I’ve had a few hours to collect my thoughts on the movie. I left the theater thinking – okay, well that happened. Now I think I see at least what they were trying to do – the key is in the conversation between Luke Skywalker and Yoda, where Yoda essentially says that failure is an important part of growth.
This is a movie where everyone fails.
Rey was convinced that she could turn Kylo Ren back into Ben Solo, and even stand up to Snoke. She tried and failed on both accounts. But we do see her better coming to terms with her own powers, and taking steps to make this journey on her own without relying on a father/mentor figure.
I wasn’t able to re-watch TFA, but IIRC Finn was never that big on the resistance. He’d become disillusioned with The First Order but was mostly in it thanks to his friendship or whatever it is with Rey. So we see him at the beginning this movie recognizing that the rebellion is f’ed and trying to sneak out and lead Rey away from them. He ends up getting drafted into a save the rebellion plot, and I think the casino scene was him seeing more of the “this universe needs someone to stand up for the little guy” kind of mentality. He fails in his mission, but ultimately embraces being a rebel soldier when he fights and defeats Phasma.
By the end of the movie he’s gone from wanting to bail, to being willing to sacrifice his life for this fight. ...As for Rose and the whole romance thing, I don’t think she actually love loves him...remember at her beginning, she’s got a mild case of hero worship towards him. She’s also still broken up over losing her sister and probably a bit vulnerable/not wanting to lose more comrades. I don’t see this as her having fallen in love with him after half a day.
Poe starts off as the cocky, reckless hot shot who thinks he can do everything. He fails spectacularly with his plan and the mutiny. He has to learn to put more trust in his superiors, and that sometimes you can’t just shoot your way out of trouble. We see him having learned his lesson when he accepts the order to fall back on the battering ram cannon.
Luke failed Kylo as a teacher, and then failed Leia’s trust in taking care of her son. His self-imposed exile was him not really being able to deal with/address this failure, and it affected him so deeply that he was willing to let the entire Jedi culture die with him. He had to learn to accept it and move on, and he did as he talked with both Leia and Kylo, expressing his regrets over what happened. At the start of the movie he wants the Jedi to die out, but by the end he’s comfortable with passing the torch to Rey and trusting her, even if she may fail along the way.
So it’s a character story more than anything else, and I feel like the characters have made progress and grown through their failures. But I’m not sure if the movie really pulled it off successfully.