Star Wars Subverted: Deconstructing My Disappointment of The Last Jedi — Part 2: Changing the Story

Read Part 1 Here – The Creator’s Authority

“Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past” — George Orwell  1984

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At the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, the three heroes of the original trilogy have achieved internal and external success. Luke has become a Jedi, restored his father to the Light Side and helped his friends defeat the Empire. Leia courageously led the Rebel Alliance to victory and opened her heart to Han Solo. Han Solo led the Rebels to victory, won Leia’s love and cemented his character as a selfless hero. There is great promise ahead. Luke will train a new generation of Jedi. Leia will take on a pivotal role in the formation of the New Republic. Han will continue to fight for good causes and start a family. The prophecy of the Chosen One, Anakin Skywalker, who will bring balance to the Force has been fulfilled through his destruction of the Emperor and by his offspring restoring order to the galaxy. This seems like an appropriate way to end this six-part fantasy story, but we all know that Disney decided to keep the story going to cash in on the franchise. So in part seven of a now nine-part story, they decided to hit the reset button and subvert the achievements of our heroes.

Thirty years after the destruction of the Second Death Star and defeat of the Empire, we find our far away galaxy in a sad state. Luke Skywalker has abandoned his family and friends. Leia is once again having to lead a rag tag band of resistance fighters. Han has returned to his former life as a smuggler, separated from his wife. The New Republic, which was established just a few decades prior, has already grown complacent in the face of an immensely powerful threat in the form of the First Order. By the end of The Force Awakens, the New Republic is completely annihilated by a First Order superweapon, effectively resetting the progress made in the galaxy since the Empire was defeated. We’re not going back to Episode 6; we’re going back to Episode 4, and that’s why The Force Awakens is basically an Episode 4 reboot with new heroes.
Star Wars used to be one film with a beginning, middle and end. Then George Lucas decided that it was part four of six. This not only meant that it was now the first film in a trilogy, but also the fourth part of a six part story. Luke is the hero of the second trilogy, and Anakin is the hero of the first. Another way of understanding this is as the story of Anakin Skywalker, the Chosen One. In the first trilogy we see him turn to the Dark Side, destroy the Jedi and become Darth Vader. In the second trilogy he destroys the Emperor and returns to the Light Side. George Lucas is clear that he understands Star Wars to be the story of Anakin Skywalker and his offspring. So isn’t it unsatisfactory in the context of the larger story to introduce a new hero, Rey, who is apparently unrelated to the Skywalkers or anyone else from the first two thirds of the story? And beyond that, isn’t it unsatisfactory to rob all of the core characters of the original films of their forward progress and development? And worst of all…worst of all… isn’t it unsatisfactory to defile, not only the hero of the original trilogy, but the archetype of heroism for the entire series?

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The Last Jedi subverts Star Wars on many levels, but nowhere is that more apparent, or more infuriating, than in its treatment of Luke Skywalker…

Coming Soon
Part 3: A Fundamental Misunderstanding of Luke Skywalker

 

 

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Star Wars Subverted: Deconstructing My Disappointment of The Last Jedi — Part 1: The Creator’s Authority

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The only way I can properly analyze my response to The Last Jedi is by breaking it into smaller parts. Previous attempts to explain myself have resulted in tangents, and I become overwhelmed. I don’t yet know how many parts there will be, but certainly as many as it takes.

George Lucas had a vision and created the original Star Wars. Yes, there were many other contributors in the form of editors and artists, but Lucas spoke it into being. He is the author and keeper of the flame. In 2012, he sold Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise to The Walt Disney Company. The initial understanding was that Lucas would continue to have a presence moving forward, albeit minor. Disney then decided to split ways with him and rejected his story treatments in favor of a different vision. J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan took the reins and crafted the first story of the new trilogy, Episode 7: The Force Awakens. This new story, which is a direct sequel to the story that Lucas created, is a fiction. The author, the creator, the visionary who spoke it into being has been rejected and replaced by a corporate machine who tells stories with a Star Wars setting, but they do not tell the story of Star Wars. When it comes to the fate of the Skywalker family, only George Lucas knows the truth.

Star Wars is a fantasy story set in space, shaped by mythological archetypes as described by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Furthermore, it was inspired by the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930’s and Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. Anyone could have created something like Star Wars from these sources, but only George Lucas could have filtered them the way that he did. The original Star Wars was a passion project, a unique vision from a young filmmaker who struggled to convince the studios that it was a story worth telling.

Following its massive success as a cultural phenomenon, Lucas allowed other directors to shape his Star Wars trilogy, but his vision was always the guiding force. In the 90’s he began to controversially tinker with these films and released “Special Editions” with updated effects and, in some cases, altered scenes. He argued that the changes were made to align the films to his original vision. Soon after, he decided to tell the first three parts of the story: how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. In hindsight, Lucas should have allowed others to direct these films as his shortcomings were on display in the wooden performances and cheesy dialogue. Most people dismiss the prequels as bad films and some even try to forget they exist. Though they are full of faults, it is undeniable that the prequel trilogy serves the greater story by showcasing the rise of the Empire and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. The Skywalker family is at the center of both trilogies, and the fall and redemption of Anakin, who Lucas identified as the Chosen One within this universe, ties everything together. For 35 years, George Lucas told the story of the Skywalker family.

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Imagine that in 5 years J.K. Rowling decides to sell the rights to Harry Potter. Then you learn that a new movie is being crafted. The movie is released and it is called Harry Potter and the Fall of Hogwarts. In this story you find that Harry seems different, perhaps jaded by the death of another beloved character. Also, a new evil wizard has risen to take the place of Voldemort and now that world is as if all the things accomplished in the first 7 parts were meaningless. Would you embrace the story as if it were written by the original author? Or, would you question its legitimacy and wonder if this is really what happened to those characters you love? Didn’t Rowling finish this story in book 7? Isn’t she the creator of that world? And not just that world, but the characters as well? Or, what if someone decided to write a sequel to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings? Would that be taken seriously? What if it was turned into a movie with a $200,000,000 production budget? Does money and the backing of a major studio add legitimacy to a story, or does it come from somewhere else?

George Lucas created a new universe that has expanded for 40 years. I am not suggesting that legitimate stories can’t be told within this world apart from him. Consider the acclaimed video game, Knights of the Old Republic. It takes place thousands of years before the time of the films and adds to the lore while introducing exciting worlds and well-developed characters. What I am suggesting is that the core story he developed over 6 films is indelibly his. Sure, if the new trilogy had been amazing I know most fans could have accepted them into the fold. But this acceptance would still require that we look past the truth of Lucas as the authority. It would have been easier to turn from this fact, but there would always be a nagging question pacing in the back of our minds like a tiger behind the bars of his enclosure; how would the creator tell the story?

Creating worlds and filling them with characters is a profound and personal experience. The characters from the first 6 Star Wars films came from the mind of one man, George Lucas. If you remove him from the equation, you erase Star Wars from existence like Marty Mcfly at the “Enchantment Under the Sea” dance. The Disney Star Wars franchise should be thought of as separate from what came before, because they have divorced the visionary from the vision. Just as Mark Hamill approached Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi as a new character, we should approach this sequel trilogy as a new entity apart from episodes 1 through 6. But that’s a problem, isn’t it? We’re supposed to accept these new films as direct sequels to the original. Certainly, this is a problem because what we have in episodes 7, 8 and 9 are counterfeits…lies. Disney is feeding us a false narrative. No matter how good or, as I’ll expand upon in the upcoming parts, bad these films are, they aren’t really true to the story. The Star Wars universe has endless stories to tell, and I hope creative people tell them for years to come, but the story of the Skywalkers as told in this saga belongs to the one who breathed life into them over 40 years ago. Even if they consult him in private or use pieces of his vision, as I’ve heard regarding the latest film, the real shapers and agenda setters control the end product. Authority has been usurped and Star Wars, the one you once knew, has been subverted.

Let me leave you with an excerpt from an interview Lucas did with Charlie Rose back in 2015.

Lucas: These are my kids.

Rose: All those Star Wars films.

Lucas: All the Star Wars films.

Rose: They were your kids?

Lucas: Well, they are. I loved them, I created them. I’m very intimately involved in them. And, obviously, to sell them off—

Rose: And you sold them.

Lucas: I sold them off to the white slavers who take these things and…[laughs]

Rose: But having said all that and having talked to you and known you for a while and admired you, I mean it must hurt. It’s your family. It’s your story. It’s you.

You can watch this portion here

Part 2 Coming Soon…

Brendon on His 30th

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The moment I broke down at Brendon’s wake, of all moments, was when I saw our barber.  When I saw him, my first thought was, I need to tell Bren that Dan came. Then a freight train blindsided me.  I think it forced me to face the hard reality of everything.  I wouldn’t be able to share this news with my friend; this thing that only meant something in the context of our friendship.  Do you know that impulse to share with the only person who truly understands the significance of a thing?  It’s the secret knowledge of close friends.

On October 16, 2016, Brendon would have turned 30.  Just like me and most of my other friends, he would have taken this significant step further into adulthood.  Instead, Bren will remain in our memories as a 28 year-old.  To me, and I’m sure to some others as well, he’ll always be the friend of our youth.  When we get old and wrinkly we’ll remember the old days with Bren.  The days of hearty laughter, delicious and terrible food, movies and videogames and every manner of good times.   These memories are a treasure.

There’s much more life to live yet, and I’m grateful for each day.  There are families to raise, good friends to laugh with, and years of invaluable experiences ahead.  Life will pull us in directions we never imagined.  But it will come to an end at some point in time.  My great hope is that death isn’t the end of life.  My hope is that Jesus came back to life after they killed him two thousand years ago.  Because if that happened, and I believe in my heart that it did, that means there is hope for my friend as well.  There’s a hopeful expectation that I’ll see Brendon again.  And someone needs to tell him that Dan came to see him.

 

 

The Redemption of Luke Skywalker

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If you’ve managed to avoid The Force Awakens, I strongly advise you to read no further.  In other words, “Thar be spoilers ahead!”   If you’re like me and you’ve seen the movie one or five times, welcome aboard.  In related news, the Blu-Ray comes out on April 5th.

Who is Luke Skywalker?

That’s supposedly the question that got J.J. Abrams interested enough to direct Episode 7.  In my opinion, that’s the right question to be asking as the story of our favorite far away galaxy is fleshed out.  Luke is the main protagonist of the original trilogy.  In a space opera heavily influenced by Joseph Campbell’s philosophy of myth and the hero quest, Luke is the hero.  So even as we follow new characters on an original quest, there’s no escaping from the one true hero of the Star Wars saga.  (An argument could be made that Luke’s father, Anakin, is the true hero of Star Wars, but I don’t accept that.  Anakin’s a tragic hero, where Luke is the positive ideal and embodiment of hope.  Here’s a great blog post that reinforces Luke’s hero status.)  And even though Luke only appears for about a minute at the very end of The Force Awakens, his presence is palpable throughout.  We need to know what has become of him, and what happened that caused his apprentice, Ben Solo, to turn to the Dark Side?   Luke has experienced an intense and unresolved trauma, which demands a resolution.

When I was young, I didn’t think of Luke’s duel with Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back as a traumatic event.  It was cool and exciting, and the big father reveal caught me by surprise, but I knew everything would be made right.   Luke is a good guy and good guys win.  Besides, he gets a fun new hand by the end of the movie and that solves his problem.  As an adult, I look at this moment in Luke’s journey and see his lowest point and deepest trauma.  This is the quintessential father wound.  His father injures him physically by cutting off his hand and pummeling him with large objects.  He simultaneously wounds Luke by revealing that his father is an evil tyrant who has embraced the Dark Side.  It’s an assault on Luke’s identity.  And it goes even deeper than that.

This is also a moment of tremendous personal failure.  Luke disobeyed both Yoda and Obi-Wan, abandoning his training to rescue his friends.  He took a huge risk and accomplished absolutely nothing.  Han Solo is frozen and sold to Jabba the Hutt.  Leia and Chewy escape with Lando, but this is only made possible because Luke is unintentionally acting as a diversion.  Luke doesn’t actually help anyone.  He just walks into a trap, gets his hand cut off and narrowly escapes with severe emotional trauma.  Add to that his realization that Obi-Wan has been lying to him about his father all along.  No matter what nonsense Ben Kenobi says about “points of view”, Luke has been betrayed by his most respected father figure.  And it goes even deeper than this.

In the Star Wars universe, the Force is a metaphysical entity that breeds life and directly influences people and events.  It is the god of that world.  Luke is the last Jedi.  He’s the last hope for the Light Side of the Force.  Certainly, he must have some sense of purpose as the torch bearer.  In that moment, gripping the platform with one hand as Darth Vader reveals his true identity, Luke most likely feels betrayed by the Force itself.  After all, the Force didn’t help him in his fight against Vader.  It didn’t preserve his hand.  It didn’t help him save his friends.  What it did do was turn his father into Darth Vader and lead him to this agonizing place where his best option is to jump into a mile deep pit.  Luke is wounded by the Force itself.
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We know that in the years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens Luke began to train a new generation of Jedi.  At some point, his nephew Ben turned to the Dark Side as Kylo Ren, and likely killed the rest of the students.  This mirrors the path that Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader took in the prequels.  Han Solo says that Luke blamed himself for what happened and chose to seclude himself as he searched for the first Jedi temple.  Surely, this fresh trauma opened up the old wounds that Luke experienced in Empire. Again, he is faced with an inability to protect those he cares about.  And the legacy of Darth Vader has been revived in Kylo Ren.  Luke has failed again, and perhaps the Force has betrayed him again.  Shouldn’t it be the will of the Force to raise up a new generation of Jedi?  How could this be allowed to happen?  Luke’s choice to seclude himself is similar to his choice to jump off the platform.  Just as Luke fell through space and ended up alone under Cloud City, he traveled through space to end up alone on that island.  Again, Luke has been deeply wounded.

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When Rey walks up the hill to find Luke Skywalker, she reaches into her bag and pulls out the lightsaber that was lost.  The last time Luke saw that weapon was when his father sliced off his hand.  For Luke, that lightsaber had intense negative associations.  It represented his failure, and even a betrayal by the Force itself.  I am sure he believed he would never see it again.  But there it is, in the hands of a young girl who represents a great hope for the future of the Jedi.  Somehow, the Force has orchestrated events to bring the lightsaber of Anakin Skywalker, his father, back to him.  In this moment of catharsis, the Force is reaching out to say, you haven’t been forsaken.  It’s telling Luke that he still has a purpose and redemption is at hand.

The Best Movie Moment: Twister (1996)

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Bill is the extreme

 

I’d like to take some movies that I enjoy and identify the one moment in each of them that stands out to me as “the best”.

 

Twister is a ridiculous disaster movie that’s also a lot of fun.  In May of 1996, just a few months ahead of another bad/good favorite of many, Independence Day, Twister tore through the box office and collected nearly $500 million from audiences worldwide.  These special effects were impressive for the day.  Remember, at this time iPods weren’t even a thing and cell phones were just becoming a thing, sort of.  CGI cows were noteworthy in this year.

Beyond the effects, Twister is essentially about the reconciliation of a nearly divorced couple amidst their harrowing attempt to learn more about tornadoes.  Bill (Bill Paxton) and Jo(Helen Hunt…remember Helen Hunt?)  learn to love each other again while driving around in an indestructible truck (which would ultimately be put to shame by the truck in 1997’s Dante’s Peak, but that’s for another day).  Anyway, it’s all well and good for everyone except Bill’s lame fiancée, who’s lame because she prefers to avoid tornadoes.

So which moment is the best?

In the minutes before the twister chasing crew embarks on their main mission, they make a pit stop at a diner.  Stepping away from the others, Bill looks to the horizon where the clouds are gathering.  He picks up some dirt in his hand and lets it slowly fall.  He observes the way the wind moves it.  Somehow this will give him the knowledge he needs to make a wise move.  Like a Native American of old, reading the signs of the natural world, Bill looks to nature to understand nature.  It’s a silent standoff with the coming storm.    Then, because Bill is the best, he makes his decision to move and everyone follows.  This is the best scene in the movie.  Dusty shares a story later in the film in which he identifies Bill as “the extreme.”   He’s the craziest storm chaser there is.  But he’s also the one who has a special connection with the weather.  They are both wild and unpredictable.  Bill gets it.

This is my favorite moment in Twister. 

 

 

Now watch this Youtube video that takes the intro to Twister the Ride at Universal Studios and makes it even more hilarious.

The Misunderstood Brilliance of Keanu Reeves

"What are you trying to tell me?  That  I can act?" "No, Keanu,  I'm trying to tell you that when you're ready, you won't have to."

“What are you trying to tell me? That I can act?”
“No, Keanu, I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.”

There’s this idea that’s been floating around our society for some time now that Keanu Reeves is a bad actor.  I’d be lying if I told you that I haven’t participated in the propagation of this belief.  After all, outside of a Nickelodeon Kid’s Choice Award for best actor in his role as Neo in The Matrix, Keanu hasn’t received much of any recognition from the Hollywood establishment.  He hasn’t had a Sandra Bullock or Matthew McConaughey-esque turnaround.  There’s no Keanu equivalent to The Blindside or Dallas Buyers Club, at least not yet. Some might claim that he gets by on his looks, and similar to an incompetent politician or Miley Cyrus, remains employed due to name recognition.  As the Oracle says in The Matrix, “You’re cuter than I thought. I can see why she likes you.”  Only, replace “she” with the moviegoers of the world.  But is that the end of the matter?  Is Keanu Reeves in movies despite his acting chops, or are we missing something?  What if there was something brilliant about this man that we’ve overlooked?  Allow me to present a case for the misunderstood brilliance of Keanu Reeves.  Whoa!

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As a fan of the Zelda video game series it didn’t take long for me to question why the main character, Link, never (almost never) says a word.  You play through 30+ hours with the same character and never get his input about the unfolding events.  This is certainly odd, but upon analysis it’s actually quite ingenious.  As you’re accompanying the hero on his quest you are allowed to imprint yourself onto his character.  What might appear to some as a hollow shell is actually a ready vessel through which we can fill our own selves.  In the same way, this most common critique of Keanu, that he’s a hollow shell of an actor, is actually a trait pointing to his brilliance.  Stories of all kinds are meant to connect with an audience, and that is achieved through suspension of belief by way of approachable heroes.  In other words, since we are ultimately reading ourselves into these stories (because what’s more interesting than yourself?) it is more readily achieved in a soft-spoken everyman persona, primed for relatability.

On the same note, Keanu’s “hollowness” and what some might deem as a lack of charisma is perfectly centered to connect with the maximum number of moviegoers.  Let me explain using this professional scale.

The animals are there to manipulate your emotions.

The animals are there to manipulate your emotions.

Imagine that this scale measures two extremes of personality.  The closer you get to 10, the more positive and cheerful you become.  The closer you get to 0, the more negative and depressed you become.  Now suppose that between these two extremes are the 7 billion people in the world today.  Which number do you think is the closest to the majority of people?  I’d say it is 5.  Not only is it right in the middle, it’s the perfect balance between 2 extremes.  Keanu Reeves is a 5, able to reach the multitudes.

The final way Keanu has showcased his brilliance is through the art of lowered expectations.  By not peaking early in his career, or amassing a pile of accolades, he has left us vulnerable to the shock and awe effect of receiving a performance greater than mediocre.  Like a lioness humbling herself in the grass, Keanu Reeves is waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting world.  One great performance will bring down the gazelle of unfavorable public opinion.

As I eagerly await the release of Keanu’s next film, John Wick, I hope that the world will finally understand the genius of his craft.  He isn’t a bad actor who got a few lucky breaks.  He’s a brilliant actor, perfectly positioned to impact the greatest number of people by exceeding their diminished expectations.

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My Five Favorite Animated Movies

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In honor of the greatness that is How to Train Your Dragon 2 I’ve decided to make a list of my top 5 favorite animated films.  As a qualifier let me say that I have not chosen these because I believe them to be the best animated films of all time.  No, I’ve chosen these 5 as my favorites.  Do I think they’re well made?  Of course, but I’m not going to argue that they’re the finest artistic masterpieces ever produced.  There are no Hayao Miyazaki films to be found here.  So let’s begin.

 

#5  Monsters Inc.

This makes the list for the originality of its premise.  The concept of monsters harvesting the screams of children for energy is brilliant, and the twist at the end is even better.  It’s a simple message, that love and joy are ultimately more powerful than fear and despair, but wrapping such a profound truth in such a funny and interesting package makes it hit home.  The relationship between the little girl Boo, and Sully, the “scariest” monster in the world, offers a lesson in the power of contrasts.  There’s humor in how frightened a big monster is in the presence of a small child, and there is meaning in the fact that the small child’s effortless laughter is more powerful than all the screams the big monster could force.  It’s original, funny, and touching.   Also, I have a soft spot for Billy Crystal that probably came from watching the Oscars as a kid.

 

#4 How to Train Your Dragon 2

I know it’s rather soon to put this movie on a top 5 list, but let me explain my reasoning.  I would have placed the original on this list, and in the #4 spot, but the sequel is better than the original.  The characters are more developed and the world feels larger with more possibilities.   The core relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is tested past the breaking point and then reinforced ten fold.  When I find myself caring more for these animated characters than any live action characters I’ve seen in a long time, that tells me I’m watching something good.  It’s moving, exciting, and full of lessons about life and family and sacrifice and human nature.  I recommend it to everyone with a beating heart.

 

#3 The Lion King

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When I was a kid they were pumping out Disney animated feature films that became instant classics. The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast etc were in regular VHS circulation in my house. But really, and I mean really now, can we all agree that The Lion King is the best of these?  It’s based directly on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, after all.  I’m fairly certain that an entire park at Disney World wouldn’t exist without this movie.  It’s epic, it’s funny, it has the best sidekicks and memorable songs.  Also, Ferris Bueller is in it.

 

#2 Toy Story 3  

The original Toy Story is an all-time classic.  I remember going to Burger King immediately after seeing it and getting a Whopper Jr. and a Woody doll.  Anyway, we should all be on the same page when it comes to the goodness and significance of the first Toy Story.  The immediate sequel wasn’t all that great, in my opinion.   Jesse the Cowgirl was a little whiny and melodramatic, that penguin was a jerk,  and the heart just wasn’t there as the plot wrestled with abandonment issues.  Toy Story 3 turned that around in a big way Instead of being about abandonment, this one tackled the issue of letting go even before that Frozen song got stuck in your head forever.  If Toy Story 2 asked the questions, “Does the master care about me and does life have a purpose?”, Toy Story 3 answered, “Yes of course the master cares, but that purpose involves painful self-sacrifice for the benefit of others.”  You see, that evil bear couldn’t let go.  He couldn’t forgive and move on so he got strapped to a garbage truck.  The other toys recognized that their master loved them and that he had a purpose in leaving them with the little girl.  This is all profound stuff about the nature of existence and I love it.

 

#1  The Iron Giant

Heart, heart, heart!  This is about identity and purpose.  The Giant was clearly created as a weapon by some aliens far away.   He happened to find a boy who taught him that he could be a good guy, and not just a gun that kills.  Violence begets violence but love saves the day.  The characters are real and funny.  The Giant is a reflection of the battle within each of our souls.   “You are who you choose to be.”   Will we destroy ourselves out of fear and give into our baser instincts of self-preservation?  Or will we choose something greater than ourselves, and enrich the lives around us?   The Giant makes his choice and it gets me every time.

 

Honorable Mention

The Brave Little Toaster

Cinderella

The Land Before Time

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