It hurts TFA in my mind, too, because it calls attention to the parts I didn’t like most about that movie and I don’t feel like it was enough of an evolution from TFA to right those wrongs. It just feels like additional footage from TFA stretched over two hours with these massive character-defining moments in the trilogy sprinkled in that don’t have the impact they should because we’re not far enough away from TFA.
Part of the drama in ESB and ROTJ is that those films start off with some time having passed since the previous installment. There are new and different things we have yet to discover about what happened while we were away.
And frankly I think that’s why TFA works for a lot of people. We get a story that kicks off decades after the last one. What’s happened since then? Who are these people today? How have they changed since we last met? That’s exciting.
TLJ has none of that mystery because it picks up literally where the previous installment leaves off, and that’s J.J.'s fault because he just had to have his dramatic ending and couldn’t tell a complete story, which is his MO. He’s great at starting stories, but not so great at finishing them.
And yet somehow we still don’t know these new characters or their world very well. Over 4.5 hours of storytelling and how we got from ROTJ to TFA/TLJ is largely a mystery.
After letting it settle a bit more, for me the biggest failure was not kicking off the new trilogy with our favorite characters on one last adventure, even if it were a brief one. I’m not saying give the old characters 90% of the screen time and let the new ones hang around as window dressing; the new characters need to stand on their own. But having access to Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, Threepio, and R2 and not putting them on screen together one last time was a massive miss.
I applaud Rian’s risks and what he was able to do with what he was given, though. He could’ve handed in a boring retread and instead he went for it.