TFA didn’t feel like a love letter to the OT at all to me, rather like the most expensive fan film ever made.
TLJ is weighed down by the ST’s poor set up (the FO being inexplicably all-conquering and powerful), but still succeeded despite all the things it had going against it.
That’s another problem I have with TFA. Abrams approached the movie like a fan, whereas Johnson approached it like a filmmaker first and foremost.
Since the movie’s release all online discussions feel like an exercise in who can hate the movie more, which why I’m not particularly fond of expressing my love for it as it makes me feel like some sort of extraterrestrial being with a mindset drastically different from others.
See, I have the same issues with TFA now as you do but that’s because TLJ failed to provide sufficient or compelling (or any at all) explanations for all the unexplained things occurring in TFA. Additionally due to the disappointment that TLJ was to me and how drastically it departed from what was setup in TFA, TFA as a direct result is now a mediocre to poor movie for me where prior to TLJ it was good to excellent.
Actually, the fact that TLJ disregards TFA worked in the film’s favour in my view.
I’ve also posted previously that with TLJ, Johnson has earned my full trust and now I’m eagerly anticipating Johnson’s SW trilogy, even more than Episode IX, the best part being that it will be a brand new story that is wholly disconnected from the main saga.