The best and worst of pop culture in 2022

The best and worst of pop culture in 2022

The biggest winners (including Top Gun: Maverick, The Bear) and losers (think Ticketmaster and Tom Hanks) from a memorable, eventful year in entertainment

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Andor (courtesy of Lucasfilm), Morbius (Courtesy of Sony Pictures), Top Gun: Maverick (courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
Andor (courtesy of Lucasfilm), Morbius (Courtesy of Sony Pictures), Top Gun: Maverick (courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

Listen, this year has been a lot. From highs like Tom Cruise’s Maverick rebirth and Beyonce’s Renaissance to lows like the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial and, well, Morbius, there’s been so much to process. Who knew, for instance, that we’d go from hopelessly pessimistic about the future of the DCU to kinda sorta maybe a little bit reservedly hopeful about James Gunn? And who would’ve guessed that Andor would be that good after so much Star Wars mediocrity? As we near the end of 2022, The A.V. Club is taking stock of the past year with a look back at the best and worst from films, TV, music, and pop culture in general. Here, then, is is everything we loved and everything that let us down over the past year.

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Best: Top Gun: Maverick

Best: Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick | NEW Official Trailer (2022 Movie) - Tom Cruise

Top Gun: Maverick wasn’t just the movie of the summer. In total, it earned over $700 million in the U.S., making it the fifth highest-grossing film of all time. Tom Cruise, still boyish at 60, slipped right back into character as cocky, talented Top Gun pilot Maverick. The film itself was a perfect storm of star power, nostalgia, smart casting, great marketing, deft direction and exhilarating action that connected with audiences in a big way. Fans got everything they wanted with a rah-rah story that echoed the original, paid off the Maverick-Iceman relationship, gave Cruise a viable love interest in Jennifer Connelly, and showcased talented young stars, especially Miles Teller. [Ian Spelling]

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Worst: Jurassic World Dominion

Worst: Jurassic World Dominion

Jurassic World Dominion - Official Trailer [HD]

Okay, maybe six months isn’t really enough time to critically reevaluate a film, but it’s still hard to imagine that, several years down the line, anyone will look at Jurassic World Dominion differently than we do now. And, to be clear, that’s not great. Director Colin Trevorrow strung together absurd action set pieces and paper-thin character development, minimal dialog, and completely wasted the genuinely thrilling reunion of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum. [Jack Smart]

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Best: Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul

Best: Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul

Official Season 6 Trailer | Better Call Saul

It’s hard to fault Julia Garner for winning Best Supporting Actress at the 2022 Emmys; her performance in Ozark’s final season was sublime. But it still stings that Rhea Seehorn didn’t take home the trophy for her incredible work as Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul. Seehorn aced Kim’s propulsive arc as it evolved from a mean scam to a heartbreaking death to being forced to kill a gang leader to leaving law behind for ... Florida. It was an agonizing road, and she was integral to the show right to the bitter, prison-set, black-and-white end. [Saloni Gajjar]

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Worst: Killing Eve season 4

Worst: Killing Eve season 4

Killing Eve Season 4 Official Trailer | BBC America & AMC+

Four seasons of buildup for that abysmal ending? In what might be the most disappointing TV experience in a long time, Killing Eve’s series finale fell shockingly short of the standards established in previous seasons by the Emmy-nominated drama. Sandra Oh’s MI5 agent Eve Polastri and Jodie Comer’s wickedly funny assasin Villanelle deserved much better than a rushed, ridiculously complex conclusion that also somehow succumbed to the “bury your gays” trope. [Saloni Gajjar]

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Best: Beyonce

Best: Beyonce

Beyoncé performs at the 94th Annual Academy Awards
Beyoncé performs at the 94th Annual Academy Awards
Photo: Mason Poole/A.M.P.A.S. (Getty Images)

Beyoncé came roaring back in 2022, delivering the best album of the year (and, depending on who you ask, her career). Renaissance runs the gamut of musical history, incorporating house, gospel, soul, disco, hyper pop—name a genre, and you can probably find its fingerprints on the LP. Beyoncé gave us an excuse to feel good over and over this year, and thank goodness for that. Most people were already in the BeyHive, but Renaissance was a strong enough project to win over even the haters. They don’t call her Queen Bey for nothing. [Drew Gillis]

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Worst: Kanye West

Worst: Kanye West

Kanye West
Kanye West
Image: Julien De Rosa (Getty Images)

Will we remember 2022 as the year Tom Cruise incepted us all into championing a Top Gun sequel, or will we remember it as the year Kanye West dropped all pretense of living in a society by telling Alex Jones, “There’s a lot of things that I love about Hitler”? Even Parler, the right-wing Twitter alternative, cut ties with Ye after that one. And when conservative media outlets are trying to distance themselves from you, you know you’ve really got a problem. [Jen Lennon]

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Best: Austin Butler in Elvis

Best: Austin Butler in Elvis

Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS | Official Trailer

Much has been said about Austin Butler’s dedication to his titular role in Elvis, and it’s easy to see why: rarely does an actor so fully embody a historic figure. There’s so much to get right: their mannerisms, their speaking voice, their behaviors—it’s a lot. And yet, Butler nails every aspect of the King. With spot-on physicality, his own powerful vocals, and positively electric numbers, Butler brought Elvis Presley into the 21st century while staking his own claim for stardom. [Jack Smart]

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Worst: Tom Hanks in Elvis... and beyond

Worst: Tom Hanks in Elvis... and beyond

Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS | Official Trailer 2

Except for a few contrarian Oscar pundits sneaking Tom Hanks onto their prediction lists, the consensus on his performance in Elvis remains the same now as it did this summer: it’s so bad, so puzzlingly bad. As Colonel Tom Parker, he’s both the villain and the narrator of Baz Luhrmann’s maximalist take on The King, thwarting any attempts to follow this story’s moral compass. And while centering Presley’s story from the perspective of the longtime manager who financially abused him is a sound idea, Hanks’ work falls flat somewhere between conception and delivery: repugnant but not in a fun way, hampered by distracting accent work (Parker was indeed Dutch, but no way did he sound like that) and, most confusing of all, one-note.

If this sets the Film Twitter watchdogs on me or squanders a chance of ever interviewing Hanks, so be it: the guy is in a real creative slump. Since his Oscar-nominated Fred Rogers in 2019’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood, he’s gone from wannabe Oscar-bait with 2020’s Greyhound and News Of The World to 2021’s baffling Finch and 2022’s live-action Pinocchio with Robert Zemeckis, a particularly confounding fail considering the cinematic gold that actor-filmmaker pair has spun before. Here’s hoping Wes Anderson can turn the trajectory of Hanks’ onscreen credits around with 2023’s Asteroid City. [Jack Smart]

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Best: Zendaya in Euphoria

Best: Zendaya in Euphoria

Euphoria Season 2 Trailer | Rotten Tomatoes TV

Zendaya already had an epic 2021 thanks to Spider-Man: No Way Home and Dune, but the actor stepped into 2022 with Euphoria and a no-holds-barred performance. The second season of HBO’s drama kicked off in January, which means Zendaya established her award-worthy performance early in the year. It’s no wonder she won her second Emmy—the youngest actor to do so—in September. And let’s not forget, the ace star has Dune 2 and Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers raring to go in 2023. [Saloni Gajjar]

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Worst: The Kardashians

Worst: The Kardashians

The Kardashians Season 2 | Official Trailer | Hulu

Whether you view them as icons or a scourge, there is hardly anyone as good at monetizing their lives as the Kardashians. However, even many of their staunchest supporters felt they took their branding too far with their latest TV venture, Hulu’s The Kardashians. The family stopped pretending that the series was anything but a commercial for their many brands. Reality fans tend to forgive a lot if it means the drama is still there, but with the drama playing out more on Page Six than on Hulu—months earlier, to boot—some questioned why they even had the show at all. [Drew Gillis]

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Best: Taylor Swift

Best: Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift - You’re On Your Own, Kid (Lyric Video)

Taylor Swift delivered one of the year’s most popular albums, and while Midnights isn’t necessarily her strongest work, it shows that 10 albums in, the singer-songwriter still has fresh musical expertise to impart to the world. (“You’re On Your Own, Kid” and “The Great War” are a couple of outstanding tracks). Swift swept the trophies at this year’s VMAs, EMAs, and AMAs (whew!), earned four 2023 Grammy nods, was awarded songwriter of the decade by the Nashville Songwriters Association International, and broke sales records with Midnights. Let’s not forget the Tribeca and TIFF appearances to promote the All Too Well (10-Minute Version) music video. Ticket sales for her Eras tour led to national outrage over Ticketmaster, which shut out millions of people as they tried to score seats. [Saloni Gajjar]

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Worst: Ticketmaster

Worst: Ticketmaster

How monopolies get away with bad service, FEAT. Taylor Swift & Ticketmaster

Ticketmaster hasn’t been exactly beloved—memes about their exorbitant service and processing fees go back at least to the Obama administration—but they really stepped in it this year with the botched roll-out for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour. The presale was so chaotic, leaving fans waiting hours in digital queues, that the official sale was ultimately canceled before it began. Rarely do we get to have such an easy common enemy, so perhaps that’s one small silver lining we can be thankful for. Now, Ticketmaster, hear us: you need to get this sorted out before the Renaissance tour. [Drew Gillis]

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Best: Avatar: The Way Of Water

Best: Avatar: The Way Of Water

Avatar: The Way of Water | New Trailer

While the specifics of Avatar: The Way Of Water’s box office success can be debated—a splashy opening weekend, but not 2022’s biggest—there’s no denying the film is indeed a triumph. That also applies critically, with James Cameron’s latest wracking up award nominations from the likes of the National Board of Review, Golden Globes, and Satellite Awards (with the Oscars surely next). The only way the long-awaited sequel was going to end up on this list as a “loser” is some huge cultural controversy (although there is some of that) or a second global pandemic discouraging moviegoing (Eywa forbid!). Instead, audiences will surely continue flocking to and feasting their eyes upon Pandora, as was foretold. [Jack Smart]

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Worst: Lightyear

Worst: Lightyear

Lightyear | Official Trailer

When Lightyear was released, it seemed like a rare misstep for Pixar. The film underperformed at the box office and missed badly with critics, too. The fifth installment in the Toy Story film franchise pushed all the wrong buttons, disappointing fans and leaving everybody with questions. Like why make a Toy Story movie without Tom Hanks or Tim Allen? Buzz and Woody are great ... and greater together. Buzz without Woody or their circle of friends just isn’t the same. Chris Evans was game as Allen’s replacement for Buzz, but the execution let him down, right along with would-be movie-goers. [Ian Spelling]

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Best: Stranger Things season 4

Best: Stranger Things season 4

Stranger Things 4 | Official Trailer | Netflix

Stranger Things really stepped up in 2022. Not only did the show introduce the wonders of Kate Bush to a whole new generation, it also gave us the delight of Joseph Quinn as Eddie Munson. After a three-year gap between seasons, Stranger Things faced major pressure for its fourth season. The Duffer Brothers responded, delivering the thrills, monsters and group dynamics that made the show a hit to begin with. The fourth season of Stranger Things set a Netflix record, racking up seven billion minutes of viewership, thanks to strong performances by all the leads, including Sadie Sink as Max, and a deliciously creepy villain in Vecna. [Saloni Gajjar]

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Worst: more shows splitting seasons into parts 1 and 2

Worst: more shows splitting seasons into parts 1 and 2

Official Season 6B Trailer | Better Call Saul

In 2022 several streaming services decided to split the seasons of some of their biggest series, and honestly, it’s just supremely annoying. What is the point of dropping five outings and saving the remaining however many—which are usually filmed already—for another few weeks? Sometimes, it’s to ensure the early installments get counted for potential Emmys, but that doesn’t help viewers. Ozark, Better Call Saul, Money Heist: Korea, Yellowstone, and Central Park are among the shows that contributed to the trend. The most egregious, though, was Stranger Things, which aired five episodes and left only two for later. Cue a big sigh. [Saloni Gajjar]

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Best: Morbius memes

Best: Morbius memes

It’s Morbin’ time. 2022 produced a lot of great memes, but none quite captured the zeitgeist as much as Morbius. The superhero vampire flick was gleefully panned by critics as well as fans. While meme assassins turned Jared Leto into an internet joke, Sony then compounded its problems by re-releasing the film just two months after it first landed with a resounding splat in theaters, and Morbius managed the dubious distinction of flopping twice at the box office. [Jack Smart]

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Worst: Morbius

Worst: Morbius

MORBIUS - Official Trailer (HD)

For all the highs of making fun of Morbius, there’s the low of Morbius actually existing. A truly awful movie in every respect, it makes you wonder just how easy it is to make it in Hollywood if the bar is set this low. How hard would it be for anyone to, say, write a better screenplay, direct better action, or design stronger CGI? The answer, judging by the screen disaster that is Morbius, appears to be not very hard at all. [Jack Smart]

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Best: The Bear’s single-shot episode

Best: The Bear’s single-shot episode

Kitchen Nightmare | The Bear | FX

We’ve had six more months to reflect on The Bear’s single-shot episode and, yeah, it’s still one of the most impressive things we’ve seen on TV this year. The penultimate episode of The Bear’s first season starts with comfortable morning chatter and builds to a deafening breaking point, all within the cramped confines of a Chicago Italian beef joint—and all captured within a single shot. It’s a technical marvel, as the camera careens around corners to follow the action, making you really feel like you’re in a chaotic kitchen. But the performances—by Jeremy Allen White as head chef Carmy, Ayo Edebiri as ambitious sous chef Sydney, and Lionel Boyce as pastry obsessive Marcus—are what really sell the episode. [Tim Lowery]

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Worst: Blockbuster

Worst: Blockbuster

Blockbuster | Official Trailer | Netflix

You’ve definitely heard the joke (or read our headline), but Netflix killed Blockbuster again in 2022. The half-hour comedy had a stacked cast: Randall Park, Melissa Fumero, J.B. Smoove, Tyler Alvarez, and Madeline Arthur, among others. So it was disappointing to see how unfunny the show actually was. When it premiered in November, Blockbuster was met with a raft of negative reviews, and it didn’t take the streamer long to announce that show wouldn’t be getting a second season. [Saloni Gajjar]

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Best: TV superheroes

Best: TV superheroes

THE BOYS – Season 3 Official Trailer | Prime Video

Yeah, there were a lot of Arrowverse cancellations from The CW this year, but TV superheroes still had a pretty good 2022. The small screen served up refreshing and innovative supe storytelling with new seasons of The Boys on Prime, The Umbrella Academy on Netflix, Harley Quinn on HBO Max and the debuts of Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk on Disney+. In their own unique ways, each show presented a cultural reset of how we’ve viewed the genre, offering a good step away from the usual big screen fare without compromising on originality and quality. [Saloni Gajjar]

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Worst: Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial

Worst: Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial

Amber Heard, Johnny Depp
Amber Heard, Johnny Depp
Photo: Steve Helber (Getty Images)

With the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial, we all lost. It was a media circus from the beginning, turning two people’s personal traumas into a public debate. And now, on the other side of it, there’s still nothing much to be learned here—except that, as always, we can still sink lower. [Jen Lennon]

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Best: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

Best: Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio

GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S PINOCCHIO | Official Trailer | Netflix

From a sanitized Disney remake to a deeply strange Pauly Shore-led project, there has been no shortage of Pinocchios lately. Leave it to Guillermo del Toro to cut through the noise and deliver a thoughtful, artistic take on the classic tale. Del Toro crafted a film with children in mind, but it decidedly isn’t for kids; seriously, the first 10 minutes of the movie see Geppetto’s real son killed in a church during a World War I bombing, driving the grief-stricken father to craft Pinocchio in a drunken rage. In a landscape where so much media talks down to kids, del Toro says something bold: that children are people, and they’re smart. [Drew Gillis]

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Worst: Disney’s Pinocchio

Worst: Disney’s Pinocchio

Trailer 2 | Pinocchio | Disney+

Upon its release, this version of Pinocchio was a bit of a puzzler: it seemingly came out of nowhere and had a limited marketing push, which is strange for a film directed by Robert Zemeckis that stars Tom Hanks. After it debuted, though, it became clear why Disney tried to shove this one under the rug: it just wasn’t very good. And it’s even worse in hindsight, now that we have Guillermo del Toro’s instant-classic version to compare it to. [Jen Lennon]

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Best: The Rehearsal

Best: The Rehearsal

The Rehearsal | Official Trailer | HBO

Leave it to Nathan Fielder to find a way to perfectly encapsulate the strangeness of the current moment without meaning to. Or maybe he did mean to—Fielder’s motivations, as always, remain frustratingly yet delightfully opaque in The Rehearsal. Whatever his intent, the final product was so engaging and bizarre that we’re still talking about it half a year later. The show itself, which essentially is about following people as they rehearse for life’s big moments, is a lot, and you’d be excused for wondering aloud “Wait, HBO just lets him do this?” Beyond the scale and insane level of detail and meta-ness, though, is a howlingly funny show with some real depth, even if said depth is predicated on such a ridiculous premise. [Tim Lowery]

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Worst: The Time Traveler’s Wife

Worst: The Time Traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveler’s Wife | Season 1 In The Weeks Ahead | HBO

We’re still scratching our heads about this one, and likely will be forever, as HBO has already pulled this failure of a reboot from its streaming service, making it unavailable to watch just seven months after its premiere. Showrunner Steven Moffat’s adaptation didn’t seem to get that Audrey Niffenegger’s novel isn’t about time travel at all. It’s about what it’s like to love someone with a chronic disability that makes it impossible to live a normal life, and the complications that creates for both partners over time. But that’s not even the worst of this show’s litany of sins against quality television. We also got the creepy optics an a man paying regular visits to a young girl until she’s old enough to date him, two bland leads in Rose Leslie and Theo James with no chemistry, distractingly bad wigs and makeup, and a series with a wildly uneven tone. [Cindy White]

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Best: James Gunn to the DCU

Best: James Gunn to the DCU

Daniela Melchior, James Gunn, and John Cena at The Suicide Squad premiere
(From left) Daniela Melchior, James Gunn, and John Cena at The Suicide Squad premiere
Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

One of the biggest shockers of the year was Warner Bros.’ decision to hand the reins of the DCU to James Gunn and Peter Safran. WB had been looking for DC’s answer to Kevin Feige for a while, and several people refused the job. It was all very public, and it did nothing to dispel the idea that the franchise could not be salvaged. But then, out of nowhere, Gunn stepped up and gave us all hope that maybe, just maybe, we’d get a halfway decent DC cinematic universe. Gunn kept that hope alive by quickly dismantling the Snyderverse, pissing off Zack Snyder fans, and refusing to let Dwayne Johnson dictate the future of DC Films. And yeah, there have been some very vocal critics of Gunn’s quick and decisive changes, but they can stay mad while the rest of us join a new Superman in looking to the future with hope. [Jen Lennon]

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Worst: The DCU

Worst: The DCU

Black Adam – Official Trailer 1

Before James Gunn stepped in, though, the DCU was a mess. It wasn’t just bad reviews that were sinking DC’s films—then-new Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav kicked off his tenure by cancelling Batgirl after it had already finished production. It was a blow to star Leslie Grace and directors Bilall Fallah and Adil El Arbi, and it was a blow to us as we’ll never get to see Brendan Fraser’s take on the villain Firefly. For as exciting as Gunn’s appointment is, there’s still a lot of bad press—and bad films—to overcome. [Jen Lennon]

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Best: Andor reinventing Star Wars

Best: Andor reinventing Star Wars

Andor | Official Trailer | Disney+

The Mandalorian showed us the way. The pointless, glorified fan fiction that was Obi-Wan Kenobi did not. And then along came—not out of nowhere, although few could have predicted this result—the most compelling and essential Star Wars series yet. Created by Tony Gilroy and led by producer-star Diego Luna, Disney+’s Andor stunned critics, Star Wars fans, and casual viewers alike week after week this fall. It’s the latter camp for whom this edge-of-your-seat thriller following Rogue One’s Cassian Andor was particularly tailored; you can sense soon into the premiere episode that Gilroy and his collaborators are intentionally eschewing the so-called Easter eggs that have made franchises like this one feel like homework.

Andor has no Force, no lightsabers, no Skywalkers taking up all the dramatic weight in this galaxy far, far away. Instead we find relatable human characters with nuanced inner lives, on both sides of an all-too-recognizable divide—the tyrannical Galactic Empire against the burgeoning Rebel Alliance. But those are merely vehicles for the real-life politics this series has no problem, and even makes a point of, resembling. Star Wars has always had roots in the struggle between dictatorship and freedom, in depicting the personal costs of rebellion. But it took a team of storytellers as skilled as they are audacious to push that to the emotional extreme that was Andor’s prison break episode, “One Way Out,” this year’s most triumphant TV moment. [Jack Smart]

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Worst: The Book Of Boba Fett relying on Star Wars nostalgia

Worst: The Book Of Boba Fett relying on Star Wars nostalgia

The Book of Boba Fett | Official Trailer | Disney+

As innovative and exciting as Andor was, The Book Of Boba Fett was equally staid and disappointing. Even Ming-Na Wen couldn’t save this needless nostalgia trip. The worst thing about The Book Of Boba Fett, though, is that it simply couldn’t justify its own existence. The show had nothing new to say and no interesting stories to tell; it was exactly what every Star Wars fan had feared it would be. Hopefully, Lucasfilm learns from this—and follows Andor’s example in the future. [Jen Lennon]

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