I was ready to dislike this movie. I'd heard all the spoilers and watched YouTube analyses and on that basis I couldn't see any way in which this film would be a satisfying conclusion to the Skywalker saga. And it isn't - not really. But it's not the disaster I was expecting.
Imagine you are playing chess and at the start of the game you decide that white will win by a back rank checkmate with the opposing king obstructed by his own pawns. The game then starts and, as things often do, circumstances start to work against you. So, in order to maintain your original plan of the back rank mate, you start to bend the rules a bit... then a bit more. Now this bishop can move like a knight, now pawns can move backwards...
That's what this movie feels like. JJ Abrams knew what needed to be in place for the finale: a personal triumph from the movie's heroine set against an epic backdrop. But in order to get there he needed to push a lot of pieces around in ways that felt decidedly un-natural.
I'll leave the spoilers to another post, but suffice to say that whenever a character needed to know some information, they just did. Whenever they needed to find something, they simply stumbled across it. I would usually call this lazy writing, but there is nothing lazy about this movie. In this case it was a series of desperate shortcuts taken in order to reach a destination which could not, under any circumstances, be missed.
That it hangs together at all is a tribute to the fact that filmmaking is at least as much art as it is science. On paper this movie should not work. If it was a scientific formula, the experiment would fail. But it doesn't fail, not quite.
The problems it has are all structural and related to the plot and the work that needed to be done to make a functional trilogy from the point Rian Johnson left it at the end of the Last Jedi. How much those faults will affect your enjoyment of the film will depend on how much stock you put in that aspect of filmmaking.
It has a few things going for it: a universally uplifting message that is hard to go against, pretty graphics and decent performances from a likable cast.
I still can't believe the utter lack of coordination between Rian Johnson and JJ Abrams and the consequently jarring middle movie of the trilogy that necessitated all this rough carpentry.
I'll shed no tears over the death of a franchise, for that is not what this is. But I will mourn what could have been: a beloved original trilogy, universally timeless themes, an extant and well-realized aesthetic; an original cast still vital (at least at the start of this new trilogy). In the end they took Wagu steak and made it into a cheeseburger. I guess we should be thankful. It could have been a lot worse.