One Trilogy to Rule Them All

Last week, the guys discussed which trilogy reigned supreme, and they continue the discussion for your reading enjoyment.


Chris: There’s something special when a trio of movies can surface that all share both a common connection in characters, setting, or story, as well as overall quality. If the comments from last week’s No Right Answer are any indication, those conditions are very rarely ever met, despite how hard movie studios like to try. Apparently, people mostly agree with the three choices we debated, with Toy Story, Nolan’s Batman, and Evil Dead all getting a huge bump. But what people dove into the most was The Lord of the Rings. At this point, I don’t even know what I believe there anymore, but I might as well try to work through it here.

My comment at the very end of the episode had the desired effect of causing a ripple, so it did its job, but I didn’t adequately give my explanation besides the obvious “Eat it.” Personally, I don’t believe LotR is a trilogy when you get right down to it, though I’m not calling its quality into question at all. The way I see it, LotR is one movie, broken into three parts, purely because it’s a story that can’t be told out of order or individually. Star Wars can have the three movies stand by themselves for the most part as they each have clearly defined beginnings, middles, and ends, and the first movie is wholly separate. Even Back to the Future is mostly three separate movies, only connected with the basic framing narrative of “Hey Doc, what’s this Delorean and why can it travel through time?”

This goes to support my Indiana Jones argument as it’s the only one that is entirely unique every time without losing its core. LotR is beautiful, sprawling, and every bit as wonderful as a true fan will tell you, but each movie depends on its place in the overall narrative. Sure, you can understand the story if you were plunked down in Two Towers without having seen Fellowship, but you miss a lot of the context for why certain characters behave the way they do and why other things are important. Anything can still be understood with enough nodding along or asking, but do you really want to be that guy that constantly asks, “Hey, who’s that guy? Why is he doing that? Which side is he working for?” No, you don’t.

So with that said, what about some other trilogies mentioned? Toy Story is one such example I can get behind, and actually almost chose. I definitely would have if we hadn’t already talked Pixar into the ground in previous episodes. Nolan’s Batman series doesn’t really do it for me like it does for others, partly because while I think all three movies are good, they don’t really want or expect you to have any fun. In fact, they’re so gritty and grounded in some sort of slant reality that if you do have any fun, it probably wasn’t the film’s intention. And I just straight up haven’t seen the first two Evil Dead movies and didn’t care for Army of Darkness, so I suppose I have nothing to say in that regard.

You know what really surprised me? That we didn’t get that many snarky answers. I saw a few Matrix trilogy answers thrown around, and maybe a hint of X-Men, but where was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Where was Spider-Man? Where was The Transporter? That last one is so easy! I expect more snark from everyone next week.

And by the way, if we were talking video games, if you aren’t bringing either the Metroid Prime or Donkey Kong Country trilogies into the discussion, you have some games to catch up on, post haste!

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Kyle: So, I didn’t get much time to defend why Back to the Future is the best. So here are the arguments that I couldn’t spit out because Chris shut me down.

First off, Back to the Future as a trilogy does exactly what a film trilogy should: it establishes a world and its rules, presents scenarios that test those rules, and then it gives us the unforeseen consequences of when those rules are broken. While Star Wars establishes worlds, certainly, the fight between good and evil and all the events that fall into place are very telegraphed. Essentially it is a series of inevitable events and logical conclusions to the premises initially given. Indiana Jones, meanwhile, is hardly a connected world with established rules and premises. The first is (in subtext) about Indy’s beliefs and commitments. The second is about his responsibilities to the world he explores, and the third is about what made him what he is. They are three largely unconnected stories about the same larger-than-life character.

My next point: Back to the Future had continuity like you read about. A small moment in the first or second movie pays off by the end of the series, no problem. You have Marty’s accident with the Rolls Royce, Doc’s mentions of sports bets in the first movie (paid off in the second), his mention of the old West and exploring the mystery of women (paid off in the third), Marty going insane when being called chicken, etc. Indiana Jones has very little in the way of continuity. Hell, we were given the three stories out of order. Raiders of the Lost Ark takes place in 1936, Temple of Doom takes place in 1935, and The Last Crusade takes place in 1938. By the way, after the whole “Ark explodes my private island” thing, shouldn’t Hitler know who Jones is and recognize him in Berlin in the third?

Star Wars does a little better. At least it’s in order. Of course, it’s Episode IV through VI, but let’s overlook that. There are still some continuity gaffs and obvious plot points that weren’t thought through as well. I mean, Leia and Luke kissing twice before finding out it’s incestuous, the effects of a lightsaber wound (blood? No blood? vanish? ah, who gives a crap), etc. You have to watch 24 and How I Met Your Mother back to back for several years to see such a difference in bad continuity and good continuity.

And also, Back to the Future shows us the progression of characters through years, decades, even generations. Star Wars shows us Luke’s progression from farm boy to mystic warrior, Han goes from shameless pirate to responsible general. Other than that, there isn’t a ton of progression from anyone else. Leia stays largely the same; Vader makes a snap change in the last fifteen minutes of the series. There isn’t a continuous change.

Indiana Jones never really changes. He remains cynical, noble, intelligent, and defiant through all four movies. Even though he has experiences with different women, different sidekicks, and different villains, the song remains the same.

I guess it’s all in the eye of the beholder, but if I had to sit and watch a trilogy in a single sitting, I’d pick Back to the Future over the others.


Dan: There’s something to be said about the “Grandfather” of something not being the best example of said thing. Just because the original Wolfenstein 3D is the grandfather of first-person shooters doesn’t mean it would be the best FPS ever. So when looking at the Star Wars trilogy as the birthplace of the trilogy concept itself, that doesn’t mean it gets a free ride. Yes, it still holds up today as an excellent example of trilogy but you have to remove the rose-colored visor of nostalgia before you compare it to more contemporary counterparts. Is it better than the Matrix trilogy? Yes, because it didn’t destroy itself in the second and third act. Is it better than the Pirates trilogy? Yes, again same reason. Just want to get that out there for anyone who would be upset that I didn’t win just by the mere mention of the title.

On to the points. It was tough with a three-way debate to rake up the points, and as you might have noticed there were point penalties for the ancillary products that drag the owning trilogy down. We started with myself, posting the fact that more than Indiana Jones and to some degree Back to the Future, the second Star Wars film demanded a third one to finish up the trilogy. The second Indy film was technically a prequel, and didn’t leave the viewer in any dire need other then the desire for awesomeness for another film. The second Back to the Future film did leave on a cliffhanger, but no one was in danger. Doc could have been rescued at Marty’s leisure, with no stakes or rush at all. After all, he had a time machine. The Star Wars trilogy needed to be a trilogy, not because the studio wanted more money, not because the fans demanded it, but because the story needed a three-act structure.

Chris came in hard with the Indy trilogy, citing the interchangeability of the three films, and how they can be viewed in any order while still working. Not only that, but the argument pushing this over the top is that the third film is by many standards the best of the three … they somehow got better! The first is amazing, and the second one is flawed but still pretty great. Everyone knows the “Kali-Ma” move, the bug scenes, and the chilled monkey brains. That’s the type of quote-ability and pop culture permeation that you don’t get with a run of the mill cash grab. Star Wars needs to be viewed in order or the story falls apart, and Back to the Future can be watched out of order, but its best when put in the right slots.

Kyle stepped into the arena with the argument that the plot arc and interweaving of Back to the Future is just amazing. True, no time travel movie besides Primer has come close to the timeline merging shenanigans that Doc caused, yet this trilogy does the best job of any movie explaining how the timelines work. With the first movie establishing time travel, the second film detailing how time travel can be abused, and the third movie showing how time itself can be dangerous, the trilogy does an excellent job of proving that it needed to exist. You have to have the first movie to show the characters, and boy was it fun. You have to have the second film, to show an evil future where the bad guys win, and we’re all still waiting for those hoverboards. The third movie is a fun ride into the past where we see our beloved characters out of their element completely. You wouldn’t want to do another film because there’s nothing left, and you can’t cut of them out because we’d be missing an important piece of the pie. It’s just wonderful.

Chris and I lost our points due to the pure horribleness that is the 4th Indy movie and the Star Wars Christmas special/prequel trilogy … take your pick. The fact that Hollywood hasn’t mined Back to the Future to death is the very reason it is the best trilogy ever.

As for Lord of the Rings, I plan on purchasing the extended edition Blu-ray trilogy any day now, but you kinda have to take a day off from work and watch them all in a row to experience the full glory. Guess I’ll be calling in sick soon.

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Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.