It's a kids' movie.
With all the hype and all the marketing at adults (product tie-ins everywhere), this is a children's movie. Disney at least treated it like a proper investment and forced JJ Abrams to drop all other projects to work on this. Similar to viewers, they must have noticed he starts a lot of things well only to get distracted and then let them rot (Alias, LOST, Star Trek). The weight of the prequel failure was heavy on Disney, so there was a desperate desire to deliver to fans. JJ Abrams himself was said to be a huge fan, so it was going to be fan friendly.
It ends up as the most derivative work in an age of derivative Hollywood productions.
The movie has a strong start. There is the classic introductory Empire scene that is darker than anything in the originals. The cool rebel, an Al Pacino look-a-like playing a pilot named Poe, is captured by the new Empire (First Order) as he gives a droid a map to get to the Resistance. Wait that sounds just like the start to the first film. Okay but that is just a wink to the originals for fanboys right? There is a conflicted stormtrooper (black lead), an escape and crash, and some interesting wasteland scenes that feel... Mad Max-ish. Everything is going well ever when they bring Han Solo and Chewbacca into it. The scene on their freighter has a good feel to it, uses sets rather than heavy green screens and feels like an homage to... the Alien series. There is a cool way JJ Abrams handles a Jedi vision sequence. Even if it is right after an homage to... the Mos Eisely Cantina scene. Wait, it's not just going to be winks and nods the whole way, right?
It is. It all goes downhill when Carrie Fisher shows up. From the moment she appears, it becomes "Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V" from the original series to the new one. They compress the action scenes from the original trilogy into the final two-thirds of this one. Ice planet scenes, desert scenes, prison escapes, blow up a shield, blow up the planet shaped weapon, a rebel base in a jungle, pulling a lightsaber from the snow, mentor death, "ticking clock on destroying the good guys", and a big blow up scene. It's "copypasta". JJ Abrams has not written shit in this. The real test is next movie. This will make bank though, and that is all Disney cares about.
It is a "popcorn" action film. Action sequences are throughout the movie with little story to make a connection between you and the characters. Did you really care if any of the new characters made it? In fact, you might have wanted to see them not. Little touches and references for the old timer fans are here. The CGI is well done, and not overused. Music is sparse at times. This is an action film. You will enjoy the action sequences. The lightsaber fght is good and not cartoonish with a great forest setting. You will enjoy Harrison Ford being the Han Solo we all remember. Ford never quite transitioned to old timer roles, but he got too old for the "NO, you listen to me!" hard ass roles he played to perfection for 20 years. If Tom Hanks was every Americans' extra lovable uncle, Harrison Ford was every Americans' extra "lovable, competent but arrested for punching out your aunts' new husband" uncle.
The galactic conflict makes no sense. No sense. There is a republic but also a First Order and a Resistance outside of the Republic? Maybe it is Weimar Germany redone with the Commie vs. Fascist battle and a helpless government being dumb. What does make "progressive sense" is that the Resistance (GOOD GUYS!!!) are diverse in human and alien form with lots of duskier humans. The Resistance even had a fat, bearded hispter fighter pilot. They only have a force of like 100 people, but they hit every progressive checkbox. The First Order (BAD GUYS!!!) are 90% white and all human. Conspicuous progressivism strikes again! I did see a couple black chicks in First Order uniform.
In a really weird and unusual bit of casting, the First Order is nearly all British people. Truly a testament to the American need to hear a British accent for villains. There were some Brits in the first trilogy, but they turned evil Brit up to "11" in this one. Making Luke-Han seem as galactic myths when they were fighting 30 years earlier was ridiculous, and a dumb gimmick. The propaganda of the Rebellion having Luke as an asset who killed the emperor and defeated Vader would have been so good, they'd have boadcast it forever. Jesus Christ, Obama brings up killing Bin Laden still and that was a mission he made a decision on and had to be tricked into greenlighting it by Leon Panetta.
The female lead is grrl power at each step. Akinokure has the best take on this as latent transgender fantasies by nerd fanboys. Never thought of it that way because I viewed it as nerd boys who desperately want a girl who is into their nerd stuff and will then have sex with them and use them since they are unskilled in the sexual arts. It is rather embarrassing. Not as embarasing as showing a very powerful Jedi throughout the film suddenly at the end taking hits from a non-Force user and then a rookie Force user. Eyeroll inducing.
Almost as eyeroll inducing as the somewhat mild romantic stuff between black lead (Finn) and girl lead (Rey, Jesus she even has an androgynous name). This might just be because nerds don't know how romance or dating occurs. Remember in Star Wars where the guys thought Leia was cute but she couldn't give a shit about them, and then hooked up with Han in the second film? It takes time and some back and forth. This film has the leads saying to each other, near goddamn strangers, within 5 minutes of meeting that "hey you need to do this because I care". It was nearly Joss Whedon omega nerd dumb. Finn is not all that annoying but stunt casting. He does do stereotypical black things like lie, steal, mutiny, con people, have no family and work in sanitation... so maybe Finn was black all along. You also could visually identify him as a specific stormtrooper since he was chubby.
The Hispanic lead was not much of a lead, and not as much of a Hispanic. He was underused. For some idiotic reason, they wrote him out of most of the movie through a nonsensical "I got lost" excuse, and wasted him this movie. He could have been useful for the "get off the planet" sequence. If he's the best pilot in the galaxy, show him flying not "girl power who doesn't know if she can fly well" flying for feminism. Also, ding ding ding you put him, black lead and female lead together, and voila you got a love triangle. There are some Hollywood tropes that work well: love triangle with equal options is one of them.
The Hispanic actor himself seems like when progs count Hispanics to show off rather than hide them in the white category (example: Hispanics marrying Whites bumps up the interracial marriage numbers). Poe did look like Scarface era Pacino, and had a bit of charisma. In another era, no one would care or notice he was Hispanic. No one would care. He'd be cast in Mafia movies after this as an Italian (think Andy Garcia). This might be how Hollywood handles Hispanics going forward. Cast Sofia Vergara and this guy types and rave about Hispanic inclusion when everyone looks at the 4 foot tall mestizos in their towns and roll their eyes at the disconnect.
Is it bad when the best character they introduced was the little robot (BB-8) that will be this generation's R2D2? I'm being serious. He is the best new character, and he is just R2D2 in a different form and a bit more animated. There is one quick BB-8 moment that got the whole audience to laugh. I take that back, the costume design and storyline for Kylo Ren is pretty good. He has a voice modifier too so he sounds menacing at times and at other times sounds like the "Prepare for total domination" line from the song Sparky Pilastri uses in "Bring It On". Visually, they nailed the design for him with a sleek, athletic looking echo of Vader that makes sense and is reinforced by the character arc.
There are some great moments for him, with his introduction and the "talk to the melted helmet and skull" scene being pretty interesting. A conflicted bad guy who had some emotional moments whether challenged or confessing was something missing from the entire prequel series. The raw anger he has is what you would expect from a young, hot headed bad Jedi. He actually comes across as they should have written Anakin in the prequels. The only problem is they cast Adam Driver and his gigantic face in that role. He really needs facial hair or else he suffers from "face pollution", which is the phennomenon where one has too much face for their head. Maybe Driver went to the dark side because of all the times he saw Lena Dunham naked on "Girls". If I had to call it now, I'd say that he will be the most popular character (Jedi + great costume design + really the lead + male).
JJ Abrams definitely has parental issues. Every single movie or show he makes has some weird parent issue. I can't imagine why (((Abrams))) has mommy or daddy issues. Every single thing he touches has that. A parent is always dying whether Alias, LOST, Super 8 or this. Yes, we get parental issues here. He still missed a huge opportunity. He had it tailor made with a plot about Han and Leia's kids as the leads, but he twisted it. Think of that set up (Solo kids), and the scenes on the Millenium Falcon of the male and female leads, and suddenly it makes more sense and feels right. They chose The Narrative over a good story.
Is it fun? Yes. Is it ever going to measure up to how you dreamed them with friends years ago? No. No goddamn way. That ship sailed when the prequels were made and botched the easiest lay ups in cinematic history (Good guy willingly goes bad for ultimate power and Obi-Wan/Amidala/Anakin love triangle). The Star Wars saga went bad in the Return of the Jedi development. In that early '80s haze, George Lucas decided to scrap making Endor a planet of enslaved Wookies with Chewbacca freeing them in favor of ewoks beating the stormtroopers as a Vietnam War allegory. Stop laughing. Lucas got lucky. JJ Abrams is someone who can start stuff and never finish things well a la Mel Brooks. This was fun, but don't get mystical on me.
These are also kids movies. You got older. You expected it to grow up with you. This is popcorn entertainment that you thought might be cooler and more serious if wrapped in some Buddhist sounding Force talk and knights with laser swords. Francis Ford Coppola said that he made Godfather about family, but if you made a movie about religion, it'd be even bigger. Lucas did that. Coppola and Lucas were friends, which is how Harrison Ford got into Lucas' films. Lucas sold an individual's religious awakening in a New Age packaging of somewhat Christian and somewhat Buddhist ideas to Americans when New Age crap was all around. He also took enough from classic action tales to make it work. It was the perfect marriage of the pirate's tale with a Western with a samurai tale with Greek themes. Ever notice in the original films there was always the wrap up with three storylines coming together: the lightsaber battle (knights/samurai), the space opera section (pirate/naval) and then the blasters a blazin' ground battle (Cowboys vs. Indians or Army). Something for every kid. Notice that JJ Abrams ended this film in the same manner. Copy and paste.
There is one thing wonderfully sentimental, and it is not the stupid nostalgia nerds and fanboys enjoy. It is something for parents. If you were a kid when you saw the originals (ages 3 to 13) and you have kids now, this is your chance. You bring the little guy or girl and go through the ritual. Tickets, popcorn, going over some basics of etiquette in the theater, talking Star Wars. I saw this when I went. Lots of dads with their kids. I brought my son. When the kids get seated and the lights dim and they get that pumped up kid energy, it hits you. It's the memory of what it was like for you, and you get to share it with them. You also remember that this is suppose to be fun. It's a silly popcorn action film. The originals were too, but with a better story. I walked back to my car thinking, "Yeah that was fun and exciting but Jesus Christ completely derivative". This is a nice moment where the experience is not just your experience, it's not just their experience, but it becomes a family experience.
Will these hold up? Who knows, and with the coming onslaught of Star Wars movie after Star Wars movie, this will be beaten into the ground. I talk to teens who say the prequels were a waste of time and did not resonate with them. All CGI and little story. JJ Abrams must be cognizant of that and fearful of following that fate. We have a no prequel embargo in my house. It won't happen with this film but that does not say much. Is it worth the money? Sure for the big screen experience, but you won't be talking about this in ten years as a game changing scifi/fantasy film. Should they have just taken the fantastic Timothy Zahn "Thrawn Trilogy" novels, adjusted the timeline and turned those into movies in the late '90s/early '00s? Yes.
But this is a Disney product... and Disney has to make that paper. Forget story, just print dollars.