How about a third option, where you go with an unfamiliar plot, and just create an original story not driven by either satisfying or subverting expectations. Both your options rely heavily on what the audience knows, and in order to subvert expectations you still have to first follow the familiar trajectory. Consequently, the movie still feels very familiar, despite the barrage of twists.
My two options were for if they began with the “familiar scenarios”, which they did in TFA. Once they did that, then it seems like those two options were really the only ways they could have gone.
But yeah, I like the idea of just starting with a new scenario altogether. No empire vs. rebels. No family member that has turned to the dark side. No old Jedi mentor on a remote planet. And so on. With the old ideas, the “subversion” feels like driving down a familiar road and making a left instead of the usual right. With new ideas, it’s like driving into a different town altogether where we have no idea what paths lie ahead; I would’ve liked that more, if executed well.
I agree, that TFA didn’t make it easy for RJ to come up with something original, but I also believe there were other options available, that would have resulted in a far more original story for TLJ.
For one both the New Republic, and the FO suffered a huge blow, and should have been severely weakened by TFA’s events. There’s absolutely no reason why we should arrive at the Empire vs rebels scenario again. In stead we could have had two factions struggling to survive in a level playing field.
Rey’s sudden Force powers have huge implications for the Star Wars universe with the Force balancing the scales in Luke’s absense. This could have been explored along with questions like “Is the Force sentient?”. Snoke could have played a part in this, since his sudden rise/awakening could have followed from the Sith’s destruction, rather than be incidental. In stead it’s glossed over, and Luke acts like it was always like this (powerful light, powerful darkness), when it wasn’t.
The Knights of Ren in TFA appeared to represent a clear break from the Sith’s rule of two, where Rey might actually have to square off against a dozen Force users, yet TLJ simply reverts back to the Sith master/apprentice dynamic.
So, in my view TLJ closed a lot of doors opened by TFA to more original story avenues in order to be clever with twists. While this kept the audience on their toes, it still resulted in a highly derivative narrative, where gimmicks are used to keep it interesting.
Great points here.