Top Ten Tuesday – The Marvel Cinematic Universe Movies (Ranked – Including Black Widow)

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official task for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was for participants to list the top ten favourite book titles that are questions.  While this was a particularly interesting and unique topic, I decided to do something a little different.

I am sure that it will come to now surprise to anyone who has read some of my posts that I am a major fan of all things comic related, which includes the fabulous works coming out of Marvel.  I have an outstanding amount of love for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney’s juggernaut film franchise that brings some of the most iconic Marvel Comics characters to life in their own distinctive universe.  I have been a fan since the very moment I saw the trailer for Iron Man all those years ago (it has only been 13, but it sometimes feels so much longer).  Since then 24 films have been released in this series (as well as some excellent television shows), some of which have been good, some of which have been adequate, and most of which have been pretty damn exceptional and have defined a generation of film fans.

This series seems pretty unstoppable at times, which is why it was so very strange that, for the first time since 2009, we did not have an MCU film last year, thanks to our old friend COVID-19.  It has been two years since the last MCU film, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and in that time a lot of stuff as happened.  I know that during some of the worst parts of 2020 and early 2021, I was nostalgic for a time when a new MCU film was just on the horizon, and I felt that having that again would add a little normality back into our lives.  That is why I was so excited last week when I was able to go see the much anticipated and long-delayed Black Widow.  Seeing a MCU film on premiere night was pretty special to me, so, in honour of that, I thought I would take this time to highlight the MCU franchise.

I am sure that many MCU fans can appreciate how much of a task ranking these films in order can be.  Many are absolute masterpieces and some of the very best comic book films out there, and each MCU entry is vastly different from the others, which makes comparing them very difficult.  This is partially compounded by the fact that there is no such thing as a bad MCU film, as even the worse film in the franchise is still leaps and bounds above most other comic book films out there.  In addition, preferences for which film is better than another can change daily, especially as movies become more dated and new material is introduced.  However, I was determined to pull this list together, so I knuckled down and had a long think about every MCU film that I have seen.  During this time, I considered each of the films’ casting, story, graphics and legacy.  However, the most important thing that I considered was how much I would want to watch the film again.  Taking all this into consideration, I was able to come up with a ranked list that I think captures my personal feelings and opinions about these various films at this point in time.  So let us see where the various films ended up.

Spoiler warning below

List (Ranked – Reverse Order):

24. – The Incredible Hulk

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I want to make something clear: The Incredible Hulk is not a bad movie. It is actually pretty watchable, with an interesting cast, some decent graphics and an enjoyable story about the origins of the Hulk and his conflict with the military.  Despite this, it is probably the least enjoyable MCU film, and for that reason many people skip it or try to ignore it when doing an MCU marathon.  Edward Norton, while a fine actor, does not really click as Bruce Banner, and the later re-casting with Mark Ruffalo really highlights that.  In addition, he does not have any chemistry with Liv Tyler’s Betty Ross, who was a borderline damsel in distress (especially when compared to the strong women that dominated the early MCU films).  A pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell is underutilised as Doc Samson, a character that was never featured to its full potential (I want a raging, muscle-bound Ty Burrell with flowing green locks, dammit).  I liked Tim Roth as the villain (before he was CGI’d), and William Hurt is a great Thunderbolt Ross.  While the movie starts off strong, I think it lost its way towards the end, and the CGI fight between the Hulk and the Abomination is sloppy, especially compared to most other MCU entries.  Still a solid comic film, but, unfortunately, something must take out the 24th spot.

23. – Thor: The Dark World

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I must admit that the only reason that this did not score lower than The Incredible Hulk was purely because of Tom Hiddleston’s performance, as he was at his Loki best.  Still, in comparison the rest of the MCU, this movie is not great, especially as it compounds many of the faults of the preceding Thor movie.  It has a weak story, and I am not a major fan of the portrayal of Asgard in this one (I laughed in scorn when the flying boat ships starting fighting the Dark Elves).  The cast, with the notable exception of Hiddleston, is also not amazing here.  Chris Hemsworth, while a better actor in this second film, is still playing Thor way too seriously, and he still lacks any great chemistry with Natalie Portman, who was obviously unhappy to be involved at all.  While Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgård and Idris Elba do bring some flair and thespian backbone, the film is very much let down by its villain.  Malekith is one of the worst villains in the MCU and is constantly overshadowed by Loki.  Despite this, The Dark World is still a fun film and has some great moments in it.  The death of Frigga is pretty heartbreaking, and the final fight sequence, while a bit random at times, is very entertaining, combining great visuals with some excellent comedy.  Let us also not forget that this was the first time Infinity Stones are mentioned, making Thor: The Dark World an important entry in the franchise, and one I can re-watch very easily.

22. – Ant-Man and the Wasp

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I was very disappointed by Ant-Man and the Wasp, as it should have been so much better than it was, and it ended up being another weak entry in the franchise.  Most of the comedy, character development and style are recycled from the first film without anything new being added.  In addition, the villains are extremely weak, with Hannah John-Kamen not bringing any strength to the character of Ghost, and Walton Goggins’s Sonny Burch is a very odd, if amusing, secondary antagonist.  This film does have its strengths.  It is visually beautiful, the main cast is great, with Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly and Michael Douglas keeping the amazing chemistry they had in the first film, and I especially loved Lilly’s expanded use in this film as The Wasp.  Michael Peña still shines as Luis, whose riffing long stories are so much fun to see.  While this is a fun movie, it suffers from being released less than three months after Infinity War.  The sheer expectations that people had going into Ant-Man and the Wasp really altered people’s perception, and I know I was hoping for a whole lot more, especially when the “snap” happened.  Still, the post credit scenes were great, and that clever question mark struck surprisingly hard.

21. – Iron Man 2

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People were hoping for a film that could stand up to the first Iron Man, and unfortunately, Iron Man 2 just did not deliver.  Despite very strong performances from Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, and a newly cast Don Cheadle, this film was not as good as the first, relying too much on CGI and not enough on story.  Mickey Rourke’s villainous Whiplash was ok, if a bit overacted, but he was nothing to really write home about.  Still, this film has a lot of fun parts to it.  Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer was extremely zany and, as always, it was so much fun to see him perform (I am really hoping he comes back for Armor Wars).  In addition, this was also the film that gave us Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, a role she debuted perfectly, especially with that epic corridor scene, although the character does develop into something better later.  An extremely fun action romp that I am actually pretty fond of, Iron Man 2 just does not live up to some of the other films out there, so it has a lower spot on this list.

20. – Thor

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Thor is a fun movie that serves as a great introduction to some of the best characters in the MCU.  Unfortunately, it is a little rough compared to some of the later entries, which knocks it down a bit.  The film is a little too serious for its own good, perhaps thanks to director Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespearean approach, and while it has an amazing fish out of water story to it the scenes set in Asgard are over the top, and I am not the biggest fan of the way they turned the Asgardians into a science fiction race rather than a mythological one.  Still, the cast is very good, and it introduced Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston to a wider audience.  While an unnaturally blond Hemsworth was still finding his feet in this film, Hiddleston lays some great groundwork with Loki, setting him up perfectly and ensuring he would be a memorable and exceptional villain.  Natalie Portman fills the role as love interest well, although her chemistry with Hemsworth is a bit off.  Overall, this is a great film defined by the new Thor and Loki.

19. – Captain Marvel

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Though it is ranked a little low, Captain Marvel is still an outstanding comic film.  The first Marvel film to feature a female superhero lead, this film needed to do a lot, while also being one of the unfortunate films to be released between Infinity War and Endgame.  Despite this pressure, it definitely delivered providing a well written, entertaining and clever film.  I deeply enjoyed the cool 1990s setting, and the creative team do a great job bringing some nostalgia to the film, especially with the great music.  The twists about the Skrulls was also pretty fun, setting up some interesting stories for the future, and I liked how it tied into the origins of the Avengers team.  In addition, I reckon you will have a hard time finding anyone who was not moved by the Stan Lee tribute in the opening credits.  Brie Larson does a great job in the titular role, although I look forward to seeing her relax into it a bit more in future films.  Samuel L. Jackson was great as ever as Nick Fury, and the de-aging worked surprisingly well.  Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch and Annette Bening are all pretty awesome in this film, although I think Jude Law particularly shone as eventual villain Yon-Rogg.  Overall, the visuals and acting turn this into a good film, and the only reason it is lower on this list is the incredible competition from the future entries.

18. – Doctor Strange

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Doctor Strange is an awesome movie with many cool features to it.  This includes the first-rate cast, with Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams and Tilda Swinton doing some fantastic work in this film, although Benedict Wong was a particular stand out for me.  I did think that Mads Mikkelsen’s villain, Kaecillius, was a bit under defined, and it seemed a bit of a waste chucking an actor of Mikkelsen’s calibre into such a role.  I also felt that Strange could have gone through a little more character development, as he keeps up his arrogant persona well after this film ends.  The story is also a tad unpolished, and I particularly thought that the rift between Strange and Baron Mordo was a little forced.  Despite all this, Doctor Strange is visually spectacular, and viewers are treated to a kaleidoscope of colour and movement every time magic is used.  This visual work really enhances the entire film and I think this was a pretty strong comic film.  I am very keen to see how the next Doctor Strange film turns out, especially if it combines a better story with the already great characters and visual effects.

17. – Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Next we have the second Avengers ensemble movie.  Age of Ultron was another MCU film that had many expectations surrounding it before its release, especially after the success of the original Avengers film.  Director and writer Joss Whedon had to do a lot in this film, including introducing new characters, continuing existing storylines, and setting up future films.  Unfortunately, this proved too much to pull off.  It is still a very good movie, with the all-star cast doing an outstanding job bringing their iconic characters to life, especially the veterans from the first Avengers film.  James Spader brings some real malevolence and humour to Ultron, although the villain’s use of a disposable CGI army was a bit unoriginal.  Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen both debut their characters extremely well, and while they are not as strong as they later proved to be in WandaVision, they are an interesting inclusion.  Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Quicksilver is a little less impressive, especially as Evan Peters absolutely killed it as the same character in an X-Men film less than a year before.  The story is pretty fantastic, although it definitely suffers from the creative team trying to fit way too much into it, making it a weak or derivative in places.  In addition, it has one of the most pointless post-credits scenes in the entire series.  I did think the action sequences were very good, especially Hulk vs Iron Man, although I did think they spent a little too much time trying to recreate the feel of the original film.  Still, this an excellent film, and it serves as a major part of the franchise, even if it is outshined by every other Avengers film.

16. – Captain America: The First Avenger

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Captain America is an excellent film that takes the MCU wackiness right into the centre of WWII.  This film features an impressive origin story that does the classic comics proud while also making use of a great cast of characters.  Chris Evans shines as Steven Rogers in this film, and I loved the transition from a weakling with a strong heart to the ultimate symbol of strength, goodness and freedom.  At the same time, you have an outstandingly evil Red Skull in Hugo Weaving, which I think perfectly balanced the entire film.  Add in the great supporting cast in Sebastian Stan, Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Toby jones, and you have a pretty exceptional group of actors in the film (Richard Armitage, Jenna Coleman and Natalie Dormer also have small roles).  The story is very strong, and there are very few flaws or plot holes for it to stumble upon.  An overall outstanding film, this was one of the better entries in the early days of the MCU.

15. – Black Widow

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Now we reach the very latest entry in the MCU, with last week’s fantastic release, Black Widow.  I will admit that I did go into Black Widow with some slightly higher expectations brought on by a two-year drought in MCU films.  However, I still deeply enjoyed this movie, which finally gave Scarlett Johansson her own solo outing.  Anchored by a great cast, Black Widow was an exceptional film which did a great job highlighting the character’s mysterious origins and finally telling her story.  I was pretty hooked after its strong opening, especially after a sequence featuring a beautifully slowed down Smells Like Teen Spirit.  Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weisz are all outstanding, and I loved the unique family dynamic created between these main characters.  Despite this strong start, I did feel that the ending was rushed, and there is a certain two-week gap in the story that is still bugging me.  I was also not blown away by the villains, with Taskmaster and Dreykov being a little underwhelming.  Still, this was a great film, and I was just super glad that it finally came out.  I also am a little more excited to see more of Florence Pugh as the next Black Widow in some future MCU outings, and it will be interesting to see if this film gets a sequel.

14. – Black Panther

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Featuring one of the best African American casts of all time, Black Panther was an exceptional film that combined a great character-driven story with some awesome visuals.  This film did a brilliant job bringing the nation of Wakanda to life, and I had a wonderful time exploring its advanced technology and compelling past.  The late great Chadwick Boseman is an outstanding Black Panther, continuing the great work he did in Civil War.  He is joined by the fantastic Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright and Winston Duke, who all bring their new amazing characters to life in a distinctive way.  Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis both make fantastic secondary appearances in this film, and I like the manic energy Serkis brings to the role of Ulysses Klaue.  One of the most noticeable stars of the film is Michael B Jordan as Killmonger, one of the best and most complex villains in the entire MCU.  All these wonderful performances are wrapped up in a fantastic story, with some amazing visual scenes.  The entire sequence in Busan is beautiful, and the final fight is pretty epic.  If I were to make a criticism of the film, it would be around the CGI rhinos; whose presence I think was just a little too ridiculous.  An overall exceptional film, you will be shouting “Wakanda forever” until you run out of breath.

13. – Iron Man 3

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Director Shane Black had a lot of pressure to deliver the third and ultimately final Iron Man film immediately after the success of The Avengers.  Luckily, Iron Man 3 is pretty epic, and ends up being a very different film than some of the previous Iron Man movies, as Black presents a gritty, well-written tale around a traumatised Tony Stark.  This was a very clever techno-thriller, which plays off the damaged protagonist perfectly.  Downey Jr is once again exceptional in this film, and you get to see the Tony Stark beneath the snark and sarcasm.  With the usual great cast of supporting characters, as well as a couple of fun villains, this was a pretty cool film.  I personally enjoyed the twist with the Mandarin, and thought it was extremely clever and funny, although it was a controversial choice (I really hope Ben Kingsley has some sort of cameo in Shang-Chi).  While there is more of a focus on the story, there are still some outstanding action sequences, including the assault on the Stark Mansion and the final epic confrontation between the various suits and the Extremis soldiers.  I also very much liked the inclusion of the scenes were Stark has to use more low-tech methods to beat his enemies, and the multi-part suits add a lot of fun to the overall story.  An overall incredible film, I will admit I did not like this one too much when I first saw it, but several re-watches have really enhanced my opinion of it, pushing it above some of the great entries above.

12. – Spider-Man: Far From Home

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This second Spider-Man film faced the daunting prospect of being released less than three months after Endgame.  However, despite all that pressure, Far From Home was an incredible film that continues to highlight one of the best portrayals of Spider-Man ever.  While not as good as Homecoming, Far From Home boasts an amazing narrative loaded with feels.  Featuring an uncertain Peter Parker still reeling from the death of his mentor and the legacy left behind, this story takes the protagonist on a whirlwind adventure in Europe.  Thanks to an outstandingly talented Jake Gyllenhaal as Mysterio, this film is loaded with great twists and false leads, and I loved how we were punked into believing this would be the start of the multiverse.  Tom Holland continues to shine as Spider-Man and I loved the boyish enthusiasm he brings to the role, as well as his sense of fun and duty.  Samuel L Jackson serves as a harsh, but intriguing mentor figure as Nick Fury, backed up by Cobie Smulders.  The recurring cast from the previous Spider-Man movie are still a lot of fun, with Zendaya serving as a great love interest, Jacob Batalon playing a romantically distracted Ned, Jon Favreau as a fun Happy Hogan, and you have to love Tony Revolori as Flash Thompson.  Another spectacular and amazing film, the epic post-credit scene sets up the third Spider-Man film beautifully.

11. – Ant-Man

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What is it with Marvel casting comedic actors as fantastic action stars?  Paul Rudd was a surprising choice to play Ant-Man, but he ended up knocking the role out of the park, and Ant-Man was one of the funniest MCU movies ever.  I have a lot of love for this movie, from the great characters, wicked humour, intriguing origin tale, and the fact that this movie is essentially a super-powered heist story.  It features a fantastic cast, each of whom add so much to the tale, from Rudd’s excellent comedy, Evangeline Lilly’s badass Hope van Dyne, Michael Douglas’s take on iconic comic character Hank Pym, and Michael Peña’s hilarious Luis.  The real strength of this film is the outstanding size shifting, as Rudd and Corey Stoll’s villainous Yellowjacket shrink and grow throughout the film.  I was blown away by the really cool graphics surrounding the shrinking, and you have to laugh as a variety of items are shrunk and grown throughout the final climatic battle.  There was also a great appearance from Anthony Mackie as Falcon, and it is one of the more entertaining hero-on-hero fights out there.  An impressive and hilarious thrill ride that will have you chuckling the entire time.

10. – Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

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One of the most re-watchable films in the entire series is Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.  This sequel is pure fun, bringing back the amazing elements that made people love the first film.  Featuring an outstanding cast, an unbelievably catchy musical score and another fantastic story, you are in for a lot of excitement.  The returning cast continue to seamlessly inhabit the roles they played in the first film, and it is impossible not to fall in love with Baby Groot.  Kurt Russell serves as a particularly good villain (just ignore the de-aging in the first scene), and I loved the eventual reveal of his true nature.  This movie is exciting from start to finish, with a bonkers finale that culminates in two godlike beings fighting with a range of creations, including Pacman.  However, the most memorable and touching part of the movie is the death of Michael Rooker’s Yondu Udonta, a scene guaranteed to make you cry, especially at the funeral with Father & Son playing.  Other highlights include five post-credit scenes, a unique and catchy credit song and one of the best David Hasselhoff cameos ever.  I honestly enjoyed this one just as much as the first, but due to a slightly weaker story and some lost character development, I have it slightly lower on the list.

9. – Guardians of the Galaxy

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From the sequel to the original, the first Guardians of the Galaxy film clocks in at number nine.  While now an established part of the MCU and wider Marvel Comics, Guardians of the Galaxy was originally a bit of a gamble, as it featured a somewhat obscure group of Marvel characters.  Luckily, the gamble paid off, as director James Gunn produced an outstanding and memorable film, with its own unique style and humour.  Bringing together five excellent actors in the central roles, and expanding the borders of the MCU into space, there is so much going on in this epic movie.  The epic music gives the entire movie a touch of nostalgia, and several great acting careers were made thanks to this film.  A beloved and exceptional entry in this amazing franchise.

8. – Spider-Man: Homecoming

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There have been many attempts to do a great Spider-Man film over the years, but the most recent might be the most successful.  Following on from Civil War, Tom Holland brings Spider-Man to his own movie in Homecoming, which takes the character back to his roots as a high school student turned crime-fighter.  This is a sweet and compelling film that shows an eager Spider-Man attempting to rise to his potential.  Holland perfectly inhabits the character in a way few others have, and it was great to have a younger, fresher face to the iconic role.  This movie has a great story to it, and I loved the combination of wider conspiracy and the adventures of a teenage hero.  Michael Keaton is at his best as the Vulture, giving the character a very sinister edge, especially in that menacing car scene.  MCU newcomers Zendaya, Jacob Batalon and Tony Revolori all add so much to the movie’s humour, from Zendaya playing the snarky girl who is totally not watching Peter, to Batalon playing Ned, Peter’s guy in the chair.  I also love the use of Robert Downey Jr and Jon Favreau in this film, particularly as they start the fun tradition of having another hero mentoring Parker in one of the films.  A great and memorable film.

7. – The Avengers

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Next we have the film that proved that a joint superhero franchise could work, The AvengersThe Avengers is possibly one of the most significant films in the entire MCU, due to the way it brought together the stars of the various introductory movies and forged a cohesive, team-based narrative around them.  Established MCU stars Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L Jackson all perfectly bring their respective characters back and the various larger-than-life personalities have a wonderful time interacting with each other.  Hiddleston shines as the villainous Loki, adding more depth and madness to his already great character, crafting one of the best villains of all time.  In addition, the newly cast Mark Ruffalo proved it was possible for someone to do a good Hulk.  All these actors, characters and existing storylines come together perfectly and viewers are left with a sensational film with some amazing sequences to it.  While the front half of the movie is great, it really picks up steam in the second half, especially after one of the most tragic MCU moments (Coulson, nooooooo!!!).  The battle of New York was one of the most epic moments in film up at that point, and I loved director Joss Whedon’s use of continuous shots.  A perfect first introduction of The Avengers, this series could only go up from here.

6. – Captain America: Civil War

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Sixth spot is given to the amazing third Captain America movie, Civil War.  Loosely based on the Marvel crossover comic of the same name, this film serves as a mini-Avengers movie, bringing in all the characters who appeared in Age of Ultron, as well as Ant-Man, Spider-Man, Winter Soldier and Black Panther.  Serving as a perfect introduction to several amazing characters (Spider-Man and Black Panther really shine here), there is such a good story behind this movie, especially as Captain America and Iron Man are manipulated into fighting each other.  Featuring several epic scenes, including that unbelievably awesome airport fight, and the final emotional battle between two former friends, you cannot leave Civil War without having your pulse raised to the max, especially in that iconic moment when Iron Man’s repulsor beam hits Cap’s shield.  The directors really focus on characters here, and there is so much amazing drama and development.  I do think that the villain, played by Daniel Brühl, was a little understated, but the rivalry between the two main heroes more than makes up for it.  Easily one of the most iconic films in the franchise.

5. – Iron Man

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At number five, we go back to where this series started, with the first film, Iron Man.  This outstanding film completely revolutionised the superhero genre.  Featuring a perfectly cast Robert Downey Jr in the lead role, as well as a great group of supporting characters, this film captures the transition from playboy to a selfless hero.  With a tight, powerful story, this movie perfectly combines action, drama, and comedy to make an exceptional film.  The graphics are amazing and still hold up to this day, and there is a great gradual visual evolution of the Iron Man armour.  Despite there being no guarantee that this movie would succeed, the creative team manages to tell a great solo story, while also laying much of the groundwork for the wider MCU to come.  Not only did a surprise Samuel L Jackson cameo popularise the current trend of post-credit scenes, but there are several great references to characters and locations that would be used for years to come.  One of the best films in the franchise to focus on one superhero character, this is the film an entire franchise was built on, and boy did they chose an outstanding foundation stone.

4. – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

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When Captain America: The Winter Soldier was announced, I do not think any of us were prepared for just how incredible this film would be.  In their first MCU film, the Russo brothers created one of the most thrilling espionage films in the entire franchise, with twist after twist layered into its captivating narrative.  Chris Evans reaches a whole new level in this film, and his usually naïve and wholesome Captain America is forced to get down into the dirt to defeat his enemies.  Making great use of franchise regulars Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L Jackson and Cobie Smulders, as well as a returning Sebastian Stan, this was an incredibly well cast movie.  I loved the introduction of Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, and it is always great to go back and see where the future Captain America’s journey begins.  Legendary actor Robert Redford is a pretty sinister villain, and I loved the change of pace for this great actor.  However, I must really highlight Stan’s turn as the Winter Soldier.  While I knew who would be behind the mask, it was still a fantastic portrayal of this great character, and you will be moved by his tragic plight.  There are so many epic moments to this movie, and I loved the big twist about Hydra and SHIELD that would change everything about this franchise (it was so good, it turned Agents of SHIELD into a completely different show).  A powerful and captivating film that is one of the absolute classics.

3. – Thor: Ragnarok

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We are now down to the final three, which are easily the best.  Third spot is given to the zany and the fantastically hilarious Thor: Ragnarok.  I know many people, myself included, were unimpressed when they announced that they were doing a new Thor movie.  However, the moment the first trailer came out, I knew that this would be something different.  The brilliant but insane Taika Waititi used all his substantial creativity to produce a wild and crazy thrill ride which takes Thor on a bonkers adventure of self-discovery.  Killing off many of the worst elements of the first two films (sometimes literally; goodbye Warriors Three), and adding in more humour, fantastic actors and an outstanding story, Ragnarok instantly stood out from the other films in the franchise.  Waititi let Hemsworth unleash his full comedic potential in this film, ensuring that fans were laughing along with every sentence.  Cate Blanchett was a fantastically evil villain, while Tessa Thompson brought a drunken anger to the new character of Valkyrie, plus you cannot ignore the hilarious Korg.  Add in a returning Hulk, a teleporting Dr Strange, and the madness personified that is Jeff Goldblum, and you have a cast that is capable of outshining even Tom Hiddleston’s excellent Loki, although Hiddleston is still a hilarious treat with some of the best lines.  Despite this mainly being a comedy, Waititi adds in enough drama and some spectacular drama to hit the feels button, and you run the full range of emotions in this film.  Beautiful filmmaking at its best, you will spend this film laughing your head off at all the awesome jokes.

2. – Avengers: Endgame

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To beat Ragnarok on this list is a pretty tall order, so let us bring in the highest grossing film of all time and the utter culmination of 11 years and 22 films, with Avengers: Endgame.  Following on from the epic conclusion of Infinity War, Endgame is set in a universe where half the universe has been turned to dust, including some of your favourite characters.  When an opportunity to reverse this is presented, the remaining heroes jump at the chance and find themselves facing the biggest battle of their lives.  There is so much that is epic and awesome about this film, from the continued use of the amazing extended MCU cast, to the sheer tragic sadness that inhabits the world after so much loss and defeat.  Each of the surviving characters is caught up in their grief and helplessness, resulting in many different forms, including Ronin Hawkeye and fat Thor (a brilliant comedic choice that is just so hilarious and unexpected).  This film has literally every major hero from the franchise, and more, come together, and the amazing Russo brothers manage to ensure every single one of them gets their moment and no-one is overlooked.  There is an amazing story to this film, raging from time travel adventure to epic battle for survival, with several characters’ journey in the MCU coming to an end.  I challenge anyone not to react during the two big scenes at the end (He is Worthy, and Avengers Assemble), and you will leave this film breathless and in utter joy and happiness.  A worthy and exceptional film that nearly topped the entire list.

1. – Avengers: Infinity War

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That leaves only one film left at the top, and for me the absolute best film in the entire MCU film series is Avengers: Infinity War.  This was a hard choice to make, and while I could have easily moved up Endgame due to shear epicness, I felt Infinity War was the stronger movie.  Not only does it bring together the events of the previous MCU films perfectly, showing fun new character interactions and fights, but it has an incredible and powerful story backed up with an exceptional cast and some amazing visuals.  There are so many cool moments to this film, and very few things you could criticize.  In addition to the outstanding and massive returning cast of characters, James Brolin absolutely shined as Thanos, and this film cemented him as one of the greatest film villains of all time.  Viewers knew that they were going to experience some heartbreak with this film, but nothing quite prepared you for seeing the tragic deaths of several characters, especially Gamora.  Top it off with that memorable and heart-breaking ending, where the villain actually wins and your favourite characters are dusted right before your eyes.  I think every single person left this movie in shock and awe, and there was no way that I could place any other film higher on this list.

Well that is the end of that list.  I think that I chose pretty wisely when it came to my rankings, and this is how I would truly rate each and every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Now, I know that not everyone is going to agree with my ratings (heck I would be extremely surprised if anyone else had the exact same order I do), so feel free to share your feelings in the comments below, and I look forward to seeing which films you enjoyed.  If people like this list, I may revisit it again this time next year, especially as there are six new MCU films coming out between now and then, and it will be extremely interesting to see where the upcoming MCU films end up ranking.  I am particularly keen for Thor: Love and Thunder, Spider-Man: No Way Home and Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness, and I think that all three have a lot of potential.  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, also sound like amazing films, and I am extremely keen to see how they turn out.  I have rather less faith in Eternals, despite its loaded cast; however, I have been surprised before.  Until then, make sure to comment below and have fun enjoying the glorious MCU whenever you are feeling down.

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Greater Good Cover

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio (Audiobook – 27 April 2021)

Series: Thrawn Ascendancy – Book Two

Length: 16 hours and 17 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5

One of the most impressive authors of Star Wars fiction in the world today, the legendary Timothy Zahn, returns with another epic entry in his Thrawn Ascendancy series, Greater Good, which continues to explore the early life of that awesome Star Wars character, Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Zahn is an outstanding author who has been writing Star Wars fiction since 1991, with the highly regarded Heir to the Empire.  Since then, Zahn has written several amazing Star Wars novels in both the current canon and the Star Wars Legends canon.  While I have not read all of Zahn’s Star Wars novels (yet!), the ones I have were all incredible and are some of my all-time favourite Star Wars novels (such as the awesome Star Wars: Scoundrels).  However, his most distinctive works have all surrounded the awesome character of Thrawn.

Grand Admiral Thrawn is an alien officer in the Imperial Navy, renowned for his amazing tactical knowledge, brilliance in battle and ability to discern insights about his opponents by observing their personality or culture, especially art.  Ever since his introduction in Heir to the Empire, Thrawn has been a firm favourite among the fans, so much so that he was one of the few characters from the Legends extended universe reintroduced in the new canon.  This reintroduction was done in the third season of the Star Wars: Rebels animated series, where he served as an impactful antagonist for the third and fourth season.  It also looks like Thrawn will also be getting a live-action appearance at some point in the future after his name was dropped in The Mandalorian, which is pretty damn exciting.

The character has been heavily featured in the current range of Star Wars novels, as Zahn was brought back in to write some exciting new Thrawn-based novels.  This started with a brand new Thrawn trilogy in 2017, made up of Thrawn, Alliances and Treason, which showed how Thrawn joined the Imperial Navy and his early career as an officer.  These novels were all incredible reads (Thrawn got a five-star review from me, and Treason was one of the best books I read in 2019), and I loved the character’s unique adventures.  Thrawn’s story was furthered expanded last year with Chaos Rising; the first novel in Zhan’s Thrawn Ascendancy series, which examines the character’s pre-Empire life. 

While the armies of the Republic and the Separatists battle for supremacy in the Clone Wars, another deadly conflict is occurring beyond the bounds of known space.  Deep in the unexplored regions, known as the Chaos, the mighty Chiss Ascendancy have just defeated the forces of General Yiv the Benevolent, shattering his empire, the Nikardun Destiny, and bringing peace back to their territories.  As the Chiss Ascendancy returns to normal, they are unaware that they are still under attack from a malevolent and clever foe that is determined to finish off the Chiss once and for all.

On a Chiss agricultural planet, a group of peaceful and seemingly harmless aliens have arrived, seeking to temporarily make a home.  In addition to their good nature, kind hearts and unique spices, these aliens have also brought something of great value that many people will kill for.  As news of the alien’s resources spread, cracks begin to appear in the very foundation of the Ascendancy, as the various powerful families fight for supremacy.

With civil war on the horizon, the future of the Chiss Ascendancy may lay in the hands of the brilliant and infamous Senior Captain Mitth’raw’nuruodo of the Chiss Expansionary Defence Fleet.  Thrawn, who is personally responsible for the defeat of Yiv and the Nikardun, is currently investigating the origins of their attack on the Ascendancy and, in doing so, comes across a previously unknown planet destroyed by its own deadly civil war.  As Thrawn attempts to explore this new mystery, he soon finds himself in the midst of a dark conspiracy.  An unseen force is attempting to take control of the entire Chaos, and the Chiss are the greatest obstacle to their plot.  Hamstrung by politics, family ties and his own inability to see the deeper motivations of his fellow Chiss, can Thrawn stop the oncoming conflict before it is too late, or will the Chiss Ascendancy burn from the inside out?

Zahn has once again produced an exceptional and outstanding piece of Star Wars fiction that further explores the fantastic early adventures of his greatest creation.  Greater Good is an excellent middle novel in this cool trilogy, and readers will deeply enjoy this book’s blend of intricate storytelling, great characters and impressive universe-building.  All of this results in an exciting and compelling novel that quickly draws readers in and has absolutely no trouble keeping their attention.  I had an outstanding time getting through this great novel and I was able to power through its audiobook format in no time at all.

At the heart of this outstanding novel is a clever and addictive narrative that follows Thrawn and a bevy of supporting characters as the Chiss Ascendancy finds itself in danger from an indirect attack.  Greater Good follows on immediately after Chaos Rising, and examines the next stage of a compelling conspiracy against the Chiss, while also focusing on Thrawn’s battles during this period.  The author utilises a substantial number of alternate perspectives to tell a rich and varied story and, while Thrawn is the centre of much of the book’s plot, Zahn has widened the focus of the novel with several compelling storylines and characters.  These include an investigation into the origins of a Nikardun attack on a remote planet, several jaunts out into different parts of space, internal political conflicts that are a threat to Thrawn, and exciting encounters with other inhabitants of the Chaos.  There is also a substantial focus on a new plot to destroy the Chiss, which includes several compelling flashback sequences that examines the origins and initial planning of the conspiracy.  This use of flashback is pretty impressive, and while certain aspects of the antagonist’s storyline are a tad odd, it was still an interesting tale.  I really enjoyed the vast array of different storylines and character arcs that really highlighted the richness of the setting and the unique plotlines they could inspire.  While some of these storylines might seem rather disconnected at times, Zahn cleverly brings them together at the end of the novel, resulting in a very impressive and intriguing conclusion.

As with most of Zahn’s novels, Greater Good is loaded to the brim with Star Wars lore and intriguing universe-expanding ideas as the author dives deeper into the origins, culture and history of the Chiss Ascendancy.  Zahn really expands on what he introduced in his previous Thrawn and Thrawn Ascendancy novels, especially Chaos Rising, and highlights the proud Chiss warrior culture.  A vast amount of new information of the Ascendancy is featured within this latest book, and the reader gets a fascinating look at the planets, political makeup and social hierarchy of this race, especially at the family level.  Not only is this really intriguing, especially for those readers who have enjoyed Zahn’s previous additions to the Star Wars canon, but the author uses it extremely well within the plot.  Much of the main narrative, including the conspiracy that threatens to destroy the Chiss, is based on their family makeup and the accompanying politics and family mentalities that go along with that.  I felt that Zahn integrated this into the narrative extremely well, forcing the characters to navigate their unusual and insane politics in order to survive.

The author also expands the reader’s knowledge of the previously unexplored area of the Star Wars universe known as the Chaos.  The Chaos, thanks to certain celestial anomalies, is harder to navigate and transverse than regular space; it is a mess of isolated planets, unknown societies and new alien races.  Zahn introduces several new aliens throughout this novel, with each unusual race playing an interesting role in the overall story.  I love the unique Star Wars setting of the Chaos, especially as many of the established Star Wars rules and technology are not as present.  For example, the various warships have some different armaments and shielding, such as acid-filled missiles, resulting in some unique and previously unseen battle tactics.  It was also interesting to see the different takes on the Force that the inhabitants of the Chaos have come up with.  Without any Jedi present, the various races within the Chaos each have their own interpretations or uses for the Force, such as the Chiss Sky-Walkers, young children who can use the Force to help ships navigate the Chaos more effectively, and it was intriguing to encounter different views of this throughout Greater Good.  Hardcore Star Wars fans will enjoy the intriguing additions that Zahn makes to the expanded universe, and the final few pages hint at some major lore introductions occurring in the next Thrawn Ascendancy novel that I am rather curious about.

While this was a great book and piece of Star Wars fiction, I did feel that it required some pre-knowledge of Zahn’s prior works.  The narrative of Greater Good is heavily linked to the events of its preceding novel, Chaos Rising, and while the author does re-explain some of the elements or storylines, a lot of the plot does rather assume you read the first book.  Having greatly enjoyed Chaos Rising, I was able to follow this quite easily, but I could easily see some newer readers getting a little lost or overwhelmed in places.  In addition, parts of the Thrawn Ascendancy series are heavily linked to the events of the previous Thrawn trilogy, and certain references or comments might not make much sense unless you had already read these books.  As a result, I would suggest newer readers check out some of Zahn’s earlier novels first, although it is still possible to enjoy Greater Good without it.  Those readers who have enjoyed these prior books are definitely in for a great treat though and will find the deeper dive into the Chiss and Thrawn’s past to be really enjoyable.

I cannot review one of Zahn’s Thrawn-centric novels without talking about the awesome space battle sequences they contain.  Each of these awesome books features some impressive and detailed space battles as the protagonists encounter a range of ships and fleets that they must fight against.  Greater Good is a particularly good example of this, as Zahn has written several outstanding sequences that are attention-grabbing and fun.  The sheer level of detail and planning that Zahn puts into these action sequences is incredible, and you get an amazing sense of what is occurring during the battle as well as the associated tactics and plans.  The sequences involving Thrawn are easily the best, as Zahn goes out of his way to showcase the character’s tactical brilliance.  This results in some very elaborate sequences, as Thrawn quickly determines the weaknesses of his opponents and uses that knowledge to craft intricate and somewhat insane strategies to utterly defeat them.  Watching these plans come to fruition is always amazing, especially as the reader has no idea in advance what is going on in Thrawn’s mind.  Instead, you only get to see the brilliance and impact of his tactics at the same time as the other characters, and it is always a lot of fun seeing how Thrawn was able to come to his conclusions about his opponents and use them against him.  Zahn comes up with some outstanding sequences for Greater Good that are guaranteed to leave readers on the edge of their seats.

In addition to the awesome narrative, action and universe-building, Greater Good also features an awesome collection of characters, each of whom add so much to the novel.  Naturally, the most impressive character is Thrawn himself.  Even amongst his own people, Thrawn is a strange being who sees the world in a very unique way, and everyone he encounters is impressed by his tactical know-how and unnatural observational skills.  I always enjoy the way in which Zahn depicts Thrawn’s actions in the novel, as Thrawn is one of the few characters whose perspective we do not see.  Instead, Thrawn is only portrayed through the eyes of the major point-of-view characters who observe and react to his actions.  Not only does this remove the inherent difficulties in depicting Thrawn’s mind, but it really enhances the impacts of his deductions and subsequent reactions.  The observing characters view Thrawn making his moves or claiming some impossible bit of knowledge, and then slowly work out how he did it, either through their own observations or thanks to comments by Thrawn.  This is done in a similar manner to the classic Sherlock Holmes novels, with the supporting characters in Greater Good acting in the role of Watson to witness and be impressed by the protagonist’s intelligent leaps.  Like with Sherlock Holmes, the use of the outside narrator in Greater Good deeply enhances the impact of Thrawn’s action, resulting in some awesome scenes.

One of the intriguing aspects of Thrawn’s character in Greater Good that I appreciated was the way in which Zahn continued to highlight his character’s one major weakness: politics.  Thrawn has absolutely no concept of politics, family alliances or some of the inner conflicts impacting the Chiss, and as such is unable to defend himself or others against political ambitions or vindictiveness.  I always really enjoy this trait in the Thrawn novels, especially as it gives Thrawn a noticeable weakness, while also enhancing the impact his fellow supporting characters have, as all of them understand politics better and can help Thrawn in this arena.  This blindness to political realities is particularly important in Greater Good, as not only is Thrawn being attacked by politicians from within his own family but the main threat facing the Chiss is more political than militaristic in nature.  This results in a rather intriguing handicap for Thrawn throughout Greater Good, and it was cool to see the sort of plan that the character came up with to compensate for it, as well as the mistakes he then makes.  Overall, Thrawn is a pretty awesome and fascinating character to follow, and I cannot wait to see what events happen to him in the final book in the trilogy.

Aside from Thrawn, I also really enjoyed some of the supporting characters featured throughout Greater Good.  In addition to being perfect conduits to observing Thrawn’s actions, each of these characters have their own intriguing storylines, many of which are continuing from Chaos Rising.  Examples of this include Thrawn’s old friend, Admiral Ar’alani, Thrawn’s second in command Mid Captain Samakro, the former Sky-Walker Thalias, who has tied her fate with that of Thrawn, and the powerful Mitth family politician, Thurfian, who serves as a secondary antagonist.  Each of these characters is further developed in Greater Good, and I enjoyed some of the cool storylines that Zhan is coming up for them.  Thurfian’s storyline is particularly intriguing going into the next novel, as the final scenes hint that he is going to come into possession of some very interesting knowledge soon.

Zhan also introduces several great new characters throughout Greater Good, many of whose narratives are tied into the malevolent plot to destroy the Chiss.  I found myself quite intrigued by the character of Lakinda, a fellow Senior Captain in the Chiss Expansionary Defence Fleet, who serves alongside Thrawn.  Not only does Lakinda offer an intriguing alternate observation angle on Thrawn, tinged with a bit of jealously and mistrust, but this character provides greater insight into the Chiss family structure.  Lakinda is an extremely loyal member of a mid-tier Chiss family, and she often finds her loyalties conflicted as she attempts to choose between family and the fleet.  This results in some captivating and emotional sequences which really help to highlight the unusual nature of Chiss society.

I also quite liked how Zahn spends time following the main antagonist of Greater Good, the mysterious alien Haplif.  Haplif and his people have been hired by a mysterious third party to orchestrate chaos and dissent within the Chiss Ascendancy to destroy them.  As a result, he masterminds an ingenious plot to promote conflict between various members of the Ascendancy.  I really enjoyed the complex and clever plot that this character came up with, and it was really cool to see him manage to manipulate several people throughout the course of the book, and he was an interesting alternative to the previous antagonist, Yiv.  It was a little odd to see Haplif, a supposedly brilliant planner and master manipulator, find his plans constantly stymied by a spoiled teenager and a backwater rancher, but it was fun to see his arrogance work against him.  All of these characters are amazing, and I really appreciate the time and effort that Zahn put into developing them.

It will not surprise anyone that I ended up listening to this Star Wars novel’s audiobook format rather than seeking out a physical copy of the book.  I absolutely love Star Wars audiobooks, and this was another excellent example that comes highly recommended.  The Greater Good audiobook has a runtime of just over 16 hours, which, while substantial for a Star Wars novel, is extremely easy to get through, especially once you become engrossed in Zahn’s cool story.  Like most modern Star Wars audiobooks, Greater Good makes amazing use of the classic Star Wars sound effects and film score to enhance the story.  I particularly enjoyed its use in Greater Good’s various space combat sequences, and it really amps up how epic those scenes were.

The real standout of this audiobook was the outstanding narration by Marc Thompson.  Thompson is an experienced narrator of Star Wars fiction who, aside from contributing his voice to all the books in the Thrawn and Thrawn Ascendancy novels, has also narrated awesome audiobooks like Light of the Jedi, Doctor Aphra, Dooku: Jedi Lost, Dark Disciple and more.  Thompson does an incredible voice for Thrawn that is filled with the character’s control, intelligence, and gentle menace, and which is very, very close to how the character is portrayed in Star Wars: Rebels.  This amazing voice for Thrawn is easily one of the best parts of the audiobook, and it is fun to listen to the character lay out his elaborate strategies in Thompsons’s awesome tones.  Aside from Thrawn, Thompson also produces a great range of different voices for Greater Good’s supporting characters.  Each character gets their own distinctive voice, which matches their personality and physical qualities, and the listener is never in doubt about who is talking.  I also quite enjoyed how Zahn makes fun accommodations for the various different species featured within the audiobook, tailoring his voices to make them sound more alien at times.  Zahn also gives more rural accents to some of the Chiss characters featured in this novel who are from, or are located on more backwater planets, which I thought was a very nice touch.  All of these amazing features help to turn the Greater Good audiobook in an absolute treat for your ears, and it is an incredible way to enjoy this epic novel.

Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good is another exceptional piece of Star Wars fiction from Timothy Zahn.  Featuring his iconic and impressive creation, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Greater Good serves as an outstanding second entry in the Thrawn Ascendancy series, which charts the early life of this great character.  With a clever and exciting story, chock full of universe building, fantastic characters and some unique and memorable battle moments, Greater Good is an excellent novel that comes highly recommended.  I have so much love for Zahn’s Thrawn and Thrawn Ascendancy novels and, after really enjoying Greater Good, I am very excited to see how this series ends.  The final book in the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy, Lesser Evil, is coming out in November 2021, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Star Wars: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

Publisher: Random House Audio (Audiobook – 2 March 2021)

Series: Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron – Book Three

Length: 16 hours and 19 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

One of the best Star Wars tie-in series comes to an epic and impressive end, as Alexander Freed presents Star Wars: Victory’s Price, the amazing third and final entry in the awesome Alphabet Squadron trilogy.

Since its inception in 2014, the current Star Wars extended universe has featured an amazing range of novels that tie into the various movies and television series.  One of the best has been the Alphabet Squadron trilogy from acclaimed author Alexander Freed.  Alphabet Squadron is a particularly compelling trilogy that follows a fantastic group of mismatched Rebel and Imperial pilots who continue to fight in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi.  This series has so far featured two excellent entries: the great introductory novel Alphabet Squadron, and the outstanding second entry, Shadow Fall, both of which I have deeply enjoyed.  As a result, I have been looking forward to seeing how the series ends and I think that Freed has left the best to last with this epic and powerful read.

The Emperor and Darth Vader may be dead, and the second Death Star destroyed, but the war is far from over.  Nearly a year after the battle of Endor, conflict still reigns in the galaxy between the forces of the New Republic and the remnants of the Empire.  In nearly every battlefield, the Empire’s forces are in retreat and disarray, apart from the notorious pilots of the 204th Imperial Fighter Wing, better known as Shadow Wing.  Led by the dangerous Imperial TIE Fighter ace, Colonel Soran Keize, Shadow Wing continue to bring death and destruction to the Empire’s enemies, slipping away when their vile deeds are done.

However, despite their skills and strategies, Shadow Wing is in constant danger as New Republic forces, under the command of General Hera Syndulla, are pursuing them.  Syndulla is determined to end the threat of Shadow Wing utilising the ragtag pilots of the unique unit known as Alphabet Squadron, each of whom has a score to settle with Shadow Wing, to lead the fight against them.  However, the members of Alphabet Squadron, Wyl Lark, Chass na Chadic, Nath Tensent and Kairos, are still recovering from their last traumatic encounter with Shadow Wing on Cerberon, as well as the revelation that their former leader, Yrica Quell, was an active participant of Operation Cinder, the Emperor’s genocidal last order to destroy multiple disloyal planets.

As Hera and Alphabet Squadron attempt to find their prey, they begin to discover just how dangerous the cornered Shadow Wing has become, as their opponents begin to enact a new version of Operation Cinder.  Worse, Alphabet Squadron are shocked to discover that Yrica Quell is still alive and has re-joined her old comrades in Shadow Wing.  As the two forces engage in battle again, the loyalties of Alphabet Squadron will be tested like never before while Quell attempts to determine just whose side she is truly on.  The conflict will finally end above the skies of Jakku, as the Imperial and New Republic fleets engage in their final battle.  Can Alphabet Squadron finally put an end to the evils of Shadow Wing, or will Soran Keize’s master plan change the entire galaxy forever?

Now this is what all pieces of Star Wars fiction should be like.  Victory’s Price is an exceptional and impressive novel that had me hooked from the very beginning.  Not only does Freed do an amazing job of wrapping up the Alphabet Squadron trilogy but he also provides the reader with fantastic action sequences and some outstanding characters.  This is easily one of the best Star Wars novels I have read in ages and it gets a full five-star rating from me.

For this final book, Freed has come up with a powerful story set within the iconic Star Wars universe.  Starting right after the events of Shadow Fall, Victory’s Price sees the members of Alphabet Squadron separated and traumatised as their protracted and personal conflict with Shadow Wing begins.  This leads into a series of exciting encounters and battles in space as Alphabet Squadron pursues Shadow Wing during their latest mission, while the leader of Shadow Wing hatches a plan to end the war on his terms.  At the same time, each of the characters attempts to deal with issues or distress raised in the previous novels, whether it be Quell’s conflicted loyalties or Chass’s post-fight trauma.  All of this leads to some epic and impressive final confrontations as the two sides meet for the very last time.  This was an extremely good character-driven read, and I loved the very cool way that Freed finished off this amazing series. 

While it is an amazing Star Wars novel, Freed focuses more on the war part of the book, turning this into a gritty story of survival, loyalty and conflict, which makes for a powerful piece of fiction.  While obviously best enjoyed by those readers familiar with the rest of the series, Victory’s Price is a very accessible novel which new readers can follow without any trouble.  Thanks to the awesome use of multiple character perspectives, Victory’s Price has an excellent flow to it, and the readers are supplied with clever twists, cool action sequences and impressive character moments as the protagonists come to terms with their place in the universe and the constant fighting.  This ended up being quite an intense tale of war and life, which not only perfectly wrapped up the Alphabet Squadron series but which also had me engrossed from the very minute I started reading it.

One of the major things that I liked about this book was the way in which it added to the Star Wars expanded universe.  This series has always done a cool job of exploring what happened after Return of the Jedi, and it is always interesting and somewhat more realistic to see that the war did not end as soon as the Emperor died.  However Freed has painted this period as a particularly dark and deadly part of the war, and I love seeing how he envisioned what happened to members of the New Republic and Empire after Endor.  Victory’s Price focuses on the very end of the civil war, showing another side of the events that lead up to the battle of Jakku and fitting its original characters into this conflict.  This is a cool part of the book, and I loved seeing another version of the epic battle of Jakku, a major conflict that has been featured in several other novels and pieces of fiction.  Freed also takes the time to explore and answer several other intriguing questions, such as the mystery behind the Emperor’s messengers, the creepy red-clad droids who project holograms of the Emperor’s face, which sought out various Imperial commanders after Endor and ordered the various genocides of Operation Cinder.  The solution surrounding the messengers ends up being rather intriguing, and there are even some clever parallels to World War II in there.  Due to the intriguing elements of Star Wars lore featured within, Victory’s Price, like the rest of the Alphabet Squadron series, will probably be enjoyed most by major fans of the franchise, but there are a lot of compelling elements that readers of all knowledge bases will appreciate.  This was truly an exceptional piece of Star Wars fiction and I cannot wait to see what Freed adds to the canon next time.

I really must highlight the outstanding action scenes that Freed came up with for this book.  I am a man who likes his Star War’s action, and I have to say that Victory’s Price has some of the best sequences that I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.  Due to the novel’s focus on fighter pilots, there are naturally a huge number of amazing combat scenes as the rival pilots engage in complex battles in space.  Freed has saved the best for last in this final Alphabet Squadron novel, as the opposing pilots find themselves fighting in a range of unique situations.  The battle scenes are extremely well crafted, filled with elaborate details and fantastic depictions of complex manoeuvres and clever tactics that are guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat with their intense action.  They are also quite emotionally rich, as you witness your favourite characters constantly face near-death experiences in this final entry in the series.  Highlights of these great battle sequences included two fantastic duels between the protagonists and the leader of Shadow Wing, which sees some fancy flying between some of the most skilled pilots in the series in some very distinctive landscapes.  I also really loved the final, elaborate battle set above Jakku, which proved to be a major part of the second half of the book.  Not only do you get the desperate and packed main conflict between the entire New Republic and Imperial fleets, which features destruction and death in every direction, but you also get a more private and quiet final battle between a group of Alphabet Squadron led New Republic fighters and Shadow Wing.  This smaller pitched battle between the two sides fits perfectly into the midst of the wider conflict and is filled with personal turmoil and antagonism as these two rival squadrons meet for a final time.  All these battles come out as being extremely epic and powerful, and I loved every second of the gritty and deadly fights they contained.

While I have a lot of love for Victory’s Price’s epic story, intense action, and clever Star Wars connections, easily the best thing about this book are the complex and well-written characters.  Each of the major characters featured in Victory’s Price have been introduced in the previous Alphabet Squadron novels with some complex and powerful storylines.  In Victory’s Price, all these great arcs reach a climax as the characters meet their final destiny and their stories comes to an end.  I really enjoyed the satisfying conclusions that Freed came up with for his outstanding characters, although in many ways it was sad to see their stories finish.  Still, I really appreciated all the great character arcs contained in this final novel, and Freed ensures they go through the emotional wringer before they go.

At the forefront of these outstanding characters are the five members of Alphabet Squadron who have served as the focal point for the entire series.  The pilots in Alphabet Squadron, so named for their use of a different Rebel Alliance fighter (A-Wing, X-Wing, B-Wing, U-Wing and Y-Wing), are layered and complex individuals, each of whom has experienced their own trauma or betrayal throughout the course of the lengthy war.  All five of these original characters have gone through significant development throughout the course of the previous two novels, and Freed does an exceptional job continuing their journeys in this final book.

The main protagonist of this series is Yrica Quell, a former member of Shadow Wing, who joined Alphabet Squadron in the first novel to help neutralise her former Imperial comrades.  However, it was eventually revealed that Quell, despite claiming she defected from the Empire after refusing to participate in Operation Cinder, aided in the destruction of a planet.  This revelation caused a massive rift in her relationship with the rest of Alphabet Squadron, and she ended up reuniting with Shadow Wing at the end of the second novel.  In this final book, it is revealed that Quell has infiltrated Shadow Wing to bring them down from the inside.  However, upon spending time with her Imperial comrades, she begins to experience doubts about her plan, especially as she sees that the Imperials are just as damaged by the war as she and the New Republic pilots are.  Her plans are further complicated due to her relationship with the leader of Shadow Wing, Soran Keize, her former mentor and the person who initially convinced her to defect to the New Republic.  Quell still has an immense amount of respect for Keize, and strongly believes in several of his plans.  This re-remembered loyalty to Shadow Wing strongly conflicts with her friendships with Alphabet Squadron and the guilt she feels for her role in Operation Cinder, placing Quell in a major quandary for most of the book.  This uncertainty and inner conflict is a really clever part of Quell’s story, and the reader is deeply impacted by her struggle and conflicted loyalties.  This was easily one of the best and most powerful character arcs in Victory’s Price and I really appreciated the outstanding character story that Freed set around Quell.

Victory’s Price also spends a significant amount of time following Quell’s fellow Alphabet Squadron members, Wyl Lark and Chass na Chadic, both of whom have compelling arcs that highlight different aspects of warring soldiers.  Wyl Lark is the young, optimistic member of the squadron who took over leadership at the end of the second novel.  Lark has developed a significant amount throughout the course of this series, and it is great to see him come into his own as a leader and pilot.  However, despite his apparent ease at the role, Lark is plagued by doubts and concerns about the morality of this fight, especially as it conflicts with some of the teachings of his race.  He spends a great deal of this final book coming to terms with his morals, and even attempts to once again contact the members of Shadow Wing to try and find some common ground or a way to end the conflict.  His actions go a long way to humanising the antagonists of the novel and his hope is a refreshing beacon of light in this darker Star Wars book.  I deeply enjoyed seeing the way in which Lark attempts to change the outcome of the war his way, and it was a fascinating addition to the story. 

Chass, on the other hand, is easily the most damaged character in the entire series.  A music-loving veteran pilot who is more afraid of the end of the war and her inevitable slide into irrelevance and despair than her own death, Chass has always been on edge throughout the series.  However, in Victory’s Price, Chass is even more traumatised, especially after learning of the betrayal of her love interest, Quell (which is an intriguing LGBT+ relationship for a Star Wars novel) and has since turned to the teachings of a cult to gain some clarity.  Despite this, Chass is still driven by her anger and her rage and is constantly lashing out at everyone around her, with her death wish a constant anchor around her neck.  Freed has written a complex and moving story around Chass and her suffering, and I deeply appreciate the portrayal of her as a troubled veteran.  I think that Chass’s story comes to a fantastic end in this final novel, especially as she gets closure with several important people in her life.  Both characters are incredibly well written and are fantastic examples of Freed’s exceptional writing ability.

Next up are the final two Alphabet Squadron pilots, Nath Tensent and Kairos.  While both characters have been somewhat overshadowed throughout the series, Freed has developed some intriguing storylines around them which come full circle perfectly in this final novel.  Nath Tensent, a pilot who served both the Empire and the Rebels during the war, has an enjoyable and likeable personality and is the sort of guy who quickly becomes everyone’s best friend.  However, despite the easygoing façade he projects to the world, even Nath is feeling the effects of the war and the constant worry and responsibility is getting to him.  This is particularly exacerbated in Victory’s Price when he becomes a decorated military hero with greater responsibilities and is forced to balance his own selfish goals with the lives of people who look up to him, as well as his very strong concerns for Wyl Lark.  This results in a particularly clever and enjoyable arc, and it was great to see him finally take some responsibility in this war.  I liked the way in which Freed ended Nath’s storyline, especially as it potentially opens another series in the future. 

The final member of the squadron is the mysterious Kairos, an alien of unknown origin with a strong hatred for the Empire and terrifying combat skills.  Despite her intriguing introduction in Alphabet Squadron, Kairos was somewhat left out of the second book after receiving an injury.  However, this is more than rectified in Victory’s Price, as Kairos is featured more prominently and we finally get to see some of her backstory.  Freed comes up with quite the intriguing, if tragic, story for Kairos, and it was fascinating to see her unique alien beliefs and culture, as well as a powerful story of renewal and redemption that accompanies her.  Kairos becomes quite close to two characters in this book, especially after the closest people in her life died in the previous novel, and it was great to see her finally connect, even if only for a short while.  Freed did a fantastic job setting up Kairos’ story in the previous two novels, and I personally loved finally getting some answers regarding this curious character’s identity.

Aside from the members of Alphabet Squadron, several other characters are also shown in great prominence throughout this book.  The one I liked the most was Hera Syndulla, the New Republic general commanding Alphabet Squadron.  Hera is one of the few characters in this novel who Freed did not come up with, as Hera originated in the Star Wars: Rebels animated series and serves as a bridging character to the larger franchise.  Due to how much I love Star Wars: Rebels, I have really enjoyed seeing more of Hera in this series, not only because I am very curious about her post-Rebels life but because she also serves as a great mentor character to the members of Alphabet Squadron.  Hera features a lot more prominently in this final novel and her perspectives are shown nearly as much as the members of Alphabet Squadron.  This extra perspective really added a lot to the story as a whole and I personally really enjoyed seeing Hera take charge and attempt to hunt down Shadow Wing, while also attempting to determine the course of the entire war.  I also really enjoyed the fact that this book shows Hera’s role in the battle of Jakku, which as the largest space battle in the entire civil war, you had to assume she would be a part of.  Hera is naturally a bit of a badass in this battle, as you would expect, and I appreciated that Freed featured more of her in this novel.

The other major character featured within Victory’s Price is Colonel Soran Keize.  Keize is a fantastically complex character who serves as the leader of Shadow Wing and Quell’s Imperial mentor.  Despite nominally being the antagonist of this book, Keize is portrayed as a more of a tragic and misunderstood figure, one who is sick of war and who only has the best concerns of his men at heart.  As a result, Keize is running his own game throughout Victory’s Price and works to get the best result for the members of Shadow Wing.  His convictions, sense of honour and understandable motivations make him a hard character to dislike, and his role in mentoring Quell ensures that she is extremely conflicted when it comes to betraying him.  Keize is also probably the best pilot in this entire series, as he is regarded as the Empire’s ace of aces, and Victory’s Price is where you get to see him soar as he engages in several great battles and duels.  Thanks to this, and his curious character development, Keize is a great character to follow, and I really enjoyed the unique tale Freed told through him. 

Freed also focuses on some of the other pilots on both the New Republic and Imperial sides.  This results in a great combination of complex side or minor characters, each of whom have their own reasons for fighting in the war.  Freed attempts to show that, despite fighting on different sides of the war, these characters really are not that different.  Instead, all of them are soldiers, with several similarities, including their own trauma, PTSD and issues with the war that they are fighting in.  I think it is a testament to Freed’s writing ability that he was able to get me to care about members of the Imperial navy, and it was pretty spectacular the way in which he attempted to show the humanity buried deep within them.  It does mean that the action sequences more emotionally loaded and potentially devastating as you end up not wanting to see some of the pilots dying, but I really appreciated the way in which Freed took the time to explore these compelling side characters.

While I have previously enjoyed the first two Alphabet Squadron novels in their paperback format, circumstances required me to check out Victory’s Price as an audiobook instead, which was pretty damn awesome.  Not only did Victory’s Price feature the usual blend of iconic sound effects and music that makes all Star Wars audiobooks such a treat to enjoy, but I found that the story flowed incredibly well in this format.  With a lengthy runtime of 16 hours and 19 minutes, I absolutely blasted through this book as I became so engrossed in the awesome story and the way in which it was performed as an audiobook.  I also thought that the use of the iconic Star Wars music in the Victory’s Price was particularly impressive, and not only did the music make several of the extended space battle sequences even more epic, but they also really highlighted some of the most emotional scenes in the book and made them strike my soul even more emphatically.  I also really enjoyed the amazing narration from January LaVoy, who has previously provided her voice to the other Alphabet Squadron books.  LaVoy is a particularly skilled narrator whose work on the Star Trek: Discovery tie-in novel, Die Standing, I really enjoyed.  Not only does LaVoy present the awesome details of Victory’s Price in a quick and exciting manner, making each of the action scenes sound particularly cool, but she also provides some great voices for the various characters.  Each of the main characters gets a unique voice which fits them perfectly and which really helps the listener get to grips with their personalities and inner thoughts.  While all of the character’s voices were done extremely well, the best voice that LaVoy did was probably Hera Syndulla’s, which sounded extremely close to the character’s voice in the Star Wars Rebels animated series.  All of this helps to make Victory’s Price’s audiobook an immensely enjoyable experience and I would highly recommend this format to anyone and everyone.

Star Wars: Victory’s Price is an exceptional and powerful novel from Alexander Freed that is one of the best books I have so far read in 2021.  Featuring a dark and gritty war story set during a fascinating period of Star Wars history, Victory’s Price perfectly wraps up the impressive Alphabet Squadron trilogy while also providing some cathartic conclusions to outstanding character arcs that Freed has built up during the previous book.  I absolutely loved this final novel (hence the massive review), and I think that this was probably the best entry in the entire series.  A highly recommended read, especially if you have already enjoyed the rest of the trilogy, this was a truly epic Star Wars novel.

The Queen’s Captain by Peter Watt

The Queen's Captain Cover

Publisher: Macmillan (Trade Paperback – 10 November 2020)

Series: Colonial series – Book Three

Length: 358 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

One of Australia’s top historical fiction authors, Peter Watt, wraps up his ultra-exciting Colonial series with the third and final novel, The Queen’s Captain.

Watt is a fantastic Australian author who has written a huge collection of amazing historical fiction novels, most of which are set in Australia or feature Australian characters.  I have been a fan of Watt’s books for several years now and I have been particularly enjoying his current body of work, the Colonial series.  The Colonial books, which started back in 2018 with The Queen’s Colonial, follow the adventures of Ian Steele, a colonial blacksmith who manages to enlist as an officer in the British army under the name Captain Samuel Forbes, taking the identity of a friend who wished to sit out his military service.  While the real Samuel leaves to go to America, Ian fights in his place for a period of 10 years, which will allow Samuel to claim a substantial inheritance from his ruthless family.  This has so far been a really fun series, and I enjoyed reading The Queen’s Colonial and The Queen’s Tiger.  I have been looking forward to reading this third novel in the series for some time now and I was very excited when I received my copy, especially because the back cover quoted my Canberra Weekly review of The Queen’s Tiger.  I ended up having an awesome time reading this book, and it proved to be another fast-paced and compelling read.

In October 1863, Ian Steele is still fighting for the British crown as Captain Samuel Forbes, known to his men as the Queen’s Colonial.  After helping to put down the Indian Mutiny, Samuel and his comrades, including his long-time friend Sergeant Major Conan Curry, are fighting the Pashtun in the treacherous mountain passes on the north-western frontier of India.  With only a few months left until the 10-year deal with the real Samuel Forbes concludes, Ian is determined to survive so he can claim his reward and finally settle down.  However, with his typical bad luck, he finds himself drawn into several high-profile missions, including a dangerous operation to eliminate a murderous rebel army camped in the jungle.

As Ian fights for Queen and country, his friends are engaged in their own adventures.  In America, the real Samuel Forbes has followed the man he loves into battle, become a lieutenant in the Union army to fight the Confederates.  Back in London, Ella, the women Ian loves, has entered into an unhappy marriage to Russian Count Nikolai Kasatkin.  Determined to have one piece of happiness, Ella attempts to reclaim the son she had with Ian, but the jealous Nikolai will do the unthinkable to spite her.  At the same time, Samuel’s ruthless older brother, Charles Forbes, continues his relentless bid for power and money, while still determined to prove that the Samuel serving in the British army is an imposter.

All of this will come to a head down in the colonies in 1864.  As Ian is transferred to New Zealand to provide advice to the soldiers fighting against the determined Maori, he will come face to face with an old enemy, and the final chapters of his story will be told.  Friends will die, people will be changed in unexpected ways and the Queen’s Colonial will fight his last battle.  How will the story end?

The Queen’s Captain was another excellent novel from Watt, who has produced an exciting and fascinating conclusion to his latest series.  Like the rest of the books in the Colonial series, The Queen’s Captain is an extremely fast-paced story told from a series of different character perspectives around the world.  The book is broken up into two distinctive parts (although the second part only contains the last 100 pages) and features a number of compelling action and intrigue orientated storylines.  This is an extremely easy novel to get into, even for those readers who have not previously enjoyed the Colonial series, and I was able to finish it off in a short period of time as I got caught up in the various battles and double-crosses.  Watt really took this final entry in his series in some interesting directions, and readers will be intrigued by the various ways he finishes up the Colonial books.  There was a real focus on wrapping up every single storyline and character arc throughout The Queen’s Captain, and I really enjoyed the way in which Watt brought the series to end, especially as the overarching narratives comes full circle.  Overall, I felt that The Queen’s Captain was a fantastic way to conclude the Colonial series and readers are in for a real treat with this book.

Like all of Watt’s novels, The Queen’s Captain makes use of a substantial number of point-of-view characters to tell the story.  This is a combination of some of the established characters from the previous Colonial novels as well as several new characters.  This makes for a rather intriguing, character driven novel, especially as Watt was apparently determined to wrap up as many character arcs as possible for this final entry in the series.  There is a particular focus on the characters of Ian, Samuel, Ella, Charles, and Ian and Ella’s child, Josiah, although many of the other point-of-view characters get their time to shine and Watt ensures that they have a decent backstory.  I have really enjoyed seeing several of these characters develop over the course of the series, and it has been rather heart-warming to see how the hard events of their lives has changed several of them.  I was particularly impressed with the characterisation of the real Samuel Forbes in The Queen’s Captain, as he had a fantastic arc in this book.  Samuel, whose hatred of war is a major plot point of the series, actually joins the Union army in this book, following his love James Thorpe into battle, and while he still detests being a soldier, he shows some natural flair as an officer.  I thought that this inclusion in the book was extremely fascinating, and I loved how Samuel’s arc in this book mirrored that of his body-double Ian, with both of them gaining a reputation for courage and bravery from their soldiers, and both gaining an affectionate nickname from their men, with Samuel becoming known as “the Limey Officer”.  Samuel’s storyline in this book is really good, full of all manner of tragedy, heartbreak and dramatic moments, and readers will be deeply surprised how it ends up.  I also have to highlight the character of Charles Forbes in this book.  Charles serves as the series’ main antagonist, as he is determined to bring down both Ian and Samuel while gaining as much power as possible.  Charles is an extremely slimy villain who the reader cannot help but dislike, and I know I had a rather good time seeing him gradually get some comeuppance in this book.  I also quite enjoyed the various ways in which Watt provided conclusions to nearly all the side-characters featured in the series.  Some of these are rather entertaining (I had a good laugh at one in particular), and it was great to get some closure on all of these excellent characters at the end. 

The major highlights of this book are the awesome and thrilling action sequences as The Queen’s Captain’s characters journey through several intense and dangerous battlefields around the world.  The Queen’s Captain features several interesting and impressive battle scenes from around the world and possibly has the greatest variety out of all the books in the Colonial series.  Not only do you have a number of great sequences in India as Ian fights both the Pashtun in the mountains and a group of rebels in the jungle, but you also have battles from the American Civil War as Samuel fights against the Confederates.  There are also some sequences that feature the Maori fighting against the British and the New Zealand settlers which really stand out, despite the fact that this particular conflict only occurs for a short while towards the end of the novel.  Watt has clearly done his research around these battles, as they are loaded with historical detail about the typical combatants and the weapons and tactics they utilised.  The author does an amazing job bringing these sequences to life, and you get a real sense of the desperation and the horror that the participants would have felt on these fields.  I particularly enjoyed the author’s examination of the differences between small-scale guerrilla skirmishes (several of which occur throughout The Queen’s Captain), compared to the larger-scale battles of the past, and Watt includes several hints about how combat was likely to occur in the future.  All these action scenes are extremely awesome to read and they are a great part of The Queen’s Captain, especially as they help the plot to move along at a faster pace.

The Queen’s Captain by Peter Watt was another amazing and enjoyable historical fiction novel that takes the reader on a series of fast-paced adventures around the world.  Watt has done an awesome job wrapping up his Colonial series and readers will have a fantastic time seeing how he has concluded the various storylines and character arcs he has set up over the previous two novels.  A fun and exciting read, The Queen’s Captain comes highly recommended and I look forward to seeing what cool series Peter Watt comes up with next.