This bit is the non-spoilery bit. The spoilery bits are at the bottom.
I didn't go into this with high expectations. I watched The Force Awakens last(?) year, and found myself in that camp of people who thought it was nothing more than a re-run on A New Hope, with a bit of gender switching to try and make it more fresh. So I wasn't really expecting to be blown away. Hoping, but not expecting.
There is an inherent problem that something as influential as Star Wars will always struggle to live up to its own legacy. The original films are good, but if they came out now, wouldn't stand up to modern standards. But since they did it first so famously, they occupy a space in culture which is separate from their actual quality. (I had a similar problem when I re-watched Blade Runner prior to watching 2049. Not that good, really.)
This was painfully obvious with the prequels, which I think at this point are more disliked than liked. The fact they're in the same universe as the original trilogy doesn't necessarily equate to them being good. And the same is also true here. The film is fairly decent, though does have some significant flaws, but doesn't stand up to what I think of as a Star Wars film. Which is silly really.
Prior to this, I'd seen 8 films in their universe. I watched the original trilogy as a kid when they re-released it as the special editions at the pictures, so it has nostalgia working for it. But the prequels were bad enough I didn't finish the third one, TFA I've told you about above, but I did at least really enjoy Rogue One. (It's The Dirty Dozen in space, with Alan Tudyk being a sarcastic robot. What's not to like?) Which only gives them a 50:50 hit rate overall.
And that's how this film went. Half was excellent. Someone has been watching Mark Hamill on twitter, and realised that he's played the Joker long enough that he does an excellent job of being a dick to everybody. Trust me, Hamill is the best thing in this film. For a grumpy hermit, he gets a lot of lines, and some seriously impressive scenes.
Nearly everyone else does not really measure up. Carrie Fisher was still brilliant as someone who has lived a life fighting for survival and running what's left of an empire (though I have my doubts about how anyone can maintain a rebellion with this few people), and I found myself liking Kelly Tran more than I expected. I still can't like Kylo Ren as a baddy. Whoever thought a whiny teenager was a good villain should be sent to go live on a farm.
At least Snoke is still a powerful figure. I enjoyed his manipulative brand of evil. Dameron is still annoying. "Ooh, look at me, I'm the new Han Solo, but rubbish." At least John Boyega is cool. And I immensely enjoyed Brienne kicking arse with literally just a big metal stick. No lightsaber, no fancy lightning powered rod, just a big lump of metal. Impressive. Could have done with more of her. I tried to like Daisy Ridley, but her story is tied too deeply into Kylo Ren's to stand alone.
There is no reason for porgs to exist. They are distractions from everything else that should have been going on. Fights were a bit cool, but in general, it just didn't quite hang together. A few bits of plot felt mashed together, rushed or unnecessary. I watched it because it was Star Wars. I'll watch the final one because it's Star Wars. But I'm not sure how much I'll enjoy it.
SPOILERS BELOW HERE
Flying space wizard Leia felt cheap. I know she's always been considered tbe more powerful of the two, but that just seemed excessive. I'd have bought her feeling something coming and giving a warning just in time to have someone throw her into a hatch, but the flying around space unprotected felt more than a little silly.
I don't know what the side plot with the codebreaker was actually for. They could have skipped that entire thing, and not had Poe look like such an idiot. It also meant the "oh god, we're running out of fuel" went on for far too long. And are you really telling me you would keep your plan that secret even when you've got people worried about the fact they're likely to die? It can be helpful for soldiers to know they're not aiming for an inevitable death.
Speaking of inevitable death, if you're really going to show us that a ship jumping to hyperspace can wipe out an entire First Order task force, why have you not put that on a torpedo? Or at least suicide runners? You could have wiped out that dreadnought with one person in a hyperspace capable ship, you didn't need six bombers full of people to die. Though I did at least enjoy the fact they've figured out we need to care about the people they kill off if we're going to have any investment in their war. (Speaking of the war, how long has this gone on for now? Talk about a rubbish galaxy to live in.)
The confrontation with Snoke was fairly cleverly done, though the fact they patronised to the audience with Snoke's final speech of "Now, audience, pay attention, because we're secretly thinking about one thing while doing another" felt more than a little condescending. They really should stop underestimating their audience. Still, the Sith babies (Snoke's personal guard) were nifty.
The climax to Luke's plot was just poor. I can just about see what they were going for, but it was such an underwhelming moment that it fell incredibly flat. For the love of pete, give him a more dramatic moment than that. (Admittedly, they might do something in the last film. You never know.)
I was at least a little surprised in that I thought they were going to break the usual pattern and have Kylo Ren switch to good and Rey fall to the dark side. There's still space for that in a final film, but it's looking increasingly unlikely. It's a shame. I could buy Ren as a redeemed hero. I can't respect him as a villain. Same problem with Hux. He's just so rubbish.
I really wanted to like it. I didn't. Not enough to redeem the last one. I think they might have finally come to an end and should have stopped. It's a shame.