Second? I'm not a prequel hater. I recognize their flaws, but there is still a lot that I like about them.
Third? Hell yeah The Force Awakens was leaps and bounds better than the prequels - in pretty much every respect.
Fourth? Spoilers. Total spoilers. This is for Star Wars fans who have seen the movie already. You probably don't need to be a full-on Star Wars geek, but if you don't even know the difference between an Ewok and a Wookie, you should move on.
So, here are some thoughts:
The fact that this movie even exists: Let's all be honest. When it comes to the story behind Star Wars and what George Lucas originally intended, the fact is that he changed his mind all the time. Like that line where Uncle Owen says that he's "afraid of" the notion that Luke is too much like his father? Well, it only became cool when Lucas finally decided to make Vader Luke's father, and that was while he was working on The Empire Strikes Back.
I remember when I was a kid that there supposed to be nine movies, as though that was the plan all along. I remember nearly wanting to kill myself after reading an article in the newspaper that said that there probably wouldn't be a new Star Wars for at least another five years. Oh, and that was in 1983 when Return of the Jedi came out. Insert boisterous chuckle here.
For a time there, it sure seemed like we'd never see any more Star Wars movies, but finally the prequels came along and Lucas claimed that the plan was for there to be six movies all along. Nine? That's crazy talk. It's always been six.
I didn't expect for this to happen, but the one thing that I never thought I'd see is the old cast coming back. I sure as hell never expected Harrison Ford to return as Han Solo considering he always seemed somewhat ambivalent about the character and even said in interviews that he had no interest in returning to the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon. (But he was always eager to be Indiana Jones again.)
And yet here we are. More on the old fogeys later.
Daisy Ridley as Rey - Would it have been just as good to get a known actress for this part? I don't know. But I do know that you couldn't have gotten anybody better than her. I realize that this sounds like a billion other reviews out there, but she really managed to capture the mix of being both innocent and capable at the same time. She was instantly likable, and I was rooting for her the whole time - and yeah, I got choked up when the lightsaber flew into her hand and the familiar music played. In that moment, I loved her in the same way I love Luke, Han, Leia, Chewbacca, etc. Yeah, they're fictional, but they're a part of who I am.
John Boyega as Finn - The previews made him seem like an interesting character. A stormtrooper who deserts? They were always so anonymous and existed to be shot down by the heroes. But here's one with a conscience. Cool enough, right? Well, the trailers didn't do him justice. The thing is, he was funny but never in a way that came at the expense of the story. Even if Rey wasn't in this movie and he had to carry the whole thing, it would still be great.
Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron - Did you know that his parents were a couple of rebels who likely conceived him in an one of those Ewok houses? If not, you should read the comic books. Aside from that, he was a really cool character and my only complaint is that he wasn't in the film more. I'm hoping for a bigger part for him next time. In a way, he was our entry into the movie, and he set the tone for this new generation of films. I'd say he did aces in that role.
BB8 - Look, I don't hate Jar Jar, but this is how you do a character that's cute and for kids. Were there some cutesy moments with him? Absolutely. However, they all came right out of the story. Also, there was something likable about him and that was his sense of loyalty.
Han Solo - Like I said, I never thought I'd see this happen. Maybe Harrison Ford agreed to do it because he knew that they'd finally kill off the character, and that's what he always wanted. Maybe it was the paycheck. Maybe he genuinely liked what JJ Abrams was doing with this movie. Maybe it's all of those reasons. Who cares? He was back, and that was awesome.
What was really cool was seeing him be both the rogue and mentor archetypes rolled into one. That way we got something both familiar and new with him. Also, it was great to see the skeptic, who didn't believe in the force, confirm that it's all true. (Because like a good skeptic, objective evidence changed his mind.) And as much as I liked the bit from the trailers where he explains that the whole thing is real, the best line was his rebuke to Finn, "That's not how the Force works!"
Princess Leia - It was good to see her even though she didn't have too much to do. Still, she definitely belonged and while she basically was only a more fleshed-out Mon Mothma to a new generation, us old school fans were all no doubt happy to see that she continues to fight the good fight.
Luke Skywalker - He didn't have much to do, but he sure did a lot with it. What exactly does that look on his face indicate? He obviously doesn't just think that Rey is some random person handing him a lightsaber. (And dammit, they had better explain how it was found!) But what has him so surprised? Is that Rey is his daughter? Is it that he didn't think he'd be found?
Adam Driver as Kylo Ren - How do you create a villain who doesn't feel anticlimactic after the defeat of Darth Vader and Darth Sidious? That's how, dammit. So much was riding on creating the perfect villain, and even though he might seem like a poor man's Vader in the previews, he definitely has his own thing going for him. Now that he's killed the guy who's arguably the most popular character in the entire series, it's pretty damn easy to root against this guy. Are they going to try and redeem him by the end of this trilogy? I don't know if it's possible, and I might not even want to see him redeemed.
Snoke - Who is this guy? What's his deal? Kylo Ren isn't Sith, but maybe this guy is? Maybe he's Darth Plagueis and Sidious was lying when he said he killed him? (Or just mistaken?) There better be more to him than just "one more dark Jedi". I'm fine with not knowing too much with this movie, but I hope that they have something interesting in store for us in the next couple of movies.
Ewan McGregor was brought in to record a line that was used in Rey's discovery of her force connection.
Is it too much like the original? Certainly there are a lot of parallels to the original (Episode IV to you youngsters) but I felt like there was plenty of new stuff to make me care about what was going on. I do hope that they really branch into some new territory with Episode VIII though. We've all accepted Rey, Finn, Poe, and BB8 as our new cast, and we're willing to go to the unfamiliar with them.
Do I have more to say? Probably, but I need to go to bed.