STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI - Knowledge and power passing from one generation to the next has been a prevailing theme throughout the run of this popular intergalactic saga. It’s on prominent display again in this eighth installment involving the three newer characters in different plots with only one of them feeling consequential. Conjuring up his inner Han Solo, hotheaded Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) clashes with his superiors while Finn (John Boyega) joins up with a mechanic (Kelly Marie Tran) to hunt down a codebreaker (Benicio Del Toro) who can thwart the First Order’s ability to track rebel vessels. But the storyline that emerges as the most relevant revolves around Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) mentoring Rey (Daisy Ridley) in the ways of the Force. Sandwiched between the opening and closing sequences is a center that feels on the bloated side when less would have been more. A trip to the Las Vegas style planet of Canto Bight feels like a corporate and more upscale resurrection of the bar scene on Mos Eisley from EPISODE IV (1977). I can’t say I ever really bought into the rather dopey telepathic connection going on between villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Ridley (MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS). But in terms of production, the movie soars with elaborate art and set design from Rick Heinrichs who also presided over some nifty visual effects like the climactic battle on a salt-mining planet where blood colored red dust is liberally kicked up. Bob Ducsay’s jump editing is smoothly handled going back and forth between subplots and director/writer Rian Johnson’s (LOOPER) pacing is swift enough to mask some of the film’s weaker moments by pushing through them to get to the next cliffhanger. Speaking of which, the acting is a sort of mixed bag. Mark Hamill (KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE) will never be mistaken for a Shakespearean thespian so to say that this is the best performance of his career (And it is.) is sort of like being told that you’re the best surfer in Wichita, Kansas. It’s a nice compliment but how much value does it really have? And while the nostalgic side of me watched Carrie Fisher’s (HANNAH AND HER SISTERS) Leia Organa with a sense of wistful sadness, the analyst side of me saw an actress whose expressions alternated between looking pained and relieved as she appeared to struggle with every word of dialogue (It’s a sort of subconscious reminder that those of us who saw the original trilogy in our younger days are riding a downhill slope toward Roselawn.). But the remainder of the ensemble cast are given more depth to their characters and with all the incredible visuals, excellent fight choreography and genuinely emotional moments, JEDI has deftly passed its lightsaber forward. CRITIC’S GRADE: B