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Saturday, December 30, 2017

I PLAYED A HORROR GAME!? Little Nightmares Review!

Before we start the review, let me apologize for the admittedly click-bait title. The game I'm reviewing, despite borrowing many elements from the Horror genre, to the point where several news outlets and even Wikipedia has called it a horror game, it's actually NOT a horror game, at least not in the traditional sense. There's no jumpscares or excessive gore at all in this game, but it's fear factor comes from a Tim Burton-esque art style, a very surreal setting, and a deliberately vague, but extremely thought-provoking story.

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Meet Little Nightmares. Originally titled Hunger, but the name was changed later on in development to avoid confusion with Hunger Games. Anyway, Little Nightmares is a horror- sorry, "atmospheric adventure" game developed by Tarsier Studios and published by Bandai Namco, and released on April 28, 2017. The reason Tarsier Studios refuse to call their creation a horror game is because simply put, they wanted a video game with a dark, whimsical atmosphere, and as such they specifically went out of their way to avoid horror cliches such as jumpscares and gore, feeling that horror games that rely on either or are just plain gimmicky and lose their charm (take that, Five Nights at Freddy's!). As such, Little Nightmares relies on it's striking visuals, haunting soundtrack, and aforementioned story to create a feeling of unease and dread. Speaking of the story, let's cover that, shall we?

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The story, while lacking almost any kind of dialogue or text, tells the tale of a 9-year-old girl in a raincoat who, as revealed in a series of comics Bandai Namco published to simultaneously promote the game and give players context to the premise, is named Six. Six is trapped aboard a submarine-like fortress that, also revealed in the comics, is known as the Maw. The Maw is a underwater domain that visits the surface once a year, where the crew of the Maw prepare an elaborate feast for eldritch creatures known only as the Guests, who could pass as humans, if it weren't for the fact they are all twenty feet tall, impossibly obese, and seemingly have no qualms about devouring actual humans such as Six (or, if a theory I read about not too long ago is true, then the Guests are just obese humans and Six is a tiny humanoid creature, like a Gnome or something). It's up to you to help Six survive her ordeal and ultimately escape, but along the way, various things happen that make you question if helping Six escape the terrors of her prison would actually be a good idea.

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The first thing you'll notice about this game is the fact that everything is huge when compared to Six. From the Maw's nightmarish crewmembers, to the furniture, to even the food prepared for the Guests.This ties in perfectly to the game's overarching theme, when you are a small child, everything looks bigger and scarier than it actually is. This motif is shown just about everywhere in the Maw, which I must say might be one of the most creatively designed locations in a video game I've ever seen. The Maw is equal parts resort, prison, and battleship, and seeing these concepts mesh together is a real treat. The story itself is also surreal and vague, with few definitive facts going on and almost everything coming down to personal interpretation. One thing that is a fact is this game has a surprisingly potent metaphorical lesson about gluttony and greed, specifically about how both of these can turn you into a horrific monster. I would love to talk more about the story, but despite it's lack of dialogue and reliance on personal interpretation, there ARE some things that you could spoil. Like the scene where Six- *gets dragged of by the Janitor*

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Unlike a lot of "traditional" horror games, which hide the villainous monsters from the player's view until it's too late, Little Nightmares's puts a lot of emphasis on being able to see your adversaries almost at all times. This is because, if you want to categorize Little Nightmares, the best way to do so is as a Stealth-Based Puzzle Platformer. In fact, the simplest way to avoid unnecessary heart attacks is to simply take your time and move around foes silently and sneakily. Unless you get spotted, in which case, run like mad.

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The gameplay is oddly reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet, of all things. Yeah, believe it or not, this game, with it's dark mood and Tim Burton-style aesthetic, draws inspiration from a franchise famous for it's bright, happy-go-lucky attitude. Six basically has five main abilities: Pushing/Pulling, Crouching, Grabbing, Climbing, and turning a lighter off and on.. These abilities are pretty self explanatory, but basically, you can Crouch to get underneath furniture or through small holes, and walking while Crouching silences Six's footsteps, making it easier to sneak around. Climbing let's Six grab a hold of any ledge and climb up, or use shelves, dishes, and other items that are normally stacked on top of each other as a makeshift ladder (such as in the picture above). Pushing and Pulling lets you move objects around in the environment to solve puzzles, and last but not least, the lighter. It's technically not needed to solve any puzzles or defeat any baddies, but it helps you see in the dark and is needed to 100% the game (you get a trophy for using the lighter to light every candle and lamp in the game).

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The controls and abilities are really simple on paper, but Little Nightmares does a good job at spicing up the puzzles and encounters with the various denizens of The Maw, as they never reuse the same concept for a puzzle or encounter twice. For example, you could be tiptoeing through the rafters while making sure nothing falls down to alert the Maw's Janitor, whose incredibly long arms could easily grab you if you expose yourself. Another example, and one of my personal favorite moments in the game, is when you have to run for your life from a Guest and before the other Guests realize what's going on, you have to run across the table, jumping over and ducking under their swipes at you, and basically parkour your way to safety. The situation only gets more insane from there.

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The game's main selling point is it's vast number
of mysteries put into the game to get you pondering
the true meaning behind everything.

You're not always on the run, though. There are plenty of puzzles to contend with. The puzzles, keeping with the simplistic nature of Six's arsenal, are also pretty simple to figure out, but serve as nice breather moments and let you truly appreciate the thought that was put in to the world of the Maw. Plus, none of the puzzles feel stale or repetitive, due to making sure the player has to use Six's abilities in the right combination to make everything work. I really like the puzzles, and I feel they help Little Nightmares stand out more.

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You remember when I said that greed and gluttony play a big role in the story? Allow me to elaborate on that note. Every monster aboard the Maw wants to kill Six, either to cook her, eat her, or feed her to the Guests. But Six herself is also starving throughout the entire adventure, needing to stop to eat during scripted parts of the game. But when I say she's starving, I don't mean "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse" kind of way. I mean "literally on the brink of dying of starvation". But to tie in to the anti-gluttony/greed message, what she is forced to eat gradually becomes darker and darker, going from a bread crumb, to a slab of meat, to a rat. And it only gets more gruesome from there. Frankly the main reason the game avoids gore is to avoid a potential M for Mature rating. Because eating rats and other things is gruesome. And unhealthy.

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The last major thing I want to say about this game before we discuss the presentation is the game's length. Little Nightmares is an incredibly short game, averaging 4-5 hours length and it's actually possible to beat the game in less than one hour (the world record is currently 43 minutes). Some people don't mind, others will wish there's more, and given the vast size of the Maw there are definitely areas that Six never gets a chance to explore. Besides, this is actually Tarsier Studios first ever original game, and they themselves admitted they wanted a quality over quantity approach for the game's length. Those 4-5 hours were some of the best I've had in gaming, actually.

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Now for the presentation! The visuals are simply amazing. They capture the signature charm of a stop-motion film, which when combined with the camera being locked at what can best be described as a dollhouse angle, make every single waking moment of Little Nightmares look like an intricate stop-motion set. The animations for everything is also top-notch, such as the Chefs cooking food, the Janitor playing around with his collection of... wooden... doll... things, and the eerie but graceful movements of the main villain of the game, The Lady. The environments are creative in their design, and the various denizens of the Maw look distinct and grotesque (sans the Lady, who is unnaturally pirstine and elegant compared to her greasy, brutish employees/customers). The Maw is already one of my favorite locations in a video game, thanks to it's intricate design, and just the idea of a prison/resort/battleship hybrid fortress cruising about is really novel to me.

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Sometimes, all you can do is run.

The sound is also really good. It's creepy, but it's good. Then again, since it's a NOT-horror game, it kind of needs to be creepy. The main theme, "Prison Toys" is a ominous music box tune that pretty much let's you know what you're getting yourself into. "March of the Guests" is a slow, almost tribal beat that displays almost perfectly how the Guests, despite being presumably rich and living lavish lifestyles, are restricted by a a primal hunger that never ceases. Heck, even the hipnotic humming of the Lady is catchy. The spookiest song in the game, however, is "Six's Theme, Part II". That gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it. And those are just the songs that stand out the most. Almost every song in the OST amplifies the atmosphere of the situation, and the two dozen heart attacks I had against the Janitor wouldn't be the same without the music. The Sound is also really good, which is a good thing, as sound plays an important role in staying stealthy. If a denizen of the Maw hears your footsteps, they'll spot you shortly after words. And some of the sound effects are really unnerving, such as the Janitor's strange clicking noise, or the Chefs' boar-like squeal. Even the sound of the metal of Maw grinding against itself gave me more jumps than I would like to admit.

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Overall, I give Little Nightmares, a 10/10. This game might actually be my personal Game of the Year for 2017, even with Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Super Mario Odyssey competing against it. But the only real flaw in this game is arguably the short length. But I didn't have a problem with the short length. It felt perfect for what Little Nightmares set out to do. Be an unconventional surreal horror/stealth-based platformer hybrid cleverly disguised as a love letter to the stop-motion works of Tim Burton. And I strongly recommend you play this game because A) It's a horror game with no jumpscares or gore, so in a way it's kind of like a family friendly horror game or even a "Baby's first horror game". And B) It's literally a Tim Burton movie in video game form. Which is amazing.

P.S. Did I forget to mention that there's a DLC campaign? Because this game actually did well enough and garner a large enough fanbase to convince Tarsier Studios to make a DLC campaign titled Little Nightmares: Secrets of the Maw. I'll be reviewing that eventually.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi review!

Anyone who frequents my blog knows my forte is video games. I rarely watch movies, and the movies I do watch consist almost exclusively of Marvel movies, Disney/Pixar movies, Aardman movies, SOME Dreamworks movies (mostly Kung Fu Panda and How to Train your Dragon), and most importantly, Star Wars movies. But today, I'm reviewing one of the most highly anticipated movie in years, Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

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There's just something almost universal about this franchise. This being not only my favorite series of films EVER (the only thing I love as much as Star Wars is Godzilla and the Marvel movies), but also a crucial part of everyone's childhood, most people have at the very least HEARD of Star Wars. But for folks that don't know anything about this franchise, it all started with Star Wars: A New Hope, released in 1977. This space opera epic told the tale of the ultimate battle between good and evil in a galaxy far far away, and followed the journey of a young farmer named Luke Skywalker, who after learning that the galaxy is ruled by an oppressive dictator known as Darth Vader, must undergo training to become a Jedi, a clan of warrior monks who possess the ability to tap into a mysterious power known as The Force, which can grant a Jedi supernatural abilities such as telepathy, seeing the future, and "making things float". That's an actual quote from the movies by the way.

"The Force is a power that lets Jedi make things... float."-Rey, 2017.

Anyway, Luke must become a Jedi to save his friends and the Galaxy from the wrath of the sinister Empire. A New Hope was originally written and created by George Lucas, and funnily enough he had a hard time pitching the idea for the film because everyone thought that it would be a complete flop. Those potential business partners are now kicking themselves in the rear because guess what? This one film, which everyone thought was going to be a flop, not only had an incredible story with iconic and lovable characters, but at the time, it was the most advanced film ever made when it came to visual effects. As such, it spawned a sequel, titled Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, in which the single greatest plot twist in the history of cinema rocked the world (or at least the parts of the world with cinema) all with the signature line from Darth Vader, "Luke, I am Your Father!". At this point, Star Wars has cemented itself firmly in it's place as one of, if not THE most influential work of modern fiction of ALL TIME. So naturally, a third sequel was made, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, intended to be the grand finale of the original trilogy. This film had a epic climax, adorable teddy bear like creatures, and a gangster snail that forced the female lead to wear an outfit so skimpy it would probably garner a PG-13 rating in this day and age. Oh, did I forget to mention that this is supposed to be a family-friendly franchise? #BlameJabba. But anyway, if you fast forward a few years, George Lucas felt something was missing from his sacred cash cow, and so the Prequel Trilogy was born, a trio of films that exist to explain how Darth Vader became, well, Darth Vader. This was... Okay. The advantage the Prequels have is arguably superior graphics thanks to the introduction to CGI. But the problem the prequels had was they were quite bloated, as you can safely watch Revenge of the Sith and pretend the first two prequels didn't exist and you would get almost the same result. The prequels also suffered from some corny dialogue/acting, a side effect of George Lucas wanting to direct the trilogy himself instead of just writing the script but unfortunately, Mr. Lucas gives terrible acting advice, and as such the acting in the prequels is universally considered to be mediocre and even downright abysmal when compared to the original trilogy, which was praised for it's talented main cast. But as time went on, the general consensus was that the prequels were actually decent films, that tried way too hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

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Which brings us to this film, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The direct sequel to 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which marks the debut of a new trilogy made by... Disney. Yep. Disney owns Star Wars. Disney owns everything nowadays. I wouldn't be surprised if I woke up one morning and found that Disney bought the entire planet. But anyway, this new trilogy is known as the Sequel Trilogy, and takes place 30 years after the climax of Return of the Jedi. Also, it has some unintentional sadness because Carrie Fisher, who played Princess/General Leia Organa, passed away shortly after filming for The Last Jedi was finished. So basically, not only is this her final performance as Princess Leia, it's also her final performance period.

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The basic premise for The Last Jedi follows the Resistance, a band of freedom fighters who are fighting a losing war against the First Order, an armada of Imperial loyalists who are notably more murderous and manipulative than their predecessors. Taking place almost immediately after the events of the previous film, The Last Jedi splits it's main cast into groups, with main hero Rey trying to convince an elderly Luke Skywalker to train her in the ways of the Jedi, reformed Imperial Stormtrooper Finn teaming up with new character Rose in a race against time to find a hacker to sabotage the First Order's flagship (because it has hyper-advanced tracking devices) before what remains of the Resistance fleet is wrecked, and ace pilot Poe Dameron just trying to make heads or tails of the Resistance's new leader.

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The plot of this movie can best be summarized as being... Different. That's the main thing you have to brace yourself for. If you are expecting the original trilogy with better graphics and new characters, DON'T. This film is radically different from the Star Wars of old. While The Force Awakens was criticized for being too similar to A New Hope, this film, initially expected to be a repeat of Empire Strikes Back, is actually nothing like Empire Strikes Back.  In fact, your safest bet would be to manage your expectations. There's a reason why professional movie-critics and gamers (including myself!) remind everyone to go in with low expectations for a highly anticipated film or video game such as The Last Jedi.

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Oh, and now's a good time to mention this review will contain mild spoilers. Why? Because some of my praises and criticisms won't make any sense unless I give away spoilers. I won't do something like spoil character death(s) or plot twist(s), but if you consider things like Leia inexplicably becoming Mary Poppins to be a spoiler, then ye have been warned.

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I think the Porgs are my new favorite character...

Let me get this out of the way right now. Given that the director for this movie is famous for his humor, this film is a lot more comedic in nature than the rest of the franchise. I mean, Star Wars has about one or two funny moments (usually a snarky one-liner from one of the main heroes), and at least one moment that's unintentionally funny. This film is FILLED TO THE BRIM with comedy. But not just any comedy, The Last Jedi is oddly self-aware with it's humor. It's really clever, but unexpected. The film literally opens up with Poe Dameron prank-calling the First Order and getting away with it. Which is why in order to truly enjoy this movie, it's easier to think of it less as a Star Wars film and more of a Saturday Morning Cartoon that happens to have Star Wars in it. And I hate to make that comparison, but that's the best way to describe this film.

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Don't get me wrong, The Last Jedi does deal with mature and adult themes like self-sacrifice and the consequences of warfare, but goes around it in a family friendly way. But on the subject of the new direction, there's one thing about this movie that I despise...

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Leia. I have nothing against the character. I have nothing against Carrie Fisher. But let's be real. That scene where Leia uses the Force to not only survive in outer space, but to basically FLY  to a nearby Resistance ship is utterly ridiculous. And not in a "So ridiculous it's meant to be silly" kind of way either. While Leia does have a connection to the Force, that moment was unforgivably corny. What makes it worse is how this moment is treated very seriously, but no one brings it up afterword. And to add icing on the cake, I could actually come up with a way to keep Leia from dying in the vacuum of space and have actually make sense. Keep the part where Leia uses the Force to survive, because increasing longevity is a known Force ability, but instead of flying Mary Poppins style through space, just have the Resistance crew be like "Oh hey, Leia's still alive, let's fire up a tractor beam or something!". That would have more sense than Leia using the Force to fly. But the thing is, this is the only moment in the whole movie that is objectively bad, as you're opinion of The Last Jedi depends on whether or not you like the new direction Disney is going with. As for me, I like the new direction, as it will appeal to children, but I would have preferred if the change to the formula wasn't as drastic.

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Another thing that I felt underwhelmed about was Captain Phasma, who was basically hyped up to be the next Boba Fett. And while some VERY VALID criticisms some folks had with The Force Awakens was that Phasma doesn't get to do anything meaningful or memorable, aside from being the first ever female Stormtrooper. This film's marketing hyped her up even more, but her handling here is only a marginal improvement over the previous movie. She gets one action scene, and over two thirds of that scene show up in EVERY SINGLE TRAILER, and before you know it, BOOM. Done. She's been dispatched. Which is a shame, because like I said, they were trying to turn her into Boba Fett 2.0. And failed miserably.

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On a more positive note, General Hux might be one of the best minor villains in Star Wars. He is hilariously cowardly, and is the butt of many jokes, such as the aforementioned prank-call. Out of all the characters in this movie, General Hux is the one who best showcases the film's focus on comedy. Bonus points for being the first villain to make a snarky one-liner.

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We also have the Porgs. Hands down the cutest anything in the multiverse. Seriously, they steal the show every time they're on screen. I know some people hated the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi because of their kid-appeal, and those kind of people will probably hate the Porgs, but the Porgs are just fantastic. Their interactions with fan-favorite Chewbacca are both hilarious and adorable. And they eventually take over the Millennium Falcon. The Porgs are easily one of, if not THE best part of The Last Jedi.

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I also really like Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. Luke, as a character, has grown cynical and snarky in his old age, but he's still the same farmer-turned-Jedi we all know and love. He also gets bonus points for the best description of the Force I've seen in any form of Star Wars. No more midichlorian nonsense! Just, "The Force is a kind of energy that flows through all living things. To think that only the Jedi have it is narcissistic.".

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The sub arc with Finn and Rose was also enjoyable. Rose, quite frankly, surprised me by how much of a role she has, because she doesn't show up in any of the trailers, but was an enjoyable character. Part of the reason she's enjoyable is by Star Wars standards, she's basically an average joe. Nothing special about her. No crazy Jedi powers. No defected Stormtrooper backstory. No crazy piloting skills. She's just a normal person trying to make a difference in a galaxy overrun with tyranny and other morally unacceptable things like slavery. Finn is also an enjoyable character, as his devotion to Rey is admirable, even if it DOES set off the ship radar (NOTE: I don't do ships). Finn also has some impressive character development, going from lovable coward to selfless hero.

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Based on Disney's marketing for the two Sequel 
 movies, who wants to bet the trailer for Star Wars 9
has Poe jump into frame and gasp.

Oh, and before anyone asks, yes, they answer the question concerning Rey's parentage. And, without spoiling it, it's not quite what people expected. Heck, my personal theory that she's somehow Obi-Wan Kenobi's granddaughter (it was a joke theory, but a theory nonetheless) was more likely than the actually reveal. And because of theater shenanigans I actually missed the reveal and was confused about it, looked it up and then I was like, "Oh. That's... Not what I was expecting.". Frankly the reveal was anticlimactic, but hey, nobody expected what they went with. I'm not hating on Rey as a character though, she's alright. Although some folks don't really care for Rey due to being a competent pilot, a Jedi, AND a mechanic all in one, but that's kind of hypocritical, since guess what? Luke is ALSO a competent pilot, a Jedi, and a mechanic ON TOP OF being a farmer. And nobody blinks an eye. Why do people have a problem when a character has a large range of skills, you ask? Because having a character who specializes in one thing but is garbage at everything else is APPARENTLY more believable than having a Jack-of-All-Trades, Master-of-None.

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One thing to note about The Last Jedi is it feels a tad too long. The film has not one, but FOUR moments where they could have ended the movie with a satisfactory ending, but it keeps going on a lot longer than expected. Granted, the climax was memorable and exciting. I don't know the exact length of the film, but it feels like it's the longest Star Wars movie ever.

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And now let's talk about Kylo Ren, the main villain of the trilogy. Kylo Ren's main "thing" is he wants to be just like the now-deceased Darth Vader. The irony is that Kylo Ren is NOTHING like Darth Vader (if anything Kylo Ren is more like Star-Scream from Transformers). Where Darth Vader was calm and collected, rarely getting angry, and even then his anger takes the form of tranquil fury, Kylo Ren is almost childishly ill-tempered, throwing fits of rage and screaming at the top of his lungs when issuing orders. He does get better (worse?) as the film progresses, but his temper shows even after he gets calmer. But anyway, Kylo Ren is an entertaining villain.

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Almost done sharing my thoughts of the characters! Next up is Poe. Poe can best be described as the Next Han Solo. But unlike Captain Phasma, who tries to be Boba Fett 2.0 and fails, Poe actually succeeds, but because he stands out enough to be his own character. There ARE similarities, like both of them are ace pilots who are cocky and reckless, but that's where the similarities end. Poe is a devoted Resistance member through and through. Even though his recklessness costs the Resistance dearly.

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And last but not least, we have Supreme Leader Snoke, the REAL main villain who is basically "The Man Behind The Man". Snoke is a viscously sinister character, from his garish design to his cold demeanor. This is the first time we get to see Snoke in person, as he made brief cameos in The Force Awakens as a giant hologram, which prompted many (myself included) to joke that he's actually just as tall as Yoda, if not even shorter. As it turns out, he's actually tall enough to tower over Kylo Ren, and can wield incredibly complex Force Powers. The only negative I can say is they never really explain the true motives behind Snoke, and given the way the film ends, we'll probably never find out. Unless they do a prequel trilogy to the Sequel trilogy. Which would be pointless, but this is DISNEY we're talking about. They're going to milk that cash cow for all it's worth.

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As for the presentation, the visuals are mostly good. Except for Leia flying through space. I'm never living that down by the way. But everything else is fine. The various alien creatures look and move right. The fight choreography is fantastic, as it's a cross between the Original Trilogy's slower, more impactful fight scenes, and the Prequel Trilogy's faster, more hectic style. Unimportant rant time, but for some reason, when people criticize the Prequels' Jedi/Sith duels for being too "fancy-dancy", I disagree because the faster dueling style actually makes sense. In the Prequels, the Jedi and Sith have had years of training underneath Yoda, the strongest Jedi who ever lived, and Emperor Palpatine, the strongest Sith who ever lived, respectively. In the original trilogy, Darth Vader can't do the fancy-dancy-ness because he's trapped in a samurai-style suit of armor that greatly slows him down, Obi-Wan is too old to be moving around like that (ditto for Original!Palpatine), and Luke is a primarily self-taught Jedi-in-Training who has no idea what he's doing until the very end of Empire Strikes Back.

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As for the music, do I really need to elaborate? It's freaking Star Wars, dang it! Of course the music is amazing! It's grand and orchestral in nature, and captures that signature Star Wars flair flawlessly. Yep, the soundtrack is what Disney decided to keep when making the more lighthearted, comedic style of The Last Jedi. But on the subject of acting, the acting is fantastic. Just about every actor brings their absolute best when portraying their respective characters. Really, there wasn't any bad acting that I can think of in this film.

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Overall, I give Star Wars: The Last Jedi an 8/10. It's not the best film in the 40+ year old franchise, nor is it the worst. It's a decent film in it's own right, but the heavier focus on comedy can, and will, irk longtime fans. But hey, the film is still fun for the whole family, and there are too many R rated thriller films nowadays (because Hollywood is predictable and unimaginative). Speaking of, when I went to the theatre to watch this film, they had a preview for an R-rated thriller. Which basically means the whole "This trailer has been approved by the MPAA to accompany this film" message a load of baloney, because Star Wars is ultimately a family friendly franchise, and I'm pretty sure an R-rated thriller is as far away from "family friendly" as you can get.