Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Star Wars: The Last Jedi ★★★½

Sometimes, your hopes are wrapped around one character to carry out the legacy of a beloved series. If you pick a familiar face, the fellow with a charismatic smile or a star, you are bound to be confused and may leave the theater disappointed. If you pick to follow a pipe maintenance worker, then you will appreciate the eighth episode in the “Star Wars” saga.

“The Last Jedi” begins where 2015’s “The Forces Awakens” ends, with the rebel-led Resistance evacuating its home base as the ruling First Order is about unleash hellfire. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) loads all the essential personnel and cargo onto a large space cruiser on route to an ally planet, but somehow Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and his army are tracking them. With little fuel and hope, the Resistance is at war with itself as far as what to do. Former stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) hatches one plan with hot-headed ace pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) that they believe will get the First Order off their trail. At the same time, there’s a political shakeup on board with Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) taking charge.

Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) is off on a secluded island reuniting OG Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) with his light saber and trying to connect with The Force that resides within her. Along the way, Rey’s training is interrupted with Force-induced conversations with archrival Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) about the Dark Side and other Jedi-type matters.

Much of “The Last Jedi” is spent with what Finn, Rey and Kylo learned about themselves from what happened in the seventh episode, and things are less clean cut than Star Wars fans would expect from the previous films. That’s thanks to director/writer Rian Johnson’s take on the fantasy canon. What J.J. Abrams did with “The Force Awakens” was make a fanboy’s dream for a new generation, but Johnson made it darker and unexpected. The audience sees Rey shift from wanting to restore hope to the Resistance to going whatever path it took, even if it included the Dark Side, to fulfill her selfish needs. Even Luke has his weaknesses and secrets that require him to put himself first. Rey’s connection with Kylo is intense, particularly in the quiet moments when each thinks they can unlock what makes the other tick. Will they become allies or stay as enemies? These mental battles are more pleasing than most of the action sequences in this bloated 2½-hour fantasy.

But if there is a character that keeps what remaining grain of George Lucas’ vision, that would be newbie Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a Resistance maintenance worker who pairs up with Finn on that Finn/Poe side mission. Despite suffering much loss and seeing deserters try to flee, Rose still believes in the Resistance’s purpose and sees beyond the surface. Like Rey and Finn, Rose rises from the gutter and becomes a hero. If there was a Dark Side copy of her, that would be General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson), whose rival with Kylo is still strong but is more of a joke than anything.

What makes “The Last Jedi” more realistic is that it is more human. There are fewer makeup/costume- heavy characters and alien lifeforms, expect for Luke’s island planet of adorable creatures. This puts more of the characters’ thoughts and emotions to the forefront instead of their outer foreignness. Plus, in a genre where people of color are either excluded or buried under costumes and computer-generated imagery, there is more representative that will reach a wider audience, from Boyega and Isaac to Tran and Benicio del Toro as DJ, a mysterious hacker that helps Finn and Rose on their side mission, but his alliance is in question.

As for the action, watching the Resistance ship being tailed by Snoke’s grand ship is a big bore. There were times in which Holdo could do a singing impression of Kathie Lee Gifford in a Carnival Cruise Lines commercial and it would be more entertaining. It felt like watching a cruise liner in the middle of the ocean, and wondering when the passengers would break into a conga line.

What makes “The Last Jedi” most troubling is that it’s the middle part of a trilogy, and if it follows typical trilogy logic, the next and final part will be awful. There are several loose ends with this episode, and with Abrams returning to the helm, will the war end with sides being chosen or will the internal conflicts still exist?

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