results four years running.

2011 Oscar Predictions: 75-percent correct (66-precent on Big Six).

2012 Oscar Predictions: 75-percent correct (83-precent on Big Six).

2013 Oscar Predictions: 73-percent correct (66-precent on Big Six).

2014 Oscar Predictions: 92-percent correct (100-precent on Big Six).

But enough of my self-congratulatory back-slapping clap trap. How do you win your Oscar pool?

Like this (for the impatient crowd, you can follow along with the steps):

Step 1: Think like a heartless movie industry insider

First things first: Destroy your heart. You favorite movie of the year, the actors you like best, most touching score, cleverest director… ditch’em. Essentially, forget all the beautiful things which make movies so damn special.

The Academy Awards are a popularity contest nearly identical to a high school election, with all the in-cliques, emotional voting, band-wagoning and all the other warped outlooks which made high school such a fun time. Your task is not to think like a movie lover, but think like an Academy voter. Who’s that?

Step 2: Think like an Oscar voter

The Oscars are given out by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

It’s a pretty fantastic organization that does a lot to preserve our movie history. But like all industry groups, the AMPAS has its own quirks, acquired over its 80-odd year history, and some specific oddities rising from being the most privileged part of the the most privileged industry on the planet. You may have heard something about this at some point.

 

At this point, it’s helpful to know how the Oscar nominations happen.

As of this writing, 2016, the AMPAS is made up of about 6,000 voting members. These members are respected people in the movie industry and are part of different branches of the AMPAS… actors, directors, costume people, special effects specialists, sound people, set designers, etc… who have been sponsored for membership and approved. This means they’re usually older and more… pale, let’s say… than the overall industry itself, and much more pale than the general population. (This will be important in Step 6).

While the AMPAS has made some recent changes, these guidelines are still ironclad for the 2016 Oscars.

How the Oscar winners are decided happens in two rounds, one secret, one public.

First, the producers of all the movies in a calendar year can submit their films to the AMPAS for consideration. Once films have been judged eligible for the Oscars, a master list is sent to Academy members in December so each branch can vote and decide on the nominees. It’s a little more complicated than that, but the upshot is this means sound technicians vote to decide who’s nominated in the sound categories, writers vote to decide on who’s nominated in the script categories, costume people on costumes, etc. (This will be important in Step 4).

The AMPAS then tallies all those votes and counts up the top contenders in each category. Those top choices become the Oscar Nominees, which are announced about a month and a half before the Oscars are given. You’ve probably seen this part.

The nominees are then sent back to the Academy members who they are allowed to vote on everything. So sound technicians can vote on actors, actors can vote on writers. It’s a free for all. (Again, this will be important in Step 4).

This voting must be finished about 5 days before the big show. Those votes are counted, and the top vote getters become Oscar winners when the envelopes are opened live on TV at the Academy Awards.

So, how does this help you win your pool? Like this:

Step 3: Wait until the day before the Oscars because…

With all this in mind, wait until the day before the Academy Awards to decide on who you think will win. Why?

While the Academy is famous for protecting the identities of the winners until that envelope is opened on stage, an awful lot of info leaks out from academy voters in the final weeks before the awards. While it’s against AMPAS rules for members to reveal who they voted for, it happens anyway like this:

The various branches of the Academy are made up of members who are also in other organizations which give out awards. The writers in the AMPAS are also in the Writers Guild of America. The actors are in the Screen Actors Guild. The directors are in the Directors Guild of America.

How does this help? All of these organizations, and more listed below, give out their own awards leading up to the Oscars. So the winner of the DGA award for best director is a great indicator who’ll end up with the best director Oscar. Winner of the WGA award for best original screenplay? Probably going to win the Oscar.

That connects to…

Step 4: … you need to visit these sites

How much info has leaked from the Academy members by the time the Oscars are about to be handed out? Quite a bit.

Below is a helpful list of the major awards given out leading up to the Oscars. Unlike the Golden Globes (which are a spotty indicator of who’ll win) these awards are voted on by many of the same people who also vote on the Oscars. So if an actor, movie or director has won across a few of them? They’re who you should choose.

Pay particular attention to the SAG awards. Why? Because there are more actors in the AMPAS than any other guild. If actors on the whole a script, or a director, or another actor… chances are their voting power will say the Oscar winner. Everyone says Tom Hanks is the nicest guy in Hollywood, and he’s won Oscars back to back. David Fincher is one of the best directors working, but has a bit of a reputation. How many Oscars has he won? Zero.

So grab an Oscar nomination ballot  and simply go to these organizations and start noting who has won their awards.

Producers Guild of America

Directors Guild of America

Screen Actors Guild

Writers Guild of America

American Cinema Editors Awards

Animation Awards

Visual Effects Awards

Costume Designer Awards

Sound Awards

Once you’ve done that, consult the industry insiders who track the real buzz inside Hollywood (not the TMZ or Entertainment Tonight BS) on who they think will win. They can be found here:

Variety Oscar Prediction Center

Hollywood Reporter Oscar Predictions

Deadline Hollywood

FiveThirtyEight.com’s Oscar Predictions

GoldDerby.com’s Oscar Predictions 

Total up the winners here, and see who’s leading in each category. You’re choices are starting to reveal themselves. If someone has won across all these choices (as Leo DiCaprio or Brie Larson are this year) you should probably choose them.

Step 5: She who wins best short film wins the night

Now we’re getting somewhere. With the easy choices made, now it’s time to separate yourself from the pack.

Because so many people are interested in the Big Six awards, and because even those with passing interest probably hear the buzz around these categories, where you’re going to shine is the smaller categories. Many people will probably pick Leonardo DiCaprio to win if he’s the front runner.

But who’s going to win best short film? Most people throw a dart and guess. If you can win there where most people biff it, you’re nearly there.

Go back through the links above, and make sure you’re grabbing the front-runners in the sound categories, best short films, best short animation. If you can get ahead there, you’re almost guaranteed to win.

Step 6: Don’t go full retard

So you’ve made all the smart choices, but maybe the signals are mixed. What happens when the DGA and SAG pick different winners for best picture? Who knows what about costumes or production design?

Here’s where the weird quirks of the Academy show themselves. Here are some helpful guidelines:

The Academy loves to award people with disabilities.

Who am I to argue with Mr. Robert Downy Jr.? No one, that’s who. Is this offensive? Probably, but sometimes the world offends us. It might seem icky to think the Academy members condescend to people they see as disabled. But the trends don’t lie.

Examples include wins from: Geoffry Rush, Jamie Fox, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman and Daniel Day Lewis.

Remind yourself who these voters are: They’re mostly rich, insecure actors who realize by dint of quixotic talent and some hard work, they have been rewarded far beyond the dreams of most people. They feel kind of guilty, and also are actors… who are naturally insecure attention seekers (love you actors, but search your feelings. You know it to be true). They want to see themselves as good people, show others they’re good and kind-hearted, which leads us to…

Remember, Academy members love to congratulate themselves on how great they are. This is an awards show after all. They are literally giving awards to themselves, and there’s a bit of self-satisfaction and puffing up their image which comes along with that. If giving an award makes them seem to the outside world as caring, concerned or somehow ennobling, that’s where you should place your bets.

Keep this front and center, the Academy loves a good story. So rewarding the performance of the sweet simple-minded guy just hits their sweet spot. Which leads us to…

Who is due? While the Academy sometimes loves to award fresh new faces, especially in the actress categories, most of the time they want people to pay their dues before getting the industry’s highest award.

This is why you see things like Al Pacino winning for Scent of a Woman rather than The Godfather or Godfather II, for which he wasn’t even nominated. (That’s right. Al Pacino wasn’t even NOMINATED for The Godfather. Remember: Destroy your heart.) By 1992, Pacino was a living legend, so when he was nominated for what might not even be the best performance of that year, he won.

The Academy loves British people problems. All things being equal, if a movie is about British people with problems (or British actors playing non-Brits with problems) they’ve got the inside edge. Examples: The Kings Speech, Theory of Everything, Shakespeare in Love, English Patient, Braveheart, Chariots of Fire and… need I go on?

The Academy loves history. If a movie or performance is of a real person or event, that helps. Examples: Titanic, Gandhi, Gladiator

The Academy really, really remembers the Holocaust. Between Best Feature Documentary (Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the KindertransportThe Long Way HomeAnne Frank Remembered) Best Picture and Best Foreign Film (Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful) and various winners across all categories (Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Adrian Brody,Roberto Benigni,  Roman Polanski) if the subject of the Holocaust is involved, chances are Academy members will want to pat themselves on the back for their remembering by giving gold.

The Academy loves old clothes, castles and fantasy. This will help you in choosing who will win Best Costume Design and Best Set Direction. If the costumes are more than 50-years old, if they’re from Europe in the 1700s or 1800s, and especially Britain in the 1800s, chances are they’ll win. Of the last 20 awards given in this category, the most modern era awarded was for The Grand Budapest Hotel, which takes place largely in 1968.

The vast majority of costume and production design winners were for period pieces, or fantasy movies with old-leaning aesthetics (Alice in WonderlandThe Lord of the Rings, Avatar, Great Gatsby, Lincoln… )

Oscar likes to surprise. Like all elections, you have to expect upsets. Every once in awhile you get a Marisa Tomei beating out a Vanessa Redgrave.

It happens. The point is, you don’t need to be perfect. You just need to beat your friends.

Play along with me

So that’s it. Have fun. I’ll be posting my choices on February 27, so let’s all play along together.

And be back here February 29 to see me rationalize how I got stuff wrong.

 

DEADPOOL like me. Not like me. Like a murderous smart-ass.

Screen Shot 2016-02-13 at 8.50.17 PM

If you can imagine a movie like AIRPLANE! directed by the Wachowski Brothers in their prime, you’ll have a good idea what DEADPOOL is.

If that sounds interesting, get ready for a fun ride this weekend.

This review is short because everything essential in this wise-ass action film is done very well: Ryan Reynolds gives the performance he was born for as the quick witted title character, who’s sets out on a revenge mission to capture the doctor who turned him into a self-healing but tragically deformed freak.

If words like freak and deformed bump you here, DEADPOOL is not for you. If you’re open to all the colors in the humor toolbox, and have yet to tire of the current comic book movie wave, DEADPOOL might be exactly what you’re looking for.

As much of a fan as I’ve been over the last few years to see what Marvel and Fox have been doing with their comic book franchises (let’s forget the brief wine-on-a-white-carpet-stumble that was FANTASTIC 4, shall we?) I’ve found myself getting tired of many of the tropes and repeated rhythms.

Watching DEADPOOL rip them apart with sharp one-liners, smart sight gags and and direct talks with the audience watching the scenes even as they unfold, is exactly the kind of parody the genre needs at the moment. It’s the best kind of parody, deconstructing and highlighting its subject while at the same time reveling in the sensations and details which made the genre the dominant Hollywood entertainment of the last decade.

Want more info on the plot/moments/scenes? That’s best left unsaid, so you virgin eyes can enjoy them on the big screen

Score: 8/10

Feel like arguing about this? Come over to my Letterboxd page and let’s fight. Or, if you only have time for 140 characters, find me on Twitter at @JettJergens

 

 

 

HAIL, CAESAR! is cotton candy made by Michelin rated chefs

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I love Spielberg, Scorcese, Tarantino, Fincher and a hundred more.

But with every new film, I wonder if the Coen Brothers have been my unconscious favorites all along.

Who has a range as wide and a level of delivery like this:

O BROTHER! WHERE ART THOU?
TRUE GRIT
THE BIG LEBOWSKI
NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
FARGO
THE HUDSUCKER PROXY

I can’t think of anyone. Which brings us to their newest, HAIL, CAESAR!

It’s about studio head Eddie Mannix as he runs around 1950s Hollywood, trying to keep things on track. That’s it.

I know it may sound like a slight to say it’s minor-Coen Brothers, but for me that’s just what I like about it. It’s not heavy, not fantastically ambitious, has a strange wrap up, but is just so much fun.

Watching the Coens run Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and more through their paces is like watching a great athlete just mess around between big games. The stakes might not be high, but it’s still a thing of beauty to see.

Score: 7.5/10

Feel like arguing about this? Come over to my Letterboxd page and let’s fight. Or, if you only have time for 140 characters, find me on Twitter at @JettJergens

Sometimes the buzz is full of it. Thoughts on SICARIO

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Sometimes you have the experience of hearing nothing but good things about a movie whose trailer left you cold. People you trust say it’s great. The trailer, which before the hype looked generic and rote, suddenly seems like it’s something more interesting.

So you open your mind to the possibility that a hidden gem has been discovered. And then you watch it and discover your initial indifference was probably right on the mark.

Having now scene SICARIO, I find myself wondering what all the hubbub was. Or perhaps it’s that I’ve already seen CHINATOWN.

Watching this was having the strange sensation of seeing great directing, great acting, interesting performances put to almost no good purpose.

I have to say I really ended up disliking Emily Blunt’s character.

Her fantastic performance, and everyone’s good work here, seemed undercut by a hamstrung script.

Her character didn’t go through much of a transformation from her by the book frustration when first meeting Josh Brolin’s character, even after all of the horrors she ended up experiencing.

She was still intent on blowing the whistle, even after she realized the level of difficulty they were dealing with was of a whole different order than she understood from her previous work.

I found her to be a strange mirror of Tom Cruise’s character A FEW GOOD MEN. Upstanding, committed to the rule of law, leery of officials who go outside of the strict lines to get a job done.

But unlike Cruise, who was holding higher-ups accountable in a time of peace (when there extreme tactics were obviously overkill), she was working through a time of horrific war and still lecturing those around her about staying strictly legal.

But that’s a plot way of examining how her character did not seem to change all that much. From a storytelling aspect, it was weirdly inert.

She didn’t seem to be truly affected by what she encountered. I had a hard time empathizing with her when I was being affected by the implications of what she saw, and she seems trapped in her beliefs, like somebody who wanted to remain willfully naïve.

I have a difficult time empathizing for people burying their head in the sand as the world changes around them.

– This was dictated.

Score: 6/10

Feel like arguing about this? Come over to my Letterboxd page and let’s fight. Or, if you only have time for 140 characters, find me on Twitter at @JettJergens

Retro review: STAR WARS EPISODE III

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(Originally Published May 19, 2005)

May 1999 was an awful month for many Star Wars fans.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the first movie in George Lucas’ prequel trilogy to his revolutionary Star Wars films, was hitting screens. It was getting thrashed by critics and disappointing many fans. I know, because I was among the critics thrashing and the fans disappointed.

At the time I had a job at an online entertainment magazine in Los Angeles. The critics’ screening was in San Francisco seven days before the release, but I loved these movies enough to think driving 350 miles was no price to pay. Afterwards a fellow editor and I drove back through the night, talking Episode I the whole time.

Gone were the charms of the original Star Wars. No mythic portent of a Luke Skywalker driving toward his destiny. Gone was the strut of a Han Solo. A quick mouth like Princess Leia’s couldn’t be found. In their place was a shiftless story, the awful acting of Jake Lloyd as proto-Darth Vader Anakin Skywalker, and the noxious pratfalls of Jar Jar Binks, an offense to race, comedy and special effects all at once.

By the time we arrived in Los Angeles, the shock of seeing a bad Star Wars film had morphed into an examination on the insanity of fandom. Why did anyone place such devotion to movies, TV shows, rock bands and sports teams when those things could not love you back? Was this our lot in life?

We drove past Grauman’s Chinese Theater and saw the rabid fans camped out for tickets, sleeping with their plastic light sabers and chest-covering Darth Maul tattoos like kids on Christmas Eve.

Santa was coming with a lot of coal.

With a job covering Star Trek, The Matrix, The Simpsons and all things nerd, I was used to talking to geeks about the loves the rest of the world abused them for. Now I was wondering if I was a fool to love Star Wars as I did.

My non-fanatic friends tried to console me with “it’s just a movie.” The sentiment seemed false. Popular culture can mean a lot more than a fun night at the movies or a great summer read. If someone dismissed Casablanca or The Shawshank Redemption in the same way, I’d rightfully wonder if they knew anything about the heartbreak of struggle or the better parts of human nature. The Great Gatsby was a smash on the best-seller charts. Isn’t this why we have culture?

It’s a hard argument to make given the world Lucas’ success has wrought. When Return of the Jedi left screens in 1983 and the studios rushed in for those blockbuster dollars, most of what followed was nothing more than teen boy revenge fantasies. Enter the murdering robots of The Terminator, the gunmen of The Matrix and the vapid noise of Hollywood’s Michael Bay quarter.

It irked me because when you really talk to Star Wars fans, they don’t talk about light sabers or space battles. They talk about that moment in the original film, when farm boy Luke Skywalker stared off at a twin sunset wondering if he’d be able connect the dreams of his youth to the years of his adulthood. It doesn’t inspire cruelty or cheap irony but a durable, hopeful outlook that even if your dad is evil and cuts off your hand and it turns out you’ve had a crush on your sister, if you work hard and use the Force, everything can come out OK. Let’s see this summer’s Batman Begins do that.

Since 1999, being a Star Wars fan has been a mixed bag. Once the cool fans of geekdom, we’ve watched as The Matrix Trilogy made off with our zeitgeist swagger and The Lord of the Rings outstripped the Original Trilogy’s sweep. Once a phenomenon, where everyone was a Star Wars fan, we were now seen as being a mild kind of crazy, consigned to sit with Star Trek fans who have seen their franchise turn into something akin to a computer trying to write poetry. Many have made the same charge about Lucas’ prequels, with wooden acting and stilted dialogue marring 2002’s Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and so there’s not much hope for Episode III.

So now, really, how is Revenge of the Sith?

In a word, awful. Awful in the old sense, terrible and spectacular, where doom and hope claw it out, and we learn lessons by seeing doom prevail. Awfully good. Awful in the Empire Strikes Back sense of the word. But no, it’s not that good.

From the first scene, with Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor) flying through a spectacular space battle to rescue the kidnapped chancellor Palpatine (the wickedly good Ian McDiarmid), this episode flies like a laser shot. Gone are the stilted political maneuverings and meandering spectacles of Episodes 1 and II. Here the fights are great and terrible, striking down, twisting or tarnishing forever the souls of Obi-Wan, Yoda, Anakin and his secret wife Padmà. This is the prequel where all the emotional punch lies, and it’s almost been worth the wait.

Since returning to directing with 1999’s Episode I, Lucas has slowly been getting back the chops he showed in the 1970s, with pitch-perfect blends of technical artistry and emotion in American Graffiti and Star Wars. While Episode II: Attack of the Clones was a vast improvement from Episode I, it still had too few personal consequences to move much emotion. Episode III is a flourish of Lucas’ biggest strengths and weaknesses. The action sequences are better than they’ve ever been. And the nimble clarity he shows jumping his plot from thread to thread to thread reminds us how he acquired his filmmaking empire.

The acting however is … not great. The scenes between Anakin and Padmà (a weirdly flat Natalie Portman) underwhelm when they should be heartbreaking. But the imperfection is not enough to mask the real heartache and tragedy of a man turning his back on his wife, his brothers in arms and even himself. And let’s be honest: The acting in the original Star Wars was similarly ungreat.

The final fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin is as harrowing for its emotions as its spectacular danger. As the climax of seven hours of prequel events, it delivers. And while most of the movie seems a half-step too fast, Lucas still respects his story and fans such that he spends as much time on the ripples of aftermath as the fight.

Still, there are a few moments that strike notes so off-key (one with the newly helmeted Darth Vader nearly sinks the enterprise) they oddly make me thankful so much of this is so good. This is not the film fans had a right to expect after the wasteland of The Phantom Menace. And yet here it is.

So what’s it all come to? Episode III is not as good as those in the Original Trilogy, but it is good enough to closely miss the cut. Given what passes for blockbusters these days, it’s nice to have one last real visit to the galaxy far, far away.

May the Force be with you.

Score: 7/10

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