Nora’s review published on Letterboxd:
Safe. That's the last thing I wanted this movie to be, but I can't think of it any other way. Sure, The Force Awakens was a fine movie, but it was basically a retread of A New Hope. I, and many others, hoped and thought the sequel would strike off in a new direction, or at least throw some curve balls. But despite some general gesticulation in the film's middle in the direction of upending the balance of things, this story is as Star Wars and as safe as it gets. It also has an inescapable middle chapter feel. There's plenty of plot movement, but it all feels like busywork. At one point in order to complete a quest for a macguffin, our heroes first have to go to a completely unrelated locale for *another* macguffin, and it's exhausting. This two-and-a-half hour movie crumbles under the weight of repetitive plot action and a story that just. Won't. Move. Not to mention how incredibly implausible one of the core conceits of the film is, especially the longer it goes on. The plot's central pillar seems incredibly shaky if you look at it from more than one angle.
There are a few crowd-pleasing setpiece moments, but not enough to make the running time feel deserved. The middle section of the movie is packed with unending plot filler and thematic/narrative developments that ended up mostly not paying off. There's one cool lightsaber battle, but the stakes are pretty low, so it lacks the intensity of, say, Luke beating up on Vader at the end of Jedi. I never once felt like anyone was actually in any danger.
The cast was the film's biggest saving grace. Rey and Finn are still played by tremendously charismatic actors who can paper over their perhaps somewhat underwritten characters with terrific, zesty performances, and Mark Hamill surprised me with just how engaging he was here. Easily the best of the returning cast members in these two movies, for what that's worth. I just wish some of the cornier lines had been made a little less so. Even by Star Wars standards some of the dialogue just really clanged in its literalism. Ditto the humor, which seemed engineered for crowd-pleasing cinema moments, but felt too self-aware and affected by half, being almost entirely for the audience's benefit rather than the characters'.
Believe me, I take no pleasure in being one of this film's few naysayers (so far). I loved the trailers for this and I was excited to see where the story would go. But it doesn't go anywhere that Star Wars hasn't gone before. It's just more Star Wars, but with all the subtext dredged up and turned into text, in case you didn't get that these were movies about good guys fighting bad guys. For all of Lucas' missteps in the prequels, complicating the black-and-white morality of the Jedi and the Sith wasn't one of them. It's disappointing, then, to see this film play with similar ideas, only to abandon them for a much more conventional plot structure.