My wife and I really enjoyed TLJ. Was it a perfect film? No. I didn’t expect it, or need it, to be.
I loved what they did with Luke. It was a bold choice to have him not fight a single battle. I’ve read so much criticism of this that just boils down to “But I really wanted to see Luke fight” and that is lazy criticism as far as I’m concerned. It’s a much more narratively interesting choice to make to depict Luke in this way.
I love that Rey’s parents are nobodies. People seem to forget that the Star Wars galaxy used to be a big place. There was a time when it wasn’t this one tiny corner where everyone is somehow related. Put yourself in the writers’ chair. You have two choices: Rey’s parents are somebody we know, or they’re not. If you make it somebody we know, how do you make that information valuable to the character’s development. What does it matter to anyone in these movies whether Rey is the daughter or granddaughter of someone we all know? It doesn’t. It only matters to audiences and fans who have spent the last year on Reddit building elaborate theories. By making Rey’s parents “nobodies” it does a lot of great things. It makes her special in her own way, not because she’s part of a genetic dynasty, but because of the will of the Force, or chance, or fate. It widens the galaxy back up again. It reminds the audience that there are a lot of force-sensitive people out there who are potentially impotant in this story. Not just members of the Skywalker/Solo family. It also gives Rey the opportunity to feel all of this along with the audience. To realize that she is on her own in a liberating way, and that her family is the one she makes on her own. I love that. It ties in with the final shot of the movie, the young slave boy using the force to pick up his broom and stare out at the stars.
Snoke. Another interesting subversion of expectations. I think this is the criticism I sympathize with the most. I had hoped for more from him. I started to wonder early in TLJ if he was Grand Moff Tarkin and survived the DS destruction somehow. But we have to remember, we knew very little about the Emperor before he was killed in ROTJ. It was only later that we got his back story. I guarantee you that we will get Snoke’s back story at some point in some other medium. But again, from a writing perspective, how do you deliver confirmation of one of a dozen fan theories in a way that matters at all to the characters in the story? You can’t, because there is no way that it is important to Rey or anyone else. Only to the fans.
TLJ was a movie that deliberately sought to subvert our expectations. And more than that, I think it is intended to be the literal darkest film in the saga, one that actually shatters our beliefs and understanding of what this is all about. TESB is often called the darkest film of the OT, but it’s still pretty cozy and comforting as far as adventure films go. It’s a warm blanket and mug of tea compared to TLJ (ham-fisted humor aside). I think we’re supposed to be left as upset and broken as many fans feel, because paradigms have been shattered, in preparation for synthesizing a new order in part 9.
Sorry for the long post, this is just what my wife and I concluded after an hour-long TLJ discussion last night.