The Force in the original and prequel trilogies always felt the way combat feels in a lot of RPGs. Like a distinct mechanic, a separate field of play. Every great Jedi we ever encounter in prior movies loves to tell us how the Force binds us and all living things, how it's an extension of the senses, but we never see it. Prior to VIII, the most we see of the Force is
- Literally handwaving away incredible explanations in-universe
- Telekinesis on objects and people, including the wielder themselves
- Projecting oneself after death
- A minor illusion (tricking the droidekas on board the trade federation ship)
- Choking people
- Anakin's self-fulfilling prophecies
- Deflecting blaster bolts.
Last Jedi took these things to their logical conclusions, and more importantly, showed
them to us. We saw Luke conjure a major illusion like the wizard he has become, and thereafter become one with the Force like Obi-Wan before him. We saw Ben and Rey exploring a Force bond; finally those words from 1977 in Alec Guiness' voice become visible
: it surrounds us and penetrates us and binds the galaxy together
(Maybe not so much the "It's an energy field" bit.)
I have been avoiding most of the internet's opinions on this movie, but I can imagine a lot of people are bothered by Leia's Force pull maneuver. I don't think it's all that unreasonable, though. We've known for years that Leia is Force sensitive, and even that she would have been the one to do what Luke did had he failed. I see two possible explanations, neither of which exists contrary to the other:
Leia, in the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, had some practice honing her affinity for the Force, by Luke's advice or otherwise.
Force sensitives, when in danger, have an instinctive reaction which includes a surge of clarity and focus long enough for them to reach safety.
Admittedly I don't have a lot of precedent to suggest here from the movies, although as an element of fiction (particularly, fantasy with magic in it), Golden Sun
uses a similar explanation for its adepts. Some psynergy (the game's magic) is unleashed only when it is needed, which shields the protagonists from an attack which would've shapeshifted them, and also endows them with occasional critical hits, all explained in-universe.
The cliffside meditation bit with Rey and Luke was important too, and not just for the reed slap gag (which I thought was hilarious). We got to see the Force as Rey feels it. We got to be inside her head, and feel what an untrained Force adept experiences, and struggles with.
Perhaps too a hint that "dark" is misunderstood. Luke berates her for not resisting the pull of the Force cavern beneath the island, but like Luke's experience on Dagobah, it was a reflective moment. They saw themselves, both in a literal sense and an introspective one.
It's not the best Star Wars film (and I certainly won't open the can of worms of debating which one is
the best, but I'm glad to see that the creators of this most recent trilogy are willing to expand upon Lucas' original concept of space magic, rather than merely repeat it.