So, yeah, this’ll be spoilery…
I liked it but it’s obviously struck a nerve with the crybaby snowflakes, who have started a petition demanding that the film be removed from canon by Disney. Not having read other reviews in an attempt to watch it unencumbered by preconceptions, I’m probably repeating what others have written but here goes nothing.
The film is a “fuck you” to the established order of galactic society and conventions. Luke has realised that he, the supposed hero and paragon of the light, has failed. In fact he’s responsible for shaping Ben Solo into “Kylo Ren”. However he’s paralysed by failure.
Similarly, the re-risen baddies – the First Order – are frozen in place, repeating old patterns of largely impotent behaviour. Led by a Supreme Leader who is just a cut-rate emperor wannabe and who works through petulant and ineffectual subordinates, who have the emotional maturity of fleas, the First Order does what all such beasts do and crushes rebellions. There’s no self awareness and no obvious greater purpose.
The Rebels are also frozen in place and going through the motions. Plucky fighters fight against overwhelming odds and the leadership flee from trap to trap. Everyone is struck in a Manichean situation; the Force is split between light and dark and society is trapped in the rituals of combat between opposing forces who always have and therefore always must oppose.
Rey is different. She didn’t grow up inside the system. Instead, she’s a child of nobodies, looking for someone to explain the power she feels growing within her. She accepts the explantion by Luke that the Force is some binding agency that is more than just a tool to move rocks, but appears to dismiss the idea of “good” Force versus “bad” Force.
Being a grown-up who’s been working through emotional issues of all sorts and reached some level of maturity, she doesn’t see divisions where others have defined them. Previous students have come through a rigid system, largely when they were children, trying to learn how to adult at the same time as learning rigid rules about a duality in the Force and how power seduces/corrupts you.
Rey, I think, judges the Force more by how it’s used, generatively or destructively. Evil exists and people can choose to do evil, but they aren’t powerless in the face of some external overwhelmingly seductive force. She has a moral compass that points her towards duty and helping her friends, and the Force is just a means to those ends.
Ben is similarly more a force for destruction, rather than evil. He is emotionally stunted and the product of flawed and aborted teaching, seeking approval from the Supreme Leader after seeing Luke’s rejection until Rey offers another hope. Ben helps her kill the Supreme Leader, but then has no suggestion other than to destroy everything and rule together over ashes. When rejected again, he falls back on the only role he knows, leading an army to crush any opposition, but he does so as a vastly dimished character, reduced to flailing impotently at the phantom of a Luke who’s now resigned to failure, and who is willing to get out of the way of the future.
In the final scene, we see a young boy who is another nobody, dreaming of a better future, and innocently wielding the Force as a simple tool to help him get on with life. There’s no religious trappings to warp him into dualistic modalities of good and evil with respect to his use of the Force and, in this and in some of Reys last words, I see a Zen-like attitude towards power: chop wood and carry water instead of moralising about things.
In the end, the Rebels win not so much by victory on the battlefield but by allowing themselves to be defeated. Ben and Admiral Hux suffer a phyrric victory, and the First Order is portrayed as an empty shell of its former self. The overlooked and downtrodden underclasses survive the conflagration largely untouched and will grow from the ashes, with their lives hopefully unencumbered by religion and imperial domination, left with hope of a better life from decent people who have refused to bow to tyrants.
In artistic terms, the film hearks back to previous episodes both stylistically and thematically. From the opening panning shot to scenes about entering dark grottos, and having the Falcon fly through labyrinthine tunnels to shake off enemy fighters, it’s all very Star Wars. There are some cute stupid things, like the porgs and BB-8 in the initial fight, but some more adept comedic moments as well and I think it works well both as a YA movie as well as something for more adult consideration.