This is the first year in the last five that we won’t see a new “Twilight” film. The franchise was a financial juggernaut, but one that merely limped in the critical eye.

Having seen all the films, it’s still a marvel to me how that anomalous success came to be, and the way many people are trying oh-so-very hard to emulate its box office magic.

Many have tried and failed to capture the figurative and literal magic found in the young adult “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” sagas (I’m looking at you “Eragon,” “The Golden Compass,” “The Mortal Instruments,” “Percy Jackson,” and “Ender’s Game”), so when Susanne Collins’ humble sensation “The Hunger Games” came about, many were ready to write it off as another Twi-hard trying to cash in on the rabid tween and teen fans of the books.

All the signs were there: the female lead, the assumed love triangle that plays out throughout the books, the Hot Topic cross promotion. But something was different.

I think the “Twilight” comparisons have stopped dead in their tracks; they’re being replaced by allusions to “The Empire Strikes Back” and for good reason. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” is grand-scale gracefulness tied together with a bow (and arrow) and simply put, the best film I’ve seen all year.

I can’t stand how I’ve brought up “Twilight” twice so far, but convincing folks in 2011 to read the “Hunger Games” novels proved difficult because of it. But like the film’s heroine, the franchise has overcome so much.

“Catching Fire” centers around Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she battles PTSD and faces the consequences of her act of rebellion against The Capitol at the end of the first film. An uprising is brewing in the post-apocalyptic, brooding but shimmering world of Panem and Katniss is the figurehead. She in turn finds herself thrown into the arena once more with the past victors, and the film manages to up the stakes.

Masterfully paced and wonderfully directed by newcomer to the franchise Francis Lawrence, the film breezes by but takes the time it needs to mourn and meditate the events of the previous film. “Catching Fire” has about four times the budget of the first and it shows. The special effects and settings are as jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

There are so many elements to the film: the romance, the violence, the social and political commentary, and the complex relationships of all the characters. It never feels like a juggling act, more like a synchronized ballet with spears and guns.

It’s hard to imagine anyone not on board with this franchise after this film, the “tween” title has definitely been stripped and perhaps in time “landmark in cinema” will replace it. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” isn’t kidding around and demands to be seen.

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Tyler Scruggs is a writer, musician and pop culture enthusiast studying at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton.

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