The Last Jedi may contextualise The Force Awakens into place alongside the rest of the series. It may redeem Luke Skywalker; heck, it could even retcon Han Solo back to being the responsible leader he grew into over three films, rather than the failed smuggler and deadbeat absent dad we were presented with back in 2015.
All of the above would help. Rian Johnson’s film could (and I’m not holding my breath) perform an incredible job of papering over the cracks created by Abrams’ production, but it still can’t make The Force Awakens a good Star Wars film. And there’s one element that illustrates exactly why:
Hyperspace is a near-perfect representation of Abrams’ prime directive: an iconic visual that was present in the OT and absent from the PT. The stars blurring into streaks of light as a ship blasted into hyperspace was a visual that the OT fanboys were desperate to see again, and Abrams delivered it in spades.
Yet in doing so, the weight of the world that Lucas created came apart.
We see a hurried hyperspace jump from the hanger of a larger ship. We see a hyperspace jump directly on to the surface of a planet that somehow doesn’t end in obliteration. At the end of the film a jump to the furthest reaches of the galaxy is shown to take moments – the equivalent of finding the missing Luke Skywalker at the local corner shop.
In short, we see a director re-using a visual trick with no understanding of how or why it was used in the first place.
It’s true, Abrams didn’t have the time to make the film that he wanted to make. And the Lucasfilm story group really should have picked him up on his use of hyperspace (and Starkiller Base, for that matter) before it became too ingrained in the production. But all this highlights is that Abrams has only a surface understanding of the universe that Lucas, Kershner, Marquand and ILM created.
As someone on Twitter recently noted, Abrams made a sequel to the Star Wars films as he remembered them, rather than the Star Wars films as they actually are.
While the OT fans whined about the lightweight CGI of the Clone Troopers in the Prequels, they were more than happy to accept a much-loved visual cue being used as a lightweight plot device that stopped anyone involved in making the film from having to think for too long. It’s a stance that essentially says “I don’t care what it means, just make it look like Star Wars” – a point of view reinforced by the negative reaction (from some) to Rogue One’s lack of an opening crawl. And if that equates to a divide in how fans enjoy these films, then I’m happy to be stood where I am.
This casual discarding of the elements that made Lucas’s Star Wars so rich is why the idea of The Force Awakens as a reboot becomes so compelling – a proposal that will become a lot harder to ignore if The Last Jedi also makes no attempt to bridge the sequels to the OT.
I’m living in hope that we’ll see a good Star Wars film this December. But I’m trying not to expect that The Last Jedi will be the sequel that I’m looking for.