Back in 2007, I tore apart Superman Returns, partially for holding the balls of Richard Donner's Superman movies as if it's trying to keep them warm and shielded, like Superman does for Metropolis. Because of that, and because Bryan Singer didn't think Superman should fight anything, it never really comes together as an original work. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a lot like that. It doesn't hold the original Star Wars' balls quite as tightly, but there's definitely some light ball-tickling going on.
In other words, I hope you like Star Wars, because JJ Abrams is about to show you how much he likes Star Wars. Yes, I call it "Star Wars." "A New Hope" is stupid.
Anyway, JJ Abrams is way into that movie. So much, in fact, that he takes great care to recreate some of the scenes from Star Wars in his movie, but he JJ's them up so you don't notice what he's doing. It isn't a knock on The Force Awakens, because his story is its own thing. He just has a clear love for Star Wars that he can't help but let us see. JJ loves Star Wars so much that I bet he still calls it "Star Wars."
As a result, two-thirds of the movie is really good. He's really good about allowing us to find out what happened to the characters we really love while letting us get to know these new characters. In true Star Wars tradition, you don't find out anything about the new characters so much as you get to hang out with them for a while, before realizing later that you don't know much about them at all. They're just so funny and likable that you never notice.
Like, Finn, for instance. Finn is what would happen if you took a regular person from here and dropped them into Star Wars. Unlike every other character in Star Wars lore who grew up in a place where slugs become crime lords and people can be choked from across the street, Finn ain't about this life. And it shows. Everybody in the world who dreams about living in the Star Wars universe, thinks that if they went there, they'd suddenly learn the force or enjoy living in space, but Finn is your reality. Finn is what you'd actually be like. He's not a coward, but he's terribly confused about what life is like out here, and really doesn't get why we all need to be out here fighting when we can all get ships that go to the Outer Rim. In a way, he's a twist on Han Solo, who didn't think it was worth sacrificing his life in the service of the Rebellion.
Then, there's Rey, a scavenger girl surviving on a desert planet. She lives a difficult life, getting ripped off by the local scrap yard guy who pays her in food, and sleeping in the wreckage of an old AT-AT Walker. When she isn't scavenging or fixing stuff, she sits and watches the ships fly off this barren desert planet. And even though she lives this hard knock life, she still manages to have a heart for sad sacks that come stumbling across her front door. She's almost the inverse of Luke Skywalker, because she doesn't dream of leaving this world at all, even though she should probably want to.
Kylo Ren isn't likable, though. Not at all. The previous villains were cool or charismatic in different ways, or carried themselves with a presence. Darth Vader was awe-inspiring and ruthless. Darth Maul was designed to be cool. Christopher Lee's voice alone made Count Dooku memorable. Even General Grievous was completely original, with some old school built in. But Kylo Ren isn't like that. He comes off like he's trying to be someone else, and acts very much like a spoiled child at times. For all I know, that was the point.
As for what happens in the movie, there's a lot of action, it looks really good, and it is imaginative, because after all, this is a JJ Abrams movie. If nothing else, he's going to take your breath way with his action scenes. There was never a worry about that, because if he could make the Starship Enterprise exciting, imagine what he could do with the Millennium Falcon.
But then, there's that last third of the movie. I remember reading a review about Revenge of the Sith when it came out that said that George Lucas was basically forcing the plot to go where he needed it to go, logic be damned (and that review was right). There was an end point that had already been predetermined, and he needed to get these loose ends tied up before the credits roll, which is why Yoda just up and decided that he needed to go into exile. There are moments like that, where it felt like they had decided where these characters needed to end up and they were gonna get there, logic be damned. The last third of this movie kinda felt like JJ remembered that he needed to hit a couple more beats before he wrapped this thing up.
In my mind, it's like he delivers the script, and its brilliant, but someone at the studio was like, "There are no clips from the third act that we can put into the trailer. Give us some trailer moments." And he gets mad and hate-writes a new third act for them. I mean, it's just kinda there, aside from
But it's a good movie. Just one that's going to take some time for me to really appreciate. JJ did a good job of working in the original trilogy's universe organically, and there are so many moments where I was pointing at the screen in excitement, because I suddenly saw something I recognized. He also wrote this thing as if the prequels never happened, which is good, because I doubt anyone's gonna go into this like, "This thing better address the final fate of Watto, or I want my money back." No, The Force Awakens dovetails out of Return of the Jedi, but in a way that is both familiar and new at the same time. It's kind of comforting to spend another couple of hours in a that galaxy again.