I'll grant that it had its wonky moments, but I don't think it had as many of those moments as the prequels, and the better line delivery made the cringe-worthy lines that were there stick out less.
They were objects of derision nearly from the beginning. Source: I'm old enough to remember firsthand. Either way, though, the real measurement of how well a movie connects with people is the test of time, and obviously TLJ hasn't been around nearly long enough for a verdict to be rendered on that front. I'm confident it'll hold up better than the prequels have do to its greater competency, but in fairness, I could be wrong.
Gonna address the next few points out of sequence:
Apart from the obvious stuff like "she wants to help her friends and defeat the First Order," at the start of the movie, she thinks she needs Luke to train her. After she sees how far off the path he's fallen (partly due to Kylo Ren reaching out to her, partly due to her trippy vision in the cave), she realizes that she needs to take responsibility and not rely on Luke to solve all her problems. But despite becoming disillusioned with Luke, she still honors the Jedi traditions, which is why she takes the sacred texts. She also develops a desire to turn Kylo away from evil. That fails, but it adds depth to the final battle--Kylo's actions are partly fueled by his rejection of Rey.
Compare that to Anakin in AotC--his main motivation is his love for Padmé. But why does he like her so much? It clearly has to do with fondly remembering her from his childhood, but that doesn't really explain why he's so obsessed with her that he'll abandon the Jedi ideals and lie to everyone he knows so their relationship can work. Apart from that, he cares about his mother, which is more believable because the first movie actually did a decent job of making their relationship feel authentic, but that only comes into play for maybe half an hour and has little lasting effect on the story after they leave Tatooine.
TLJ has a few big themes. Each storyline is about one or two, and the end brings them all together. Finn and Rose's storyline is about failure and the way people can lose sight of the big picture conflict of "good and evil" in favor of the more immediate and tangible matters of money and power. When Rose keeps Finn from pointlessly sacrificing himself, it takes the theme of failure and ties it to the movie's biggest theme that permeates every storyline--that we can't let shortsightedness distract us from what truly matters in the big picture. (Granted, Rose's line is really cheesy.)
I could probably write at length about the other characters in TLJ vs the prequels, but I hope what I wrote above show the difference in a microcosm. TLJ's characters grow, and we see why they act the way they do. The prequels give barebones explanations for "why" when they bother at all.
See, here's the thing. I wasn't trying to discuss enjoyment. Enjoyment and quality are distinct concepts. Batman and Robin is an awful, awful movie, but I enjoy watching it way more than 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is a vastly higher-quality work of art no matter how you slice it. So I can totally understand enjoying the prequels more than TLJ, even if I don't fall into that camp myself. But enjoyment doesn't necessarily correlate to quality/artistic craft/etc.
That's true, but I was intentionally avoiding discussing the movies on that level, because it's a much murkier and more subjective issue. Whatever one's feelings on the thematic merits of the prequels vs TLJ, I think it's clear that TLJ succeeds where the prequels totally fell flat--basic filmmaking competency (acting, dialogue, character definition and motivation, cinematography, etc.)
I've only actually seen TLJ once, so I wonder if there's not more to him than meets the eye...but yeah, I think you've got me there. XD