Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Favorite Movie Scores of 2015

When it comes to popular music, I really don't listen to a lot, if any, however if you take a look at my iTunes library, you'll find hours upon hours of movie music.  While I may be abnormal in that I prefer the stylings of John Williams to Adele, I really don't mind that sort of abnormality.  For me, one of my favorite things every single year is listening to all of the new movie music and hoping with every ounce of optimism I have, that with each new movie I will hear a new unforgettable movie theme that can rival any other.  For the most part, 2015 was a rousing success in that department.  There were a great many awesome movie scores this past year and today I would like to share my 10 favorite movie scores from 2015.  As with any list this is entirely subjective, but hopefully this list will be representative of the year that was and will be some great reading and listening to round out the end of the year.  So with all that said, here we go with number 10!


10.  Avengers:  Age of Ultron
One of the biggest things that Marvel has struggled with in all of its various movies thus far, is a musical identity that saw themes carrying over from one movie to the next.  While I still think that Marvel has a long ways to go, the score for Age of Ultron made a great many strides in correcting this course.  Co-written by Danny Elfman and Brian Tyler (who also wrote the music for Iron Man 3 and Thor:  The Dark World), the music for Age of Ultron harkens back to Alan Silvestri's score for The Avengers at most of the appropriate moments, while at the same time Elfman penned a new heroic theme for the Avengers that builds off of Silvestri's cues while helping further solidify a musical identity for the team.  As for Tyler's contribution, you can really hear it in the way he weaves in the themes he wrote for Iron Man and Thor in the other Marvel movies he composed, creating an aural consistency that links this movie to those other Marvel movies.  While I still think Marvel could do more on the music front with their movies, Age of Ultron's score was a step in the right direction, let's just hope it continues going down this path.

9.  Mr. Holmes
Carter Burwell is a composer whose contributions to so many great movies have often been overlooked because he is typically not an in your face kind of guy with his music.  Burwell's work on Mr. Holmes is bar none some of his best work, and that is saying something considering he is typically the go-to composer for the Coen Brothers.  With Mr. Holmes, he crafted a very stately, churning theme for the aged Sherlock Holmes that really suited this interpretation of the character, with the theme being at times tragic, uplifting, and mysterious.  While I'm hard pressed to say whether or not anyone else will remember this score come awards time, this is one that should at least be in the Oscar conversation.

8.  Ant-Man
This score was perhaps the most purely fun score to listen to all year long.  Composer Christophe Beck wrote a sensational blockbuster score that does everything that is required of a movie like this.  Beck handles the action sequences with propulsive brass, the quieter moments with strings and woodwinds, and through it all he gives it a flair that is unique and slightly different from other movies.  A large part of what set Ant-Man apart from other superhero movies in general, was the fact that it was a heist movie and Beck really exemplifies that in the music, with the themes often echoing the music from movies like Ocean's Eleven.  However my absolute favorite part of Beck's score is his theme he wrote for the Ant-Man character.  The theme works in so many different capacities throughout the movie with it being everything from a solemn, reflective piece to a massive, heroic overture.  Simply put, this is one of the finer scores ever written for a Marvel Studios movie.

7.  Kingsman:  The Secret Service
Another really fun score, Henry Jackman's music for Kingsman was a great highlight early in the year and still stands up there with the rest of the scores that came after it in 2015.  Of all of the spy movies that came out this year, I actually liked the music for this one more than any of the others, primarily because it was all new and fresh.  Jackman managed to craft a spy movie score that sounded like we had heard it before, but we actually hadn't.  Sure, the music never does anything to break the spy action movie mold, but it does it with so much style and energy that you are hooked from the first few notes of the Kingsman theme that Jackman wrote.

6.  The Hunger Games:  Mockingjay - Part 2
I said it in my review of the movie when it came out, but James Newton Howard has been the unsung hero of the whole Hunger Games franchise.  His scores for all four movies were consistent, while there were few new themes introduced in the latter movies, he just continued to refine what already worked and made it work even better.  The perfect case and point of this was in the music for the final scene of the whole series.  The music harkens back to the main theme that Newton Howard composed for the very first movie and it is still as emotionally resonant now as it was then.

5.  Inside Out
If there is any kind of successor to John Williams, it is Michael Giacchino.  Perhaps the most busy composer currently working (having composed the music for four major blockbusters just this year alone), Giacchino has written some of the most hummable movie music of the past decade or so, primarily thanks to his collaborations with Pixar.  With his score for Pixar's latest, Inside Out, Giacchino once again did what he does best, he created easy to hum themes for all of the primary characters and managed to work them in concert with one another in different tempos and keys to fit the mood of what the story needs at that moment.  His theme for Joy is light and effervescent, while his theme for Sadness is rather brassy and glum, and then his theme for Bing Bong is very bouncy and reminiscent of a circus.  Few composers can actually bring together that many vastly different sounds into a cohesive whole, but Giacchino has the ability to do that and just makes it look easy.  While Inside Out is not my favorite Giacchino score of 2015, it is one of his best of all-time, which goes to say what I really think about it.

4.  Paddington
Most of my favorite movie scores this past year were done by well-known composers, but in the case of Paddington, composer Nick Urata came from the world of Indie movies to craft a score that perfectly captures everything I love about this immigrant bear from Peru.  Urata gave many scenes an appropriately South American flare, especially when Paddington is given a bath to look presentable, but it is Urata's main theme for the movie that gives it heart and perfectly encapsulates Paddington.  The theme is at times soft and delicate, at others bouncy and eccentric, and even grand and majestic, like when Paddington first arrives in London.  I have always loved this bear, and this music is a great way to travel back to the colorful realm of Paddington's adventures when you're needing a nice reminder of the good in our world.

3.  Tomorrowland
The other Michael Giacchino score on this list, Tomorrowland is one of my five faves he's ever written.  The music for Tomorrowland is seemingly simplistic and standard for a blockbuster adventure movie.  It creates wonder and awe, mystery and suspense, and emotional heart tugging all when it needs to, so why is it one of my favorites of Giacchino's oeuvre?  Because it's just full of hope.  The whole idea of Tomorrowland is about discovering hope for the future amidst all of the negative thought in our world and that idea is what Giacchino captured most brilliantly in his themes for this movie.  When you hear his music for Tomorrowland, you just can't help but want to dream, and dreams are the first building blocks in making a better future, so in a way you can say Michael Giacchino's music for Tomorrowland helps make the world a better place.  I can't think of a better way to sum up the score other than that.

2.  Cinderella
This movie was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the whole year at the theater and the score was one of the reasons for that.  Patrick Doyle is a composer I have been familiar with for a long time and I have often found his scores enjoyable, but I think his work on Cinderella ranks as his best ever.  The score is sweeping and romantic, grand and majestic, and most importantly, heartfelt and emotional.  The core concepts of kindness and courage are musically interpreted in Doyle's music via the theme for Cinderella in the movie, which is one of the most pure and innocent themes I've ever heard for a character.  Contrast that with the tragic and calculating theme he wrote for the Evil Stepmother, and you wind up with a very rich and diverse musical landscape that expertly tells this classic fairy tale anew.

1.  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens
Anytime there is a new John Williams score, I go bananas.  When it's a new John Williams Star Wars score, I go bananas times a hundred!  Mr. Williams has outdone himself again with The Force Awakens.  It would have been very easily for him to have just relied entirely on the old themes he composed for the Original Trilogy and fans would have gone ape over it, but he didn't do that.  While many of the old themes make an appearance here and there within the score, about 90% of the score is made up of entirely new themes that Mr. Williams wrote just for this movie and its brand spanking new characters.  Rey's theme is instantly iconic, perfectly representing the character's innocence, resilience, and charm, by harking back to a swashbuckling-type feel.  Then there is Kylo Ren's theme, which is itself a mirror of Darth Vader's music, but perhaps a little more ominous with much more chaotic turmoil bubbling underneath its minimal facade.  Then you have the March of the Resistance, which is a militaristic piece that speaks to heroism in the face of danger and yet never mimics any of the other marches that Mr. Williams has written for the other Star Wars movies.  In short, The Force Awakens is a complete home run in every department, with the score being just another perfect element to the movie.  Now the real question is where does The Force Awakens score rank amongst the best of the whole Star Wars saga?  It may take a little more time to figure that out, but I've already integrated the new themes and best music cues from the soundtrack into my Star Wars playlist on iTunes, so that says enough for right now.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Movie Review: "Star Wars: The Force Awakens"

The Force has awakened once more and this time it feels as if it will never go away again.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the seventh installment in the Star Wars franchise and is the first of the Disney-era after they purchased Lucasfilm back in 2012.  Directed and co-written by fanboy lightning rod, J.J. Abrams, The Force Awakens is a Star Wars film that was made by fans, for fans.  While this could have easily been just a whole bunch of fan service to grab for some quick and easy cash, The Force Awakens is more than that -- it's a true tour de force of a movie (no pun intended).

There is simply a confidence to The Force Awakens that is evident from the very first frame, resulting in a movie that is more of a new beginning than a retread of past films.  Taking place nearly thirty years after Return of the Jedi, the film boldly places its new heroes front and center instead of the old stalwarts like Han Solo (who doesn't even show up till nearly forty-five minutes in).  That is not to say that characters like Han, Luke, and Leia do not play crucial roles, but their roles are always in service to the new cast who are the main reason this film works.

Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac make up the hero side as Rey, Finn, and Poe, while Adam Driver plays the mysterious new villain, Kylo Ren.  All of these characters feel very Star Wars, but are different than any other Star Wars characters we've ever seen before.  Rey is a hopeful desert scavenger who had to raise herself when left by her family on the planet Jakku as a child, whereas Finn was a stormtrooper for the First Order (a less politically powerful, but restructured Empire) who defected when refusing to kill in cold blood, and Poe is a Resistance fighter pilot (the New Republic's secret military force led by Leia) who is literally the greatest pilot the saga has ever seen.  And what can really be said about Dark Side acolyte Kylo Ren without giving anything away?  Other than that Adam Driver delivers arguably the most nuanced portrayal of a Star Wars villain ever.  As for Ridley, Boyega, and Isaac, the chemistry between them is impeccable with all of them having phenomenal comedic timing as well as an amazing ability to wear their hearts on their sleeves, with 23-year-old Ridley in particular shining the brightest in her cinematic debut as an actress.  Thanks to the new cast, The Force Awakens is both one of the funniest movies in the Star Wars saga and perhaps the most emotional.

It's quite amazing that Abrams, alongside co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt, managed to keep such a great balance going between light and dark without going too far either way.  As previously mentioned, the new cast is one of the key reasons that the script managed to work, but the thing that really makes this one so emotional is the old, returning cast.  Carrie Fisher delivers her best work in years as Leia, but it is Harrison Ford as Han Solo that really gets you in this one.  The pure joy of seeing Harrison back as Han is most certainly one of the primary reasons so many people are going to go see this movie, and I will say this much because I don't want to spoil anyone, his return does not disappoint and Han goes to some new places that we've never seen him go before.  As for Mark Hamill as Luke, well I'll just tease that there is a reason he hasn't been in any of the promotional materials so far, and it's a good one.

One of the things that people often say in the film business is that lightning rarely strikes twice, but in the case of the Star Wars saga, lightning seems to have struck seven times now.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens delivered in all of the expected ways as well as in a great many unexpected territories.  As is par for the course with a Star Wars movie, the movie looks and sounds great, with more imagination on display here than in just about any other movie being made nowadays, and what can you really say about the music from the great John Williams?  It's phenomenal, with himself being bold in not relying too heavily on old themes, utilizing mostly new creations for this go around.  That is the best way to sum up The Force Awakens.  It took a great many risks and they all paid off brilliantly, culminating in one of the best movies made in perhaps the last decade.  It's emotional, fun, and just super cool.  Go see it and enjoy it, because Star Wars is in safe hands.

I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a 10 out of 10!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

My Favorite Star Wars Characters of All-Time

Okay, here is a hard fact to believe.  We are only a week away from seeing a brand new Star Wars movie!  Star Wars:  The Force Awakens opens on Dec. 18th, with special screenings starting at 7pm on the 17th the night before.  That is how close we are to seeing the return of Luke, Leia, and Han to the big screen, and also meeting a whole new batch of characters that I am almost certain will live up to the Star Wars legacy.

One of the main reasons I feel so many people love Star Wars so much, and it is really what separates it from any other sci-fi or fantasy franchise, is because of the characters.  We love the characters of Star Wars because they're human with real human emotions bubbling underneath.  We can identify with the best Star Wars characters, and there are many.

When you go through not just the movies, but the countless TV shows, games, books, and comic books over the years, there are hundreds upon hundreds of great characters in the Star Wars universe.  It is one of the few franchises where even the smallest little background character in a movie or TV episode gets a book, comic, or short story written about them to flesh their character out.  For this reason alone, it is almost impossible to say who is the greatest Star Wars character, but that doesn't stop me from telling you my favorites, and that is exactly what I am going to do today -- share with you my 30 Favorite Star Wars Characters of All-Time!

Now let me preface my list by saying that this is entirely subjective and I am owning up to that.  There is no rating criteria here, it's just the characters I like the most from the Star Wars universe (hence why I phrased it as my favorite characters and not the best or greatest characters of all-time).  I am sure everyone else would have a different list of favorite characters, but in sharing mine I hope you meet a few new characters that you've never met before and be interested enough in learning more about them.  One thing I love to do as a fan is to share what I love most with other people, and that is really all I am ever trying to do with lists or reviews or awards.  So without any further ado, here are My Favorite Star Wars Characters of All-Time!!!


30.  Count Dooku
Played morally gray by Sir Christopher Lee, Dooku is a highly undervalued character in the entirety of the Star Wars mythology.  As The Clone Wars TV series illuminated, Dooku was behind the creation of the Clone Army, impersonating as Jedi Master Sifo Dyas, acting as a key piece of the Emperor's machinations to take over the galaxy.  Equal parts ruthless, manipulative, and charming, Dooku is a character that never really gets his due which is why people need to understand why he deserves more credit.

29.  Chopper
A fairly recent addition to the Star Wars universe, Chopper is the astromech droid aboard the Ghost in Star Wars Rebels.  Unlike Artoo, there is no cute factor with Chopper.  Chopper is selfish, cantankerous, and borderline homicidal at times (that time he wielded dual blasters to save his allies was a real treat).  With that all said, Chopper is loyal to the Ghost crew and would do anything to save them, even though he will do it his way or the highway.

28.  Admiral Ackbar
Famous for saying, "It's a trap," in the Battle of Endor, Admiral Ackbar has long been a fan favorite, while not having a ton of screen time (though that's changing a little with his return in The Force Awakens).  Where Ackbar really won a lot of points with me though was in the Mon Cala story arc on The Clone Wars.  The Separatists and the Republic joined sides in the Mon Cala Civil War, where future Admiral Ackbar acted as attendant to the young prince of the Mon Calamari.  It was here where we really got to know Ackbar in greater detail, discovering that he is a master military strategist who firmly believes in good over evil.

27.  Duchess Satine
The Duchess of the planet Mandalore, Satine is one of the most fascinating additions that The Clone Wars TV show made to the Star Wars mythology.  When she was a teenager, her fierce pacifist beliefs led to her desire to demilitarize her home planet, which led to her needing the protection of a teenaged Obi-Wan Kenobi and his master, Qui-Gon Jinn, during this time.  Obi-Wan and Satine fell in love with one another but never acted upon their feelings because of Obi-Wan's loyalty to the Force (Jedis are a monastic order, therefore romance is forbidden).  Reuniting during the Clone Wars when Satine was once more under duress, Obi-Wan protected Satine from an insurgency known as Death Watch, and in the course of it he revealed his feelings for her by telling her that if she had simply asked him to leave the Jedi Order, he would have for her.  So that makes the tragedy of her death at the hands of Darth Maul all the more heartbreaking, with her dying in Obi-Wan's arms, neither of them ever having acted on their love while both clearly being one another's one true soul mate.  This is why I love the character of Satine.

26.  Grand Moff Tarkin
In a great many ways, Tarkin was the perfect embodiment of the Empire.  He had no other goals than to have power and to use that power to establish order.  There really is no moral conscious to Tarkin because if it would help him, he'd have no guilt in killing someone or blowing up an entire planet!  Played icily by Peter Cushing in the original Star Wars, he also was a thorn in the side of the Jedi via animated form in The Clone Wars TV show, being the heartless prosecutor in the trial of Ahsoka Tano.  He is the epitome of the villain you love to hate and I really love to hate him, no matter what incarnation he shows up in, whether it be film, television, or literature.

25.  Lando Calrissian
Do I really need to explain why Lando is awesome?  It's the swagger that Billy Dee Williams brought to the role that made him such a remarkable character and still does, having recently voiced Lando for a couple of episodes of Star Wars Rebels.  In truth, if he weren't such a conning old smoothie, we wouldn't love him so.

24.  Kit Fisto
Kit was a lesser known Jedi Master but one who really got his due thanks to The Clone Wars TV show.  Known for basically being a walking, talking, lightsaber wielding squid, as we learned from his appearances in The Clone Wars, someone so cool did not deserve to die so unceremoniously in Episode III.  Sporting a Rastafarian-accent and a laid back demeanor, he was just the embodiment of cool.  Add on to that his ability to breathe underwater and his awesome lightsaber skills, and you can see why Kit is one of my favorite Jedi of all-time.

23.  Plo Koon
Jedi Master Plo Koon is another character who was killed very unceremoniously in Episode III only to be redeemed by The Clone Wars TV show.  If I were being so bold, I'd almost argue that Plo Koon is the second wisest Jedi Master behind Yoda.  Sporting a very calm, contemplative persona, Master Plo also had a warmth to him making him an ideal teacher to the Younglings and Padawans at the Jedi Temple.  To sum him up, he's like your favorite high school teacher who also happened to be a super awesome Jedi ninja!

22.  Asajj Ventress
Another creation of The Clone Wars TV shows, Ventress started out as Count Dooku's Sith apprentice, but by the end of the show had survived Dooku's attempts to kill her because she was becoming too powerful to be controlled, and became a bounty hunter instead.  She was a character who was evil when it suited her means.  She had no problem killing, but she was smart about it, standing out for me because she was not purely Sith.  Ventress was not good by any means, but having been raised by the Nightsisters of Dathomir (essentially witches), Ventress really just wanted to have power.  She could easily see reason if she thought it could benefit her in the end, occasionally forming alliances with Jedi like Quinlan Vos and Ahsoka Tano when it suited her means, but in truth the main reason I've always liked Ventress is cause she looks cool.

21.  Darth Maul
There is perhaps no other character in all of Star Wars mythology who is more purely evil than Darth Maul.  A man of few words, Darth Maul saw himself get chopped in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode I only to have survived because of the power of his hatred towards Kenobi.  Returning in The Clone Wars TV show with new robotic legs, Maul did everything in his power to get his revenge on Obi-Wan.  In one swoop, Maul took over the entire galactic criminal underworld and the planet of Mandalore just to draw Obi-Wan to him, so Obi-Wan could watch as he killed the one woman Obi-Wan ever loved, Duchess Satine.  With the cancellation of The Clone Wars a few years back, we don't know what happened to Maul after the Emperor bested him in their duel on Mandalore, but we can only hope that he'll return someday in the future to wreak some more havoc.

20.  Sabine Wren
I think it says something to the quality of Star Wars Rebels that every member of its main cast made my list of favorites.  I know the show is relatively new, having only run for about 24 episodes so far, but the rebel crew of the Ghost is just that likable.  With that said, Sabine is an exceptionally unique character in Star Wars history because she is the first artist to ever really be portrayed in the galaxy far, far away.  She is a painter who enjoys street art and blowing things up.  That's all you really need to understand about her.  Well, that and that she's a Mandalorian with some cool Mandalorian armor.

19.  Boba Fett
For many a Star Wars fan, the Fett-man might top their lists and while he isn't my all-time favorite Star Wars character, I do like him a great deal.  There just are very few characters in the history of any film franchise that are as mysterious and cool as Boba Fett.  While there are the fans that dislike Boba being a clone of his father Jango and all that, I really don't get the fury over that.  So what if Boba was a clone?  The boy in Episode II is bloodthirsty, he relishes in the thought of Obi-Wan's demise when him and his father are chasing Obi-Wan's ship above the planet Geonosis.  Sure, maybe revealing where Boba came from makes him less mysterious, but the complete disdain many fans have over Boba's origins is really just those same fans spiraling out on their utter hatred that the prequels are not the origin stories they always imagined in their heads for twenty years.  Get over it and just enjoy it.

18.  Jar Jar Binks
Okay, I am going to be bold here in professing my love for Jar Jar, but I really don't care, it's my opinion and no one else has to share it.  The reason I love Jar Jar is simply because I think he's funny.  His purity and innocence makes him a character I personally find refreshing in this day and age of cynicism laced with acidic sarcasm.  He's like a three-year-old in an adult's body.  Exceptionally clumsy, but always polite about it, Jar Jar is the traditional court jester found in Shakespeare and mythology.  While some have tried to come out and say he's racist and all of that stuff, I don't believe he is (just because an African American man is portraying him does not mean he is in any way offensive to his own race).  Plus, if it helps those fans live with Jar Jar's inclusion, just think that the Empire would have never been formed had he not brought about the movement in Episode II to grant emergency powers to Chancellor Palpatine to create the clone army.  Jar Jar's naive belief that he was doing the right thing, ultimately proved to not be good in the long run.

17.  Zeb Orrelios
Yet another character from Rebels to make my list, Zeb is the muscle on the Ghost crew.  Based off of the original concept art done for Chewbacca, he is a warrior whose entire race was almost completely eradicated by the Empire.  Striving to do what's right and protect others from the Empire's wrath, Zeb is also known for his short fuse temper.  To put it even more simply, there is no one else I'd rather have on my side in a galactic bar brawl, save for Chewie perhaps.

16.  Princess Leia
Another character that really doesn't need much explanation as to why she makes the cut of my favorites.  Leia was never the damsel in distress, even when she was captured in the original Star Wars, she always put it back to her captors.  As equally capable with a blaster as Luke or Han, Leia broke all of the traditional damsel stereotypes for adventure films, while having the sensitivity and regal elegance expected of a fantasy princess.

15.  Ezra Bridger
Another recent addition to Star Wars lore, Ezra is the answer to the question:  What happened to all of the Force sensitive children in the galaxy after the collapse of the Jedi Order?  Starting out as an orphaned street rat, similar to Aladdin, Ezra was found by the rebel crew of the Ghost in Star Wars Rebels.  Taken on as an apprentice by Jedi on the run, Kanan Jarrus, Ezra is now training to become a new kind of Jedi to take on the Empire.  With Ezra and the rest of the Ghost crew now working to help the fledgling Rebel Alliance, Ezra has proven himself to be one of the most inherently good characters in Star Wars history.  While occasionally having to combat his own self doubt and anger toward the Empire for killing his parents (presumably, we really don't know what happened to them),  Ezra has gone from being a kid who only looks out for himself to being a hero who helps others without a second thought, and his arc isn't over.  There are still a great many shades that the writers of Rebels will hopefully add to Ezra, and that makes me excited for the future of him as a character.

14.  Qui-Gon Jinn
Long before Liam Neeson became an action movie star, he first proved his action chops as Qui-Gon Jinn in Episode I.  He is the character that I most wish had survived the whole Prequel Trilogy, because he was so awesome.   In a great many ways, he was the opposite of the only other Jedi we knew from the Original Trilogy.  While he was smart and compassionate, like Yoda or Alec Guinness's Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon had a rebellious streak and would go against the Jedi Order if what he felt via the Force conflicted with the Council's rulings.  We can only hope that Qui-Gon might get a spinoff movie of some kind in the future, but even if he doesn't, he will always be remembered for being the awesome master who trained Obi-Wan Kenobi.

13.  Captain Rex
One of the greatest things that The Clone Wars TV show did was it showed that the clones, while they all had the same genetic material, were very different from one another with their own personalities and moral convictions.  Captain Rex is the perfect example of this.  Acting as Anakin's right-hand man in the 501st Legion during the Clone Wars, Rex was not only an awesome fighter and military strategist, but a genuine hero who did what was right, even if it sometimes went against orders (as was evidenced when he went against a corrupt general).  Realizing the corruption within the Republic before it was too late, Rex removed the microchip in his brain that every clone had that made them all kill the Jedi when Order 66 was given.  Because of all of this, Rex proved himself to be his own man.  With him now working with the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars Rebels, it is fun to know that Rex's story is far from over.

12.  Hera Syndulla
The captain of the Ghost in Star Wars Rebels, Hera is the daughter of Twi'lek freedom fighter, Cham Syndulla.  Hera is like the mother of the Ghost crew, she keeps everyone in line and is actually the secret leader of the team.  While she often defers to Kanan, she is the one who always has the bigger plans in motion.  Her compassion and desire to bring freedom to all in the galaxy makes her very determined and headstrong at times, with her always placing the mission first before her own personal wants (most notably her romantic attraction to fellow crew member, Kanan).  It is going to be real interesting to see how large of a role Hera continues to play in the growth of the Rebel Alliance.  Future episodes shall tell.

11.  Wicket
How can you not love Wicket?  He is the star Ewok and is so teddy bear cute you just want to squeeze him.  Exceptionally brave and compassionate, Wicket is the most unlikely of warriors.  While you may mock the Ewoks and wonder how on Earth they could have defeated the Empire, if any soldier has half of the heart that Wicket and most of the Ewoks have, I would want any of them on my side.  It also speaks volumes about why Wicket makes this list in that I still wish I could have an Ewok as a pet.

10.  Yoda
Everyone loves Yoda.  From the very first time you meet him in The Empire Strikes Back, it's really hard to not fall in love with him.  Initially appearing as a funny eccentric, he quickly reveals himself as a wise sage with a firm belief in the light side of the Force.  Of course I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the main reason Yoda is so popular -- the way he talks.  The backwards talk has many different people claiming they were the first to suggest it to George Lucas (from Yoda performer Frank Oz to screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan), but regardless of who was the first to suggest it, the backwards talk is the thing that makes Yoda so unique and unlike any other character in the history of film.  It's funny though, even after all these years Yoda still manages to surprise, like in Episode II when he wields a lightsaber for the first time.  Who'd have ever thought Yoda could be so spry.

9.  R2-D2
It is because of Artoo that I wish I could have my own personal robot assistant.  One of the first characters to ever appear onscreen in a Star Wars movie, he is also, along with his partner in crime, one of only two characters to be in every single Star Wars movie or TV show.  R2-D2 really was one of the first robots in movie history to buck the traditional sci-fi trend of evil and/or heartless robots with no emotion whatsoever.  One thing you can never accuse Artoo of not being is emotional.  He is brave and impulsive, highly loyal to a fault, and stubborn.  Like the adorable stray dog, Artoo is the kind of droid you'd just want to take home with you when you meet him.

8.  C-3PO
As R2-D2's partner in crime, C-3PO is the straight man to all of Artoo's antics.  Threepio is very much the traditional English butler.  He is easily agitated, very fretful, and has a difficult time understanding human reasoning when it contradicts with his fact-based approach.  In truth though, what makes me love Threepio so much as a character is not necessarily his relationship with Artoo and the constant bickering that ensues, but it's the way Threepio reacts to the situations he finds himself in.  From his believing he failed in saving Luke and company from the trash compactor, to interrupting Han and Leia's romantic kiss, all the way to being hailed as a God by the Ewoks, Threepio continuously creates humor without even realizing he is doing so.

7.  Ahsoka Tano
Ahsoka is the greatest element of The Clone Wars TV show.  The revelation that Anakin Skywalker had an apprentice during the Clone Wars was one that I was not entirely sure about when I heard it was going to happen, but it really turned out to be a brilliant move on George's behalf.  Ahsoka starts out as a very smart, headstrong character, whose impulsive desire to prove herself and do good often lands her in hot water.  Throughout the course of The Clone Wars, we watched Ahsoka grow from a brash young Padawan to a powerful, compassionate Jedi in her own right, one who was ultimately betrayed by the very order she swore her life to.  When she was accused of murder and no one other than Anakin believed in her, she had to go on the run to clear her name, and in the end (with Anakin's help) she was able to do just that, but not without coming to the realization that the Jedi had lost their way in the Clone Wars conflict by having to become a military power.  Her shaken faith in the Jedi led her to refusing the offer to return the Jedi Order once cleared and it was really Ahsoka's shattered faith in the Jedi that spurred Anakin to begin to doubt the Jedi Order as well (and we know how that ultimately turned out).  Such a remarkable character is one that I hope someday we'll get to see even more of, especially the years between The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, where she now acts as not a Jedi, but a Force sensitive warrior helping the fledgling Rebel Alliance.  One can only hope that some day she will fight Darth Vader in the fight of the century, I only fear she wont make it out alive if she ever does.

6.  Kanan Jarrus
Kanan is the final member of the Ghost crew in Star Wars Rebels, and my personal favorite.  He is the semi-leader of the team, sharing that duty most often with Hera (the woman he loves, even though neither ever act on their feelings, always placing the mission first), but what makes Kanan such a fascinating character is that he was one of the few Jedi to survive Order 66.  When the clones turned on the Jedi and assassinated all of them, Kanan was a 14-year-old Padawan named Caleb Dume.  His master sacrificed herself so Kanan could escape.  Ever since then he's been on the run, trying to lie low, changing his name to Kanan in the process.  After many years of basically just existing, he met Hera and her fierce determination to help others spurred Kanan to follow the ways of the Force once again.  Now, Kanan has his own apprentice in the form of Ezra, but Kanan, having never become a Jedi Knight and finished his training, is constantly unsure of himself, but he is determined to pass on the ways of the Force to Ezra.  There just really is a lot to love about the character of Kanan, and the main reason for that is because he is so different than any other Jedi in the Star Wars universe.  He does not hold to all of the Jedi Order's rules, in particular the one about not forming romantic attachments, and he's as equally adept at being a scoundrel with a blaster as he is with a lightsaber, but he always does what's right in the end.  I guess the best way to sum up Kanan is if you combined Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi into one character, he is what you'd get, and that's not a bad combination to be.

5.  Anakin Skywalker / Darth Vader
You know, a large part of what makes Darth Vader the ultimate villain of all-time is the notion that he was a hero before he was ever evil.  Vader is the cautionary tale of what can happen if we allow ourselves to be tempted by the Dark Side, even when we are doing those things for the right reasons.  He is also the perfect example of how, no matter how much evil has been done by our hands, we can all find forgiveness and redemption.  And while some people despise the Prequels, one of the unique things that the Prequels do, in tandem with The Clone Wars TV show, is really paint us a picture of how a selfless hero can be corrupted by evil.  In Episode I he is this innocent 9-year-old boy who simply wants to free his fellow slaves someday with his Jedi powers.  In The Clone Wars he is a heroic warrior who strives to do what's right in a world where it is no longer black and white.  By the time he goes to the Dark Side in Episode III, it is genuinely tragic because he is doing it to try and save the one he loves most, and in the process actually brings about her death.  From a character complexity angle, Anakin / Darth Vader is the most complex character in the whole Star Wars saga, and while the new films look to have a good villain in Kylo Ren, I don't think any movie franchise will ever be able to come close to Darth Vader as the greatest bad guy of all-time.

4.  Luke Skywalker
Every kid who grew up watching the Original Trilogy believed they could be Luke Skywalker.  That was the brilliance of the character.  He was this idealistic everyman, the cypher for the audience to project themselves onto, and as such is probably the most relatable main character from the Original Trilogy of Star Wars movies.  The thing that I've always loved about Luke though is he's a hero through-and-through.  He always did what was right in the Original Trilogy, even if the end result might have been his death.  While Luke's compassion for others nearly led to his downfall, unlike his father, Darth Vader, Luke was able to not repeat the same mistakes and prove himself to be a Jedi.  It was this act of defiance, in not letting the Dark Side in, that managed to redeem Darth Vader and turn him back into Anakin Skywalker.  You could almost argue that because of this that Luke was the real Chosen One who brought balance to the Force and not Anakin.  Now, while we do not know what's happened to Luke in the thirty years between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, we don't have long to find out, and hopefully it's all worthy of the character.  However, irregardless of what The Force Awakens does to the character, nothing can change the fact that he was the character who experienced the most growth in the Original Trilogy.  His character arc, from being a naive farm boy to being a wise Jedi Knight is arguably the greatest arc of any character in the Star Wars saga.

3.  Chewbacca
Everyone loves Chewie.  He's essentially a big dog who is loyal, tender hearted, and huggable.  Oh yeah, he's also an ace with a bowcaster who can rip your arms out of your sockets if you frustrate him (always let the Wookie win).  With that said, the main reason we all love Chewie is because most wish he could be our best friend like he is for Han Solo.  If we all could have a best friend who was as devoted as Chewie, I think the world would be a better place.  However, it would be nice if a real-life Chewie could talk, but for a fictional character, there is nothing more iconic than Chewie's growls; people often try to imitate them, but rarely sound anything other than stupid (but that doesn't stop us from trying).  The love for Chewbacca is even more evident as we grow closer to the release of The Force Awakens.  While we do not know what will happen to him, we should soon enough.  We should also get some good backstory on the character in the near future with him presumably popping up in the young Han Solo spin-off movie that's in production.

2.  Obi-Wan Kenobi
Sir Alec Guinness's portrayal of wise old Ben Kenobi in the Original Trilogy would be enough to make this list, but what really makes Obi-Wan my second favorite Star Wars character of all-time is the way that George Lucas had Obi-Wan and Anakin's paths mirror one another in the Prequels and The Clone Wars TV show.  Obi-Wan and Anakin really were two sides of the same coin.  They both had loved ones die in their arms (Anakin with his mother and Obi-Wan with Duchess Satine), they both struggled with their feelings of romantic attachment (Anakin with Padme and Obi-Wan once again with Satine), and both were slightly arrogant Padawan learners who often challenged their masters, however where the similarities stop is in how Obi-Wan responded to every thing.  Whereas Anakin always took the easy way and gave into his anger and fear, in every situation Obi-Wan overcame those emotions to be stronger, wiser, and much more heroic.  I think this is something that often eludes fans, but it is the thing that makes Obi-Wan so fantastic to me, aside from the fact that I love the character's dry wit and ability to make light of tough situations.  Ewan McGregor was exceptional as Obi-Wan in the Prequels at maintaining the lighter touches of Alec Guinness's performance while also showing us an Obi-Wan before he became so wise.  He really was the best part of the Prequel Trilogy and while the jury is still out as to whether or not we'll ever see an Obi-Wan spin-off movie with McGregor once more in the role, I think it would be a shame to never give him another go at a role that he owned so well.

1.  Han Solo
Okay, as the kid who said at his kindergarten graduation that what he wanted to be when he grew up was Harrison Ford, this one was a no-brainer.  Why is Han Solo everyone's favorite scoundrel?  Because of Harrison and the swagger he brought to the part.  He is charming, tough, and cynical, and yet his Han is a character who, even though he denies it, keeps finding himself helping others even against his own wishes.  Not to mention the fact that Han and Chewie are one of the greatest buddy relationships in movie history, but it's Han's romance with Princess Leia that is the perfect proof that he is not simply in it for the money.  Han cannot leave the Rebels because of his affection for Leia, and for that matter, his close friendship with Luke.  Han cares, we know it, and deep down even he knows it.  Why else would he keep placing himself in countless life threatening situations for the well being of others?  Just don't ever try and get Han to actually say, "I love you."  "I know," is the best you will ever get on that front.  Although, a lot can happen in thirty years.  The trailer for The Force Awakens found Han saying the exact opposite of what he said in A New Hope regarding the Force.  The Han then did not believe in any of that nonsense, but now Han Solo is wise enough to understand that there are other forces at work in the galaxy greater than him.  It it is going to be real interesting to see what else has changed, and not changed, about my favorite Star Wars character of all-time.