Duenas Comedy Reminders (Performance)

Here’s a list of notes to keep in mind when acting as a comedy actor:

  • If a straight man, your comedic gap is struggling to cope with the crazy character.
  • As a character sketch, your comedy comes from staying in your blind-spot. You’re supposed to annoy your fellow actors, but never figure out what causes them pain.
  • On stage, you’re always trying to win. Find what you want and stick to it.
  • Characters come from “I believe” statements. Ex: I believe that the world is out to get me. I believe all people are inherently stupid.
  • Always better to be arrogant than self-loathing. If depressed, so to self-loathing (Alan Rickman status: I hate life).
  • Know when to shut-up and support when there are ten of you on stage.
  • Comedy comes from characters trying to win, not trying to make jokes. Douchebags can make jokes if trying to get a laugh out of mocking someone, but that requires multiple people on stage.
  • Premise sketches are consistently better than character sketches.
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Why I Love “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”

August 2017

Why I LOVE “…Sunny In Philadelphia”

… Even though I hate the name.

I sometimes call the show just “Sunny”, but when I say “I was watching Sunny last night,” it feels wrong.  Why is the name so darn long?  I’d always wondered, but never cared to find out.  Perhaps my love of the title music distracted or blinded me.  But I had seen every season of the show four times over before I was told where its name came from.  Apparently, back when Rob McElhenny (and co.) shot the pilot for the FX pilot contest, the show was titled “It’s Always Sunny in Hollywood,” and the main characters were aspiring actors.  Who else would have all the time in the world to screw up their lives?  The idea was that Hollywood is fake.  We’re given this illusion that there’s always sun in Hollywood, when really, it can be a really ugly place to live.  The characters believed it too, despite their situation.  The pilot (shot on home video, later re-shot for the show as “Charlie Has Cancer”) was a smash hit and FX picked it up.  When they did, FX talked it over with Rob, and Rob changed the characters from aspiring actors to bar owners and moved the setting to Philadelphia.  Hence, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”.  It wasn’t for another dozen episodes that I caught myself thinking about the title and I realized the title sequence for “It’s Always SUNNY in Philadelphia” is set entirely… at night.  I had always been distracted by winter-Christmas feel and the sights of Philly I recognized from frequent (coincidentally) winter flights into the airport.

But I’m not here to explain the title or the origin of the show.  I want to tell you how it became my favorite TV show (next to Malcolm in the Middle), and why I still love it.

The primary reason I watch the show over and over again…

…is that the show is LOUD.  It’s the only show I can listen to on my phone over the noise of my morning shower.  Much of the show is dialogue driven, like an improv show, so the jokes continue to land despite not having the visuals.  Although I’ve seen it enough to know what I would see.  Friends have said, “I can’t watch the show.  It’s just a bunch of people yelling over each other.”  If that’s not your cup of tea, maybe it’s not for you.  But I like the fact that I don’t have to strain to hear the dialogue, and somehow, even with all the actors talking over each other, I can still hear everyone’s dialogue.  That’s a testament to both the sound engineer, and the actors who are able to time their outrage on the fly.

But what’s the REAL key to Sunny’s success?

It’s passionate.  The characters are passionate about their misadventures.  They are completely committed to their bad ideas.

The characters are “yes” men.  You can really see theater improv influences in the show: every character follows the “yes-and” rule – to their detriment (and our enjoyment).  “Let’s sell gasoline door to door.”  “That’s a great idea!  We’ll rent a van.”  /  “We need to scare this Israeli landlord away.” “Let’s make a terrorist demands tape.”  “Okay!”

It’s brilliant.  In its own way.  From episode 1, they nailed the sitcom formula.  They’ll take a concept or theme like abortion, or racism, or saving the planet, and half of the characters will be passionately against it and the other half will be passionately for it.  This allows them to explore both sides of the argument.  Then they’ll both see the errors in their approach and in many episodes, the characters’ opinions will reverse.  Just when you think one character settles into the other’s point of view, the other one switches sides… so they’ve settled nothing.  It’s how they keep the characters in conflict, in a hilarious way.

What makes the show so funny?  John Cleese said [Comedy isn’t watching someone doing something funny.  Comedy is watching someone watch someone doing something stupid] (see our article on comedy).  This is true.  Sometimes it’s watching straight characters cope with the crazies.  But after many viewings, I realized the core of Sunny’s humor is not just watching the characters do extremely foolish things, but watching these guys justify their actions.  It’s as if they’re somewhat aware that their ideas may not make sense, but because they need to be sure of themselves, they convince the others of the merits of their bad idea – or at least they convince themselves.  We get to watch these people perform mental gymnastics out loud.  The actors and writers have a knack for pulling that sort of thing out in almost every scene.  Perhaps the moment it became obvious to me was the house-party flyer scene (which turned out to look like a dick).  Mac is reading the flyer out loud.  “…Just a group of guys looking for other cool guys who want to have some fun at our party mansion.  Again, nothing sexualUnderline.”  Then Dennis says “I have NO problem with that.”  As if to emphasize exactly what we’re all screaming in our heads: “How in the world do they NOT see how gay that sounds?!”

Why do I find it way funnier than Seinfeld?  I mean the formula is the same: a group of really terrible people harping on the dumbest faux pas, finding humor in the little things.  But where Seinfeld finds himself apathetic about most things, Sunny characters are passionate about everything.  Sure George can get passionate (he’s actually the funniest character in the show), but Seinfeld (as George’s foil) neutralizes his passion by shrugging him off or by speaking in his boring, obnoxious voice, whining about or dismissing it.  They just do things, which happen to be a little off or clearly the wrong approach.  We laugh at the situational dissonance that they don’t notice their little social errors.  But in Sunny, they do the wrong things… passionately.  They don’t notice it either.  But in Sunny, the artists call attention to it, and the characters justify it, and they push it beyond a comic happenstance (Seinfeld) to a hyperbolized cinematic event.  At times, a spectacle.  At best, Seinfeld is “haha funny”.  Sunny is hilarious.  It’s bursts of laughter back to back.  The characters in Sunny aren’t foils to each other, but enablers.  It’s “yes-and”, which lets things spiral out of control.  If there were rational people in the group, if there were any “don’t”ers, things wouldn’t get as funny as they do.

Back to passion.  I think this is key.  It’s the same key to the success as Malcolm in the Middle.  (And why Tom Cruise movies always have a draw).  People want to watch a character who cares passionately about something.  It doesn’t matter what it is.  If the character cares passionately about something, we find ourselves doing the same.  It’s why evangelist and charlatans get so many followers – they care passionately about the bullshit they’re selling, and even though they can’t substantiate any of it, they try to, or speak as if it’s fact, and most people can’t help but assume there’s something there.  Most people aren’t sure about everything (or anything, or some things) that they do in life, so they are attracted to those who are sure about what they’re doing.  We follow the people who know where they’re going… even if it’s the wrong direction! It sucks, but it’s true.

The characters are generally sure of themselves.  Even though all the guys dig on Dee and shoot her down, she proceeds without them.  Instead of being a Debbie downer, Dee usually goes ahead with her plans despite the guys, which actually makes her more admirable.

That’s the other key to the show’s charm.  Each character persists DESPITE their situation.  And they rarely give up (during the episode).  It turns out they always give up or fail at the end of the episode, but only after all the comedic routes have been exhausted.  And sometimes one character giving up happens at the worst possible moment for another character.  (Like when Dennis gives up on being a politician just after Charlie sold his Cabbage Patch kids collection to keep him in the race!)

The characters are doers.  Every episode pretty much begins with “Heyo!!  Look what I’ve got”.  It’s usually an answer to the standing question “What are we going to DO today.”  The characters are always looking for something to DO.  And that drive is actually admirable.  Say what you will about the quality of their character, but these guys are doers. If they have a problem (usually with somebody) they DO something about it.  Although usually, it’s the wrong thing!  They’re fighters.  The same is true with the kids in Malcolm in the Middle.  But it can’t be said about the characters in Seinfeld; only, possibly, George.

The reveals.  For a show with a low budget and single-cam, they have some well-timed visual gags.  Like the hospital scene when Dennis and Dee have a long argument with their dad after he suddenly shows up in their lives after so many years apart.  They expose some deep-rooted family issues, and Dennis and Dee storm off wishing never to see their dad again.  Then… the camera pans over to Mac and Charlie who we now realize were watching the whole ordeal.  Mac breaks the silence with “That was awkward.”  They do it again in front the lawyer in one episode, and again when Mac, Dennis, and Charlie are arguing about whether the building they’re in has helicopter pad on the roof, and the conversation ends with “Let’s table the talk about the chopper on the roof, and hear the man out”, at which point the camera reveals a salesman was in the room the whole time, unable to stop them from rambling on and on in their own conversation.  They really know how to set up a joke with a simple visual punchline (often times cued in by a character).

A light approach to social issues.  There are some topics that they really go over the edge, but something about the characters is disarming, letting the audience cringe (and laugh) without being offended.  It’s exemplary in the first season particularly as they explored some touchy subjects like racism, abortion, cancer, and religion.  How do they get away with it?

Each character has a redeeming trait that actually makes us root for them, despite the absurdity.  Some of it is that we acknowledge that at least Mac and Charlie are too dim-witted to understand their faults (or actions), but they are trying their hardest, so (like children) we don’t (or can’t) judge them.  Dee is always the odd-(wo)man out; she is generally shot down, ignored, or bullied by the boys, making us pity her, but she persists despite her situation (a comic hero), which actually makes us respect her.  And Dennis is a douche.  We’re supposed to really hate him, but we root for him regardless.  Why?  Because he’s so sure of himself.  Which we respect (as I mentioned above, about passion), and lends itself to a certain set of comedic situations.  And because he’s a douche, we’re actually satisfied when he gets his comeuppance.

Why do they never give up?  Because they also live in denial, which allows them to persist for so long without admitting defeat or failure, and it keeps them from getting down on themselves, and keeps us from judgment.  Malcolm in the Middle walks that fine line too.  Hal made it obvious in a Christmas episode: “Dad you’re living in denial.”  “The only way I survive is by living in denial.  Come on!  If I were to let reality affect me, I would have quit after the third child!”  Our heroes never mope about their circumstance.  They do something about it, or deny it.  Denial can be really funny… when you’re not the one living in it!

It’s ironic.  They’re all faulty people making bad decisions, but because they’re passionate about their actions, and they justify their actions, and because they each persist despite their circumstances (a quality of a comic hero), we can enjoy their shenanigans without feeling overwhelmed with disgust or pity or judgment.



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Screenwriting 101

You’re here because you don’t know anything about screenwriting and want to get started ASAP and look like a pro. That’s exactly what I wanted too, one place to learn everything. This is your portal into screenwriting, TV writing, and sketch writing (forget stage format for now). Coming from a background in feature film writing, I’m going to start with feature.


  • Writing Tools
  • Feature Screenplay Format
  • Reading Scripts Online
  • Example Single-Cam (Arrested Development)
  • Example Multi-Cam (Friends)
  • Further Reading


Writing Tools

The easiest way to get your script to LOOK like a script is to buy or download a script writing application. The industry standard is Final Draft, but it costs an arm and a rent, so I’ll recommend Celtx for now to get you started. You’ll soon bump up into the limits of Celtx and want to shell out for Final Draft. Until then, save your money. There’s also word templates.

Premium Software

  1. FinalDraft ($250, Aug 2017; Student $130)

Free Software

  1. Word Template (Screenplay Template from University of North Dakota). This is a nice option since you can do custom formatting, write offline, and print to PDF. It works very much like any script writing software. It also introduces you the the capabilities of Word styles. No need to activate Macros for shortcut use since tabs, enters, and the style window pinned to the right side of your screen will get you the formatting you need. You can also create a multi-cam format by changing the formatting for the different styles.
  2. Celtx (Obsolete Desktop Version). The pros is that it’s free and does feature screenplay format for free (no multi-cam TV formatting). The cons is that it requires internet access since now all your files are linked to the cloud. However, the phased-out desktop version (link above) allows you to write offline (without providing personal email) and requires internet only to save to PDF.

Feature Screenplay Format

The article below goes over all the formatting rules and tips and tricks for breaking them (don’t try the tricks while you’re still learning).

Here is a printable format that I’ve put on 5.5 x 8.5 paper, so you can print it out as a booklet (under page sizing & handling, there should be a booklet option). You can also print 2 per page (on a normal 8.5 x 11 letter size paper). [DOCX, PDF]


Reading Screenplays Online

The second resource is a bunch of sites for downloading and reading screenplays (in the order that I remembered them).

  1. http://www.imsdb.com The Internet Movie Script Database. HTML versions of scripts.
  2. http://www.dailyscript.com Many PDF scans, which give you good sense of page counts and final formatting. Internally hosted files.
  3. http://www.script-o-rama.com/table.shtml Mostly links to external sources for scripts (many PDF scans, see PDF warning below).
  4. Googling. Ex: Friends Pilot Script. Just try to stay to website that seem kosher.

PDFs can be dangerous if certain permissions are enabled in your PDF viewer (and the file is malevolent).

The sites above are clean as far as I can tell, and I think they try to keep it that way. They’ve been around for decades (literally, have you seen their page design?).

Different Types of Screenplays

  1. Spec (speculation)
  2. Commissioned
  3. Shooting

Something to consider in reading feature scripts are the different types of scripts out there.
There is a spec (speculation) script which is a script written on one’s own time and sold to the studios after completion. (See this article for great insight into Time-Risk as a gauge for costing effort and living life.)

Examples include:

These scripts are good to learn from because they have to be pitch perfect in order to be sold as is (or their concepts are so compelling (The Island) that the studio will buy it to adapt if for a particular talent).

Just for reference, WGA has minimum purchase prices for spec screenplays by major studios. Last I checked it’s around $70k. Non-studios will pay less. Some spec scripts will also get “optioned” for less, which is money paid to the writer to essentially stop them from selling to other companies for a limited amount of time while they decide if they want to put in all of the money to buy it out completely.
Then there are commissioned scripts where the writers are paid by the studio to write a script based on pitches and treatments (you don’t get paid as much as spec scripts). These don’t have to be as good (but still film-able) because the creators have a vested interest in already. Sometimes a particular talent might be attached so bad dialogue can be imagined better because Keanu Reeves is saying it. However, there is no guarantee those films will still get made.

Examples include:

  • Pirates 1 (’03, Depp probably attached already),
  • Austin Powers (’97, late draft, Mike Myers),
  • Mean Girls (adaptation, Tina Fey, written after SNL),
  • Aliens (’85, James Cameron wrote it based on a treatment he made for his own unrelated sci-fi flick that the studios liked enough to buy and have him re-write with Sigourney in the lead).

Then there are shooting scripts, which are the final script that is used to breakdown and budget the film. As such all scene headings (slugs) are numbered. If you see scenes with numbers, it’s a shooting script. Don’t number your scenes ever or you’ll look like a rank amateur. When you see a script with numbers you know that’s what the script looked like before being filmed.

Colored pages indicate draft changes (revisions) after a shooting script is first printed. As a form of draft control, changes are both added to the first page with a date and indicated by printing on different colored pages. Instead of renumbering the whole script, changed pages will become blue, pink, red, etc. and new scenes will get new numbers with A or B or C added to the end. The Arrested Development script linked to below has an example of this at scene 25.

Example Single-Cam TV Script

The Arrested Development Pilot is a great script to learn all the tricks of the trade for sketch writing, screenwriting, and TV writing. It’s a great example of what a single-cam TV script looks like. (Single-cam is a movie-production style show like 24, CSI, or Modern Family, while multi-cam is a stage style show, i.e. Friends, Seinfeld, 2 1/2 Men). The single-cam TV format is so similar to screenwriting, that it’s useful for feature screenwriting as well. Plus it’s fun to read and easy to compare to the final product.

It has good examples of the following (do note that it’s a shooting script which means there is some over direction of camera placement with tons of “cut to”s in stage direction):

  • Using voice over (V.O.)
  • Using Chryon (another word for text overlay)
  • Using parentheticals as adverbs (or HOW a line is delivered) at the bottom of page 2
  • Using RE: in parentheticals near the top of page 2; RE: means regarding, not reply
  • HEADSHOT as a non-location slug line followed by Of Tobias (compare to use of INSERT in scene 21)
  • Lindsay’s dialogue in scene 3 to imply an excited swallowing/savoring of the hors d’oeuvre; how to spell hors d’oeuvres.
  • spelling out words in dialogue in scene 4; G-O-B
  • ellipses between scenes 7 and 8
  • double-dash between scenes 10 and 11
  • multiple locations in slug 12
  • nested location in slug 1
  • Angle on:” in scene 16
  • various uses of to designate change of thought or incomplete thoughts in dialogue in scene 16
  • SMASH CUT TO before scene 18
  • Flashback and return to present in scene 19
  • use of INSERTS in scene 21
  • describing action over dialogue on page 14 1st description
  • using parentheticals to denote WHO a line is said to (TO BUSTER) on page 14
  • an example of what adding a scene after your shooting script is made in scene 25A/B, and 29A
  • END OF ACT ONE formatting on page 14 (ACT ONE formatting on page 1)

Example Multi-cam TV Script

For now I’ll put the Friends Pilot out there. It’s a good example of what the title page and character page look like as well as the format.

Further Reading

1. Wordplayer.com

I highly recommend All Columns from the Wordplayer website. It’s written by Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio, the screenwriters of Aladdin, Mask of Zorro, and Pirates 1, 2, & 3 who also ghost wrote (uncredited re-wrote) Men In Black.
The site is all content and no ads. They were paid by AOL to write the series back in the day (late 90s), and now share the content for free and update when they want to.

I idolize these writers and the amount of knowledge they pack into the columns.

YouTube Channels

Some YouTube channels make great video essays. One specifically for writing is Lessons from the Screenplay.

  1. Lessons from the Screenplay. [best of]
  2. Every Frame a Painting. [best of]


How to Write A…

[internal links with more resources, under construction]

  • UCB Comedy Sketch.
  • Groundlings Sketch.
  • Feature Script.
    • This article summarizes some of the staple books out there. Much of which don’t need to be read beyond the first few chapters.
  • Scene.
    • A series of scenes make up a script. What needs to be in each? How to outline a scene so you know it works in the larger picture of the screenplay.
  • Logline. (different than a tagline or synopsis)
  • Comedy.

What is Improv?

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More on Heroes and Protagonists

I’ve begun to notice how to read people’s eyes.

For example, the eyes of Heath Ledger and Robin Williams have a bipolar wear-your-emotions-on-your sleeve feel. They also have the look of someone who’s always thinking, more specifically, looking the abyss of fear and despair. They are able to express on camera their own inner depression.

But when they’re playing happy, it’s usually overly happy and desperately happy, like they’re at their own monster’s ball (a party thrown by British corrections officers for a death row inmate the night before his execution). A happiness which they expect might be the last time they’re happy ever. A nostalgic happiness that recognizes the beauty of the moment, but worries that they’ll never see a moment as wonderful ever again.

There seems to be a signature look in depressed people’s eyes. A vacancy that’s looking at the loss in any situation.

On the other side. There are also winner’s eyes. Those of Tom Cruise, or Arnold Schwarzenegger. When you see Tom or Arnold smile, they’re genuine smiles of: “I’m the best and can conquer anything.” Contrasted to Heath’s or Robin’s, their smiles and comedic performances are usually overly animated and desperate. Arnold’s best comedy comes from the clash of context that comes from a man’s man (and winner) who tries to win at the most unexpected contexts. Like winning in kindergarten, or trying to look smart. It’s their arrogance and obliviousness to their weaknesses (coupled with their overwhelming and admirable confidence) that draws out the absurdity in situations.


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Wonder Woman

From Facebook Post (June 4):

I don’t know what to say about Wonder Woman that hasn’t already been said but I’ll try: It made me cry. Wonder Woman gives you the feels the way many modern Pixar films try to do. It did it with a compelling story structure and hopeful idealism. It’s a film that I think will empower a generation of girls to become leaders of the free world. It’s a morality drama and thriller with action and comedy added to support the story. It’s extremely well written, it’s well directed, and does exactly what it set out to do.

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10 Filmmaking Lessons from Armageddon

20160409_190218_smallIf one were to define the word “crowdpleaser” it would undoubtedly be a link to Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer’s Armageddon. It is the pinnacle of collaboration. With nearly a dozen writers (screenplay by, story by, and ghost writers/polishers), a huge ensemble of actors, a picture perfect cinematographer, a war horse director, a solid musical score, and a culturally sensational soundtrack (both oldies and the classic original song by Aerosmith), this film fires on all cylinders. It’s a visceral, emotional, and auditory roller coaster that always gives you the feels. From laugh out loud jokes, edge of your seat suspense, tear jerking finales, to triumphant nostalgia, this film has it all in all the right ratios and for all the right durations. In the spirit of its heroes, it was All Go, No Quit fun.

Jonathan Hensliegh

  1. Laugh out loud moments. The plethora of characters added comedic quips to the scenarios.
  2. The crew were comedic heroes, Bruce Willis and the NASA scientists were the proper action heroes. Completely capable. The Rock: Nick Cage is comedic hero, Sean Connery was proper action hero. Bad Boys: Martin Lawrence was comedic hero, Will Smith was proper action hero.
  3. Tragedy was not basked in. Problems were presented and solutions were found. People died, we acknowledged their death, and then moved forward, like heroes. If we weren’t living our lives to the fullest, then what did our friends die for? Compare to Star Wars 7, how the film ended on a downer.
  4. Celebrations: The crowd cheered when our heroes cheered. Ben Affleck, Peter Stormare, and Michael Duncan landing and cheering was an applause moment. When Bruce Willis informs the government, Gen. Kimsey, that they have a problem because they have a hole to drill, and the NASA scientists cheer, we cheered. This came after one of the most intense scenes in cinema. Which included so many laughs without losing tension (Sir, the override; it’s been overridden. What are you doing with a gun in space? Okay, what did I miss?).
  5. Big egos. The movie was ultra-machismo and comedy came from one upping each other or doing emotional juvenile teasing or yelling. “No, Liev, I don’t know anything. This button? I don’t know what it does? All I know is that there’s a dot and I’m trying to get us there.” “You’ll be heroes, just like me….Finally, I’m a real hero!”


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Loglines for Puns and for Real

Logline Limbo (https://twitter.com/loglinelimbo) was created a while back to inspire us to keep making log lines – for bad, bad puns.  “When Hollywood says no, we fast track it into production with one mantra on our minds: How low can we go?”

We did pretty well for about a month and a half:

Logline Puns

When Satan releases Damien on the church, it’s up to Father Michael to slay the demon. ““. Coming Soon.

Alone, they can be lethal. Get them together and they can take down countries. ““. Coming Soon.

A wordsmith’s life changes when the fruit industry is caught moving cocaine. “: The Movie.”

Holmes is hot on the trail of a theoretical physicist who kills using a 12-gage wire and a multidimensional formula : The Movie

Parents seek when a statistician gives thirty babies a plastic bag to play with. “#RiskOfSuffocation“. Coming Soon.

is a Nascar driver who must control his demons to win the race and the girl: “Need 4 Speed 2: Cruise Control” aka

Last February, “” led a Journey there. This October, will be “ 2: The Mysterious Island”.

And although I didn’t post it until recently, I made it around the same time:

Only one secret agent can stop an arms maker with low tolerance and military precision. #.007

But while the jokes stopped flowing, good ideas didn’t.  In the mean time, we’ve been contemplating lots of movie ideas, but there is a difference between an idea and a plot.  Between a plot and a story.  Between story and a scene.  Between a scene and a movie. How does one maintain a thread through all of it?  One argument is to write to your log line.  http://zigzorg.com/?p=1033

To that end, I wanted to write a few quick log lines for a handful of ideas that have been mulling about in my/our head.  They are by no means polished, but a start and a reminder of the catalog of stories we’d like to pursue:

Loglines for Good Ideas

Teal and Orange – When an average Joe discovers the colors in his world have been reduced to teal and orange, Joe has to confront this next door neighbor who is responsible for this, with the help of an independent thinker down the hall.  (Short movie idea)

World Champions – A group of NFL rejects find redemption when they’re recruited by a patriotic, albeit eccentric entrepreneur who has big plans for them in the FIFA World Cup.

Asterisk – When a billionaire plans to destroy the middle east with a shower of untraceable asteroids, one secret agent employs the help of the billionaire’s scorned ex-business partner who used to sell asteroid insurance.

Jurassic Park #? – A boy and his pet pygmy dinosaur are rejected in the community until they save the town from a derailed train carrying full-size dinosaurs sabotaged by dino-rights radicals.

Galaxy Quest 2 – When its discovered that the writers of the show can imagine things into existence, they are taken captive by a new alien threat, and the cast of Galaxy Quest must pull together to free the captives and save the universe.

The Rock 2 – Goodspeed must use the secrets he learned from the microfilm when he is released from prison to stop a group of radicals who took control of the Smithsonian archives.

Those on the List – When everyone on a mysterious list of names starts killing each other, they realize that one of them is a Shapeshifter.

Identity Crisis – An insecure scientist finally discovers the magic formula that lets him transform at will into anyone he dreams up, but when he tries to use it to enhance his larger-than-life girlfriend, she uses it to humiliate him by becoming him.

Beauty is on the Outside – When a graduate student unlocks the secret of shapeshifting, he learns that true love is more important than true beauty.

Manifestation – Hobbs has a plan of his own when he’s hired to manifest a living human being in the real world from a fabricated memory in the dream world.

Under the Bridge – David Willoughby takes the side of conspiracy theorists deliberately despite the scientific evidence he presents to refute them – to the point of absurdity.  (web-series idea)


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Movie Inspiration Collage


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Star Wars (6 Episode Marathon) Review


Spoilers!  If you haven’t seen any of the movies, there may be spoilers in here.

Here goes:  It started with “Hey, bro, what do you say to watching Episode 6 this Saturday… with a brand new surround sound system?”  When I checked in the morning it had become “Join us in watching the Complete Star Wars saga, episodes 1 through 6 – in THAT order.”  It had already been pointed out to me that this marathon would be longer than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy marathon – even with the extended cuts – but I thought if Shawn’s good for it, then I am too!  (There’s no way I’d agree to the LOTR extended cut marathon).

Going into the films, these were my favorite Star Wars flicks in order:

Episodes 4, 6, 1, 3, 5, 2.

Note how of the original trilogy, episode 5 was dead last.  Yes.  Dead last.  I’ll tell you why.

Nothing happens in Episode 5.

Nothing memorable that is.

I’ve seen Episode 4, 6, and 1 at least a dozen times each.  After re-watching Episodes 2 and 3 a few years ago, I realized how much fun Episode 3 was, and how little I hated Anakin in it.  I still thought Episode 2 was really lacking, possibly because I hated the whiny little bitch Anakin – even though I understood what George Lucas was saying with that character choice.   Plus, I was shocked how Padme could spend an entire movie in gorgeous outfits, and I barely remembered it – probably because the sexiest outfit (the white skin-tight one) was in the least motivated action piece of the series.

So when I finished Episode 2 & 3 a few years ago, I couldn’t help but compare it to Episode 5.  In fact, I could barely remember Episode 5.  I started to think back.  What happened?  Darth Vader tells Luke he’s his father.  Um…. Yoda’s in it.  Um… Cloud City…..  Oh, and Hoth.

So I rewatched Episode 5, too.  And I was shocked to find that was I bored to hell through most of it.  Then it ended.  That’s what shocked me.  Luke is hanging from an antenna;  he’s saved by the crew who turns back because Leia can sense Luke’s peril, and saves him.  Then they’re looking out at the window for some reason (and I forget where), and it cuts to credits.  — Worst ending ever!!!

I was so shocked by that crappy ending I had to call my brother and compare it to Lords of the Rings – Fellowship of the Rings, which just… you know, ended.  Nobody had told me there was going to be two other 3 hour movies in the LOTR series, so when Sam and Frodo finally get to see the eye of Mordor, I’m thinking “this is it.  This is the quiet before the storm.” I’m mounting up for a big battle.  Then it ends.  But Episode 5 was worse.  There was no anticipation; no direction as to what was next; maybe an off-the-cuff comment that Luke’s going back to degobah? Then it ends.  And I sat back and said to myself “Good god.  Nothing happened.”  And the truth is not that nothing happened, but that nothing was accomplished.  And the heroes were left worse off than they began, with more questions than purpose.

So that’s what I remembered going into the mararthon.

What I remember leaving the marathon was …. Strangeness.  By episode 6, I was pretty tired and my contacts dried out, so I had to rewet them.

But overall, here goes.

Episode 1-3 were so dense and difficult to follow that I spent a ton of energy trying to keep track of all the characters and planet names, just to figure out the characters motivations, so I could string together a semblance of story.  By the time I was at Episode 4-6, they flew by as if they were only an hour long.  Not only because I had seen them many times before but because they were easier to follow, probably because less happens in them – especially Episode 5.  The other thing I realized was that Episode 1-3 follows the story of Obi Wan, Anakin, and Padme (this was more clear in episodes 2 and 3), where Episode 4-6 followed the story of Luke, Han, and Leia.

Episode 1-3 had the dilemma of having a lead who you wound up hating for much of the series, who would start as a hero and because he couldn’t control his feelings would become a villain.  Obi-Wan was a Jedi and had to be rather minimally emotive by design (and yet he was the most endearing).  And Padme, who was strong but had no range in emotion, making the romance in Episode 2 less believable.

Episode 4-6 instead followed an angsty but eager-to-help kid who steps up to the plate and becomes a hero fast, then develops his heroism as the series moves forward (with the help of Yoda in Episode 5, and his belief in his father in Episode 6).  It also had at its core a love triangle, since the first film (Episode 4).  They just milked the whole “two guys vying for one girl” joke – hard-core in Episode 5, until the reveal in Episode 6.  It was that love triangle dynamic that kept it light and made you fall in love with the leads.  Rewatching Episode 4-6 back to back, you see how chipper and witty the three leads are and how they all sort of love each other like family – but are all too macho to admit it.  For example, Han Solo starts as this no-good smuggler but quickly turns out to be a really nice guy.  He’s not tough to deal with at all, in fact, he’s rather charming, and he even puts his life and livelihood (the Millennium Falcon) on the line for Luke when he saves the day at the end.  Then the first (boring) 45 minutes of the next movie is just to prove that Han isn’t a bad guy because he braves the cold to find Luke (after a bunch of will-they-won’t-they moments with Leia).  And then in Episode 6, he’s just a nice guy, hero type.  It really makes you wonder… what was he doing in Mos Eisley in the first place?

After you compare the characters in each trilogy, the next talking point becomes the plot.  In both trilogies, the plot is based around the political events in the Republic (or Empire) that drives the military actions that motivate and inform nearly every scene in every movie.

Episode 4-6 was simple.

Episode 4: The Rebels versus the Empire, embodied by Darth Vader and the Death Star.

Episode 5:  The Rebels versus the Empire, embodied by Darth Vader and the Emperor.

Episode 6:  The Rebels versus the Empire, embodied by Darth Vader, the Emperor, and the Death Star.

Episodes 1-3 seemed to be satisfied with leaving us asking “what’s going on?” because for any given scene, even the Jedi themselves were uncertain of who the bad guy was.  There was this Phantom Menace that nobody could identify.  There was clearly a Sith lord, but who he was and how much influence he had in any given scene was unknown to us and the Jedi.  While there were identified villians (Darth Maul, Dooku, and Grievous),

Lucas broke one of the (Duenas) rules of a great hero story:

“There must be a clear villain.”

So let’s try the A versus B method:

Episode 1:  Um…. The Naboo versus the trade federation Droid Army?  But half the movie, the Jedi spend with Anakin, trying to get their ship repaired to get to Coruscant.  At least the finale was clear and triumphant: The Gungans (and Naboo) versus the Droid Army (and Trade Federation).  The good guys win.

Episode 2:  Um…. There really is no “versus” plot until maybe the end, when it becomes clear(er) that it would be the Separatists versus the Republic – but even then, I had to try really hard to figure out whose army is whose.  That really muddled the whole Coliseum battles.  So I guess it became the Separatists’ Droid Army and Count Dooku (who is rebelling against the Sith Lord – or working with the Sith Lord?), versus the Republic with their Clone Army, led by the Jedi (who did or didn’t commission the damn thing) at the behest of Chancellor Palpatine.  But half the movie, they spend finding out about the droid army.

Episode 3:  The Republic versus the Separatists.   After figuring it out in Episode 2, this became clearer.  It starts with the death of Episode 2’s villain, Dooku.  So they killed the Sith lord, right?  But there’s still war as long as there’s General Grievous.  Surely, they figure out that there’s another Sith?  I guess we didn’t have to wait too long because Palpatine comes right out and tells Anikin.  But he’s real clever because he plays on Anakin’s fear of losing Padme to make him betray the Jedi council, justify the murder, and take the right hand of the true Sith Master.  So… politically, the battles were confusing.  Still I liked the movie.

Why did I like Episode 3 so much?  Probably because that’s when Palpatine shows all his cards.  He’s so good in every scene he’s in.  And when you think back to every action he takes – even in other films – he always places himself in win-win scenarios. Plus, we’ve established the relationship between Anakin and Padme, so we’re not shocked or trying to justify it anymore.  Plus the movie moves like a Michael Bay film.  No joke.  It is relentless.  And the few scenes where there is no battles going on, the dialogue is crazy good (maybe I’m just thinking of the scene where Anakin and Palpatine are watching some show, and it ends with Palpatine saying “Not from a Jedi”).  Plus, all the tragedy.  The tragedy of Obi-Wan having to kill Anakin (or leave him for dead).  The tragedy of all the Jedi being knocked off with “Code 66”.  The tragedy of Padme dying giving birth because of her loss of love due to the grim actions of Anakin trying to become all-powerful to keep her from dying.  Now that’s irony!  And it opens up well.  The fun thing about Episode 4-6 is all the comic bickering between characters.  Episode 3 (or was it 2) had great rapport between Anakin and Obi-Wan.  I don’t remember all of Episode 3, but I remember enjoying it all.

So leaving the Marathon, my rankings are:

Episodes 4, 1, 6, 3, 5, 2.

Episode 4- Because the music is great, the fight scenes are amazing, the characters are lovable, and the ending is triumphant. and the following musical cues:  Ben-Kenobi’s Death and Tie Fighter Chase, Battle of Yavin 4, Throne Room and End Credits.

Episode 1- Because it holds a special place in my young boy heart.  It’s about a kid with magical powers who saves the day.  Plus, the pod race, Darth Maul (and finale battle), and the following musical cues:  Fanfare, Duel of the Fates, Battle Droids, Parade and End Credits.

Episode 6- Because even when I was young, I was a little irked by the whole kill-the death-star-again plot point, but only irked because overall it was just a fun movie! (save for the scenes on Tatooine with Jabba the Hutt which I tend to forget exist). And the music to the Forrest Battle, and Ewok Celebration.

Episode 3- Because of all the action, Palpatine laying out his cards, all the tragedy and twists.

Episode 5- Because it introduced the “Imperial March” and Yoda, and the cool fight where Vader reveals he’s his daddy.  Everything else about it was just flat.  Hoth was boring, except for the five minutes of AT-AT walkers which was cool for just a moment when they tied the cable around the feet.  Cloud City was like… what’s this all about? And then they get captured there.  Yoda put me to sleep.  Everyone of those scenes.  Luke’s vision of Vader confused me as a child and still seems out-of-place.  And it was the shortest of all the films.  And it ended like “what the hell”?

Episode 2- Because there were some really good scenes, Padme’s pretty hot in it, but I can’t remember most of it.  And the fact that I couldn’t care less about the battles and chase scenes in last hour where they’re in the Coliseum because I couldn’t follow the plot, made it almost a waste of time.

Before:   Episodes 4, 6, 1, 3, 5, 2.

After:      Episodes 4, 1, 6, 3, 5, 2.

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Star Wars Complete Saga in One Day (Analysis)

I did it! I watched the entire Star Wars Saga in one sitting. Six movies back-to-back starting with Episode I and ending with Episode VI. That’s over 12 hours of footage in glorious Blu-Ray on a 50″ plasma TV with surround sound. I learned so much and was finally able to follow everything thanks to  the pause button and my friends. I didn’t think I would but I changed my opinions about many of the films. Some films I liked, I liked less and others, I liked more. I guess I learned to appreciate certain films in a way I never had.

Let’s start with my rankings before going in:

IV, VI, I, III, II, V.

Yes. Episode V is last. Here’s a list of how many times I had seen each (in completion):

I: 5-10 (Once in theaters in ’99, several times on DVD, and once more in theaters in 3D a couple of years ago.)
II: Once in theaters in ’02.
III: Once in theaters in ’05.
IV: 5-10 (several times on VHS. once in theaters for the ’97 rerelease, once or twice since on DVD).
V: 1-4 (I owned the VHS, but never got past the first 30 minutes more than once or twice, as far as my memory serves me).
VI: 5-10 (Several times on VHS).

If you’re keeping track, it’s been years since I’ve re-watched any Star Wars. Most recently it was Episode I in 3D. Before that was Episode I on DVD, and before that was Episode IV in college (2008 or 2009). So it’s clear to audiences that I don’t see rewatch value in the entire series and it seems episode I and IV have the most rewatch value followed closely by VI. I think I loved Star Wars for the lightsabers, the spectacle, and the force. Oh and the music. But beyond that, it wasn’t a go-to film for me.

It sustained me for most of my childhood, having watched them countless times on VHS (before I could even remember things). And when the special editions came out in ’97 we got the new VHS set and broke those in (oh the joys of untangling magnetic tape) with a only little more long-term memory formation (the most broken in of those was IV and VI). But by the time college came around a decade later, I had nearly forgotten the plot of all the films (in fact, as of this viewing, I forgot the plot of every movie except for most of I and IV). At some point I learned to love the ideas of the franchise more than the films: lightsabers and the force, Luke as a hero and role model and Darth Vader as a villain.

Episode I came out when I was 12 and it became my favorite of the series. It was the brightest, happiest, most fun Star Wars that I had seen. It had all of the action I desired in a Star Wars movie. Plus, it followed a child protagonist who I could relate to: I loved my mom and had a heart that wanted good in the world even if I didn’t know how to accomplish it. The scenes where Anakin has to leave his mother always hits hard with me. It’s one of the most poignant moments in the entire series. It’s probably because I really loved my mom and could feel the pain my mom would go through if I left her. Today it still hits hard, because I love my mom and know the pain she went through went I left for college and when my sister died. It seems many people didn’t feel this emotion and I wonder if it’s because they didn’t grow up with a similar loving relationship with their parents. It was a loss of innocence story that was fresh in my mind and continues to this day.

Anyway, I probably watched Episode I 2-3 times in theaters, and kept watching it on VHS and DVD. It had Duel of the Fates, Darth Maul, his double-lightsabers, and the pod-race. Having seen all 6 this weekend, I still think it’s one of the best light-saber fights in the franchise. Anything from the original trilogy pales in comparison. Darth Maul’s fight has re-watch value. It has capable actors actually performing with acrobatics and precision speed. Plus there is an emotional bend to it that makes you connect to Obi-Wan and makes you fearful that his rage doesn’t do him in.

So to make a long-story short. I was a weird Star Wars fan. I’m the fan that George Lucas was writing the original trilogy for. A fan who liked the hope, fun, and beauty of Episode I and cared less for the cold dark films of the original trilogy (set in space, a desert planet, an ice planet, and finally a planet with greenery). Having seen episode IV through VI before I was old enough to care about the twist in V, I grew to only like films which offered good re-watch value, like IV, VI, and I for their action and positive, fun attitude. Episodes V, II, and III felt like tragic downers and fillers to get to the triumphant finales of IV and VI. And Episode I joined the group of upper finale films.

Furthermore, by the age of 12 (when Episode I came out) I started watching R-rated action films like: Speed, The Rock, Broken Arrow, and others. Also, by ’99 The Matrix had come out. So sitting on my film rack were those films on VHS and they took priority over the Star Wars franchise when it came to re-watching films because they were much more entertaining. So when Episode II came out in ’02, I was unimpressed (and confused), and when Episode III came out in ’05, I was comparing it to Pirates of the Caribbean, Bad Boys II, Snatch, and Fight Club. I was bored with Star Wars.


But I vowed to put personal prejudices aside and people’s opinions aside too when viewing the saga. I tried to watch the movie as if I were watching it for the first time. I vowed to not be defensive about everyone’s hate toward Jar Jar. I vowed to open my mind about everyone’s love for Episode V. I also vowed to watch the series based on my new written-down axioms of film-making. Things I want to see in movies and things I feel make movies worse and others that make things universally work. I analyzed it from acting, writing, and against the entire arc of the saga. I feel I did a fair job of being honest with myself and it shocked me about which films I ended up liking more than others. And it shocked me how, afterward, I could rationalize myself out of liking films I had a lot of fun watching or how I could rationalize myself into respecting films I thought were boring.


The biggest change for me was Episode III. I was bored the first time in theaters because I couldn’t follow the story, but this time I followed it much better and understood all of the tragedy and clever plotting of George Lucas and the Emperor. The pace was lightning fast, the music was above average, and the action/montages were epic. It was exciting and I was having fun at re-learning all of the twists and turns. There was so much in the movie that it felt like 3 hours of content and story even though it was much closer to 2 hours. I was thoroughly impressed with George’s ability to entangle a plot and present it visually on screen. In the end I moved Episode III up in the rankings.

Episode II also shocked me. I was much more impressed with it than when I left in theaters. The only thing that ruined the film for me and everyone who watched it was the love chemistry between Padme and Anakin. A lot of people really blamed Anakin for the poor chemistry, but Hayden played him perfectly because that’s how he was written. He’s supposed to be a whiny bitchy creeper! That’s the type of guy who turns into Vader. That’s what George Lucas was saying. Unfortunately, Natalie Portman didn’t play it right. Or somehow her transition from “Don’t look at me that way” to kissing Anakin was awful. Awful. She played it too inwardly stoic or emotionlessly. It was as if she had botox. She completely failed to build and convey a character who would fall in love with Anakin, but it was totally doable and this is the character: a sexually-repressed overwhelmed leader incapable of dating due to her responsibilities, and a broken woman who gave Anakin her virgin love, because of his admirable, yet creepy relentless love for her. She was someone who threw caution to the wind on her “vacation” at Naboo and decided to indulge in a summer fling with Anakin. Yet like many women, once she opens herself to sexual feelings to another man that she feels is unqualified of her love, she often times justifies her actions by trying harder and harder to convince herself that the man she let kiss her is actually a good and dateable person. I’ve seen this in so many real-life tragic relationships, where a man sleeps with a girl on a one-night stand and instead of the girl accepting the fact that she was just as slutty as the man (confronting her guilt), she tries to continue the relationship and find the good in the guy. That was all there in the screenplay, but somehow Natalie missed all of that. And she failed to convey it on screen. Blame the director? Possibly. But don’t blame Hayden. Hayden was a believable angsty kid who shoots up a schoolyard because he can’t get his childhood crush to like him instead of the jocks. Anakin was relentless, though awkward, at getting the girl of his dreams (kind of how Jack broke down Rose’s wall or Ryan Gosling stalked Rachel McAdams in the Notebook, only Hayden wasn’t as beautiful as those people). Fortunately, Anakin got the girl instead of shooting up the schoolyard. But in a way, he still shoots up the galactic schoolyard by joining the dark side.

So bad acting aside, I thought the story was well-written.

Episode I also surprised me. I was left feeling a little cold which I’ll explain in a minute, but I also couldn’t help laughing at Jar Jar. I didn’t hate him at all, I just laughed at how ridiculous this character is. And in no way was he written as a secret Sith he was written as the insignificant character whose good heart and selflessness reunites a planet in a fight against the droid army. The beginning of the Duel of the Fates got me nervous because it was only an okay sword fight, pretty boring. It wasn’t until Qui-Gon was bygone that the fight escalated and became an amazing choreography. Furthermore, I realized I’m a sound-and-visual person. Because the podrace was once again an eargasm of sound effects and eyegasm of special effects and fast action. I continue to enjoy it even though it doesn’t deserve to be 10 minutes long and was completely deleteable.

That said, I’ll attempt to explain why the original trilogy was more engaging than the prequel trilogy. Simply put:


In the prequel trilogy the apparent protagonists (the character(s) we follow and whose decisions/actions push the story forward) were the Jedis and Anakin. For the first 20 minutes of Episode I our protagonists were completely untouchable (emotionally) characters: Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. Two leads who completely controlled their emotions and were unphased by encounters. They didn’t shit their pants nor flip out on each other. They were perfect heroes, which to many are boring. To me as a kid, they were role models. Unfortunately, from a film-making, story-telling stand point, it feels cold. They have no strong passion for anything, nothing we can empathize with. Even Padme/Queen Amedala was forced to be emotionless because of her political position. In fact most of the players in the play were political. We were watching Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fight the oil industry (trade federation) through politics. When Anakin shows up, he’s the first character to be emotional and if you watch his emotions you begin to see a character who was fearful and beginning to doubt the good in the universe but never giving up completely. He was willing to help and he put his life on the line for the greater good of the noble Jedis. But his strong will and uncontrollable emotion led to his turn to the dark side.

In Episode II and III we follow a new Anakin, an anti-hero who is annoying and whiny and one we know turns to  the dark side. But he’s not someone we’re rooting for anymore, he’s someone we roll our eyes at when he says things and when he gets the girl.

In Episode III at least we see the tragedy of Anakin come to light, but the journey wasn’t enjoyable.

But I feel the biggest problem of the prequel trilogy is that it’s a mystery story and a puzzle piece story. It runs on the principle of what is going on? And why are these things happening? It puts our protagonists in the position of reacting to the plans of some mastermind instead of making their own destiny.

And that leads to the true problem of the prequel trilogy:

In the prequel trilogy, our protagonist (the character whose decision move the story forward) was the phantom menace (Darth Sidious). His actions set everything in motion. Aside from some sort of cosmic fate that the Jedis find Anakin in Episode I, the story moves forward because Darth Sidious is taking action and the Jedis are scrambling to understand events and find the mastermind.

Compare this to the original trilogy where Leia is being hunted because she has plans to destroy the Death Star and our heroes journey to return the plans to the Rebellion and save the day. This is followed by the sequels which essentially also revolve around the Rebellion and destruction of the Empire. The motives are clear. There is no mystery. Furthermore,

The original trilogy has a clear villain and clear heroes. The prequel trilogy has a mysterious villain (Darth Sidious) and a broken tragic hero.

Also, the prequel trilogy was a tragedy while the original trilogy was a triumph. If the prequel trilogy worked right, then the hero we’re supposed to empathize with in Episode I turns to the dark side by episode III. It’s a tragedy by design which is the exact opposite story of the original trilogy, where the protagonist fights temptation and ends up turning evil good. So at best you’re left in a dark, bitter place by the end of Episode III. That would actually make IV slightly more triumphant, but we still have to wait 3 more hours until Anakin (as Darth Vader) turns good again. And all of a sudden we’re following a different cast of protagonists.


At the end of the 12 hours. I came to realize that none of the films are worth rewatching. Because they’re all equally important on the tragic arc of Anakin. In reality, Episode IV through VI are only to complete the arc of Anakin, but why then focus on Luke and his friends? And if you think about it more, the only point of episode V was to put Han in danger, reveal that Darth is Luke’s father, and start Luke’s training into a Jedi.  In my opinion, if you got rid of Han’s story-line (from Cloud City to Jabba’s palace) and put the other two plot points into the beginning of Episode VI then you would have a much tighter, less meandering story.

However, the greatest part of the original trilogy is that you were following flawed humans and watching them grow into heroes. And when you have flawed humans, you have more fun, more visibly passionate characters. People can be assholes to each other and it’s okay because they’re not supposed to be perfect like Jedi yet. So eliminating Han’s arc would eliminate some of the charm about the original trilogy. The films were about the group of friends, the camaraderie among our flawed heroes. They were just like us, and trying their hardest to do the right thing. Hans’s arc was from scoundrel to hero. It’s supposed to say that people can change and even though you may be a smuggler, it doesn’t mean you’re unredeemable or not a product of your bad environment. This story arc makes Han shooting first so vital. He’s not supposed to be likable. It’s ironic that George tries to quell the exact reason why people like Han. It’s because people like people who take action, have a goal, and go after their vision with any means necessary (even murder). That’s why Indiana Jones works, he never gives up on his quest for the Ark of the Covenant (or Holy Grail).

Anyway, I’m glad I watched the complete saga. I have incredible respect for George Lucas to have created this whole thing entirely on his own! There are incredible cinematic feats and tragically bad acting along with fun acting. How Lucas crafted Darth Sidious’s rise to power is absolutely genious. It’s realistic, believable, and an allegory for the dangers of our current and past social structure. It’s a warning tale. It shows just how knowledgeable Lucas is about life and society.

Unfortunately, it’s too long for me to rewatch enthusiastically. However, I hear there are “Phantom Edits” of the prequel trilogy and shortened versions of the films. So if there was a two hour version of each of the trilogies, then I may just watch them. I know there is a two hour version of the prequel trilogy, I just hope there is a version of the original trilogy that gets rid of the boring\unnecessary parts of V (Hoth, Degobah) and VI (Jabba’s palace). Maybe even tightens all of the Tatooine scenes in the original.



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