Here's what I'm going to do: in the first section, I'm going to talk about the overall theme, feel, etc., of the movie; in the second section, the specific details that either impressed or disgusted me, again in order of how little I liked them to how much I liked them.
*I think this contains spoilers. Prior to seeing the movie, I kept hearing about this one huge twist in the plot, and after watching the movie, I have no idea what that might have been, because nothing felt like a huge spoiler.
I guess it was Ren Kylo's (Kylo Ren's? Whatever) family. But - and I knew pretty much nothing about the Extended Universe, which the movie is supposed to be loosely based on - I was expecting that. I mean, come on. Of course. What else were they going to do? Literally nobody spoiled it for me, I didn't read it anywhere, and I barely touched the Extended Universe (except for the Darth Bane trilogy - my favorite SciFi books!) and I still knew what that was going to be.
There was another possible spoiler, that also had to do with Kylo's family - it's pretty much at the end of the movie. Maybe that was it, since that one actually was a spoiler, but... I guess my point is, there really aren't that many *spoilers* in the movie. At least, I didn't think so.
They Got the Most Important Element of the First Trilogy, But They Put Themselves in a Position to Go Completely Off the Rails
My mom is very fond of telling my brother and me that when the original trilogy came out, it came out in the age of the anti-hero. According to her, there weren't many other actual, real, good heroes. For movies, it was the age of moral relativity, and the only thing that separated the "hero" from the "villain" was that the "hero" was the main character. Enter Star Wars, which is obviously nothing like that. Not that the heroes only do good (Han Solo? Leia? Even Luke?) but they're still different from the villains. There is still a right, and a wrong, beyond any doubt. I don't know much about the movies that came out when Star Wars did, so I mostly have my mom's authority for this, but even in an age of comic book and Inkling heroes, Star Wars clearly shows that in order to be a true hero, you can't be a villain. None of the characters are perfect, but you can still tell who's good and who's bad.
The new one nailed that. Not only are the heroes good, and people worth looking up to, but even the villain sort of acknowledges that there's a difference between right and wrong. When the main girl comes across the main guy and a droid who need help, even though she is in every position to say, "Why should I help you at all?" she does the right thing and helps them. The main guy is completely a demonstration not just in avoiding doing really bad things (like murder) but in the less bad things too (like desertion). There is virtually no moral relativity - and by that, I don't mean that they always do what's right, or that they always know what's right, but that they're mostly trying for what's right.
The problem - and it could be a huge problem - is what they did with the villain. I think the backstory is fabulous, and if they don't screw it up, it could be a great story. Kylo was learning how to use the Force to become a Jedi when he decided he wanted to be like Darth Vader. Literally - he wants to follow in Vader's specific footsteps. He even wears a mask that disguises his voice. What bugs me is that the move left in a position to do all kinds of justification for Vader being not really that bad, to make all kinds of excuses for his switching to the Dark Side (not reasons, but excuses) and to blame everybody else for what Kylo did, is doing, and wants to do. No. I'm sorry, no. I know Obi-Wan kind of blamed himself for Anakin Skywalker's transition to the Dark Side, but they still made it clear Vader was evil. If they decide to start making excuses for the villain, like a lot of other Disney movies have started doing, it could derail a pretty important aspect of Star Wars. I find it kind of ironic - the original trilogy came out at a time when there were no heroes; the newest one comes out at a time when there are no villains.
The problem with this is that Darth Vader is entirely and completely the absolute worst villain you could make excuses for - because he changed. He left the Dark Side at the very end, and gave his life to save his son's. No excuses necessary - he died a hero. If they detract from that by trying to excuse Vader, they're going to ruin the character even worse than the prequels did.
There Was a Lot More Referencing the Past Than Any of the Other Star Wars Movies I've Seen
Let me explain: in the original trilogy, there wasn't a lot of history, per se, and most of it was recent history. Of the prequels, I only saw the Phantom Menace, and that only twice, so I can't speak for the other two, but what I remember of the Phantom Menace had very little references to anything that happened at a time before the movie. You don't hear much about the history of the Jedi, or the Republic, or even really the Sith. (Okay, how are Jedi and Darth Vader in blogspot's dictionary but Sith and Skywalker aren't?) Anyway, in the new movie, the main girl (Rey?) asks Han, "Are the stories all true?" and there's a scene with "the first Jedi Temple" (which I'm pretty sure was filmed on Skellig Michael.) There's even a scene where Kylo is looking at Darth Vader's helmet, and as I said, his whole purpose is to follow in Vader's footsteps. You can just feel more of a world with this movie, and I kind of liked that. Instead of adding to the galaxy just by making new aliens and new alien cultures (although they did that too, believe me) they also added to the galaxy by giving it a little depth.
I'm Not Sure It Felt Like a Normal Sci-Fi Movie
I honestly cannot believe J. J. Abrams directed this movie, because it felt nothing like his other ones. He did the Star Trek reboots, which were totally Sci-Fi, to the core. He also did Fringe, which again, was totally Sci-Fi. This movie almost felt more like a fantasy. Not just because of the Force - there were other things, too, that just ... wow. There's a whole lot more mysticism about things other than the Force - things like legends, places, and the sets. Definitely the sets. The main guy's backstory (I think his name's Finn) is that he was kidnapped from his parents and raised to be a Stormtrooper. Boy, does that sound like a certain fantasy that also has dragons? Kylo Ren, when he takes off that mask, looks like he stepped out of that fantasy, too.
There was also a ton of symbolism, some of which was actually really clever. There's one scene when a character is wobbling between the Light and the Dark, and in that scene, a sun acts almost like a channel for Light, and what choice that character makes seems to be influenced by sunlight. I find this interesting because a sun is really important to science in space; solar systems need it for gravity, it can be used for navigation, etc. But it also plays the part of a symbol.
I wouldn't go so far as to say it felt like a fantasy, because it really didn't. It kind of felt like either a failure at the Sci-Fi element in particular (which, given his track record, I have a hard time believing of J. J. Abrams) or kind of a new spin on Sci-Fi. Either way, I liked it.
They Definitely Work on the Elements That Are Native to Star Wars
Space battles, and Lightsaber fights. Star Wars owned them both, and this new movie just ruled at making them. The space battles are amazing. There is also a lightsaber fight at the end, and it's freaking fantastic. I think I was holding my breath while watching it. My brother despises it, because one of the participants should have no reason being so good, but whatever. I loved watching it. I really don't know what else to say.
Anyway, below are my thoughts on specific events or points in the movie. You have to scroll down to see them, because these are probably spoilers, and again, rated from my least favorite to my most favorite.
Han Goes Back to Smuggling
This was possibly the worst part of this movie, because it just about completely undid all the hard work and character development dedicated to the original's most questionable hero (more on why that's so important later). In the first movie, Han was a dishonest, selfish, cheating, selfish, careless, and selfish character who ran from absolutely everything and cared only about his pay. By the second movie, he hung around, more or less, and endured torture for the sake of the Rebels; by the third movie, there wasn't even a question of him running away. The Rebels trusted him to lead a sneak attack on Endor, and they knew he wouldn't run away. But - years after being with Leia, after working to build a better world with her and his friends, he runs away. The reason they give isn't a bad one, but I really don't think any reason could be good enough to completely undo his entire character arc in the original trilogy. At least it didn't feel like they were doing it just for nostalgic thrills - with one or two exceptions, but I guess they're allowed that - but even in its best light, this is just stupid writing
Han and Leia Broke Up?
Again - undoing a ton of character development. The reason is the same reason Han goes back to smuggling, but again, I doubt there's a reason strong enough to outweigh the character buildup in the original trilogy. Han went from being a runner, and Leia toned down her arrogance.
This particularly irritates me, because in today's books, movies, etc., there are so, so, so few romances that actually serve to propel the plot or build character. Most of them just serve to be romances. And it's annoying. And it's distracting. Han and Leia's romance actually developed their characters and propelled the plot (more the former than the latter, but still) and this movie totally screwed it up and set them back to pretty much the beginning. Nice going.
However, I'm still rating this as only second worst because, when their relationship is explored, it does actually serve to rebuild their characters and propel the plot (more the latter than the former this time, actually) and it's not just there to be a romance. Notice the first infinitive verb, though - rebuild. It shouldn't have needed to be done again. I will say that it did not fell like a repeat of their previous character development; it did feel like a continuation. Just a bad continuation.
The Buildup/Payoff For Small Scenes Was Weird
There were two incidents I can think of that were just strange. First, Han is about to introduce the main leads to a new alien, and he says, "She's kind of an acquired taste." It's an implication that she's scary - but she's not. She's nothing short of helpful and caring the entire time. Sure, she says some things the main characters don't want to hear, mostly "Don't run away," but that's it. She was sweet, kind, and almost motherly.
Then, while talking to that alien, and at a few other points, Han says, "Leia doesn't want to see me." There's this buildup that there's going to be fireworks and problems (and I was thinking, no, please no, no more romantic couples fighting, I can't stand that) but none of that came. They were perfectly nice to each other the whole time, There was no finger pointing, and no yelling.
Han and Leia Don't Fight!!!!
Yes, I'm giving this its own point, because it's awesome! When I reviewed the second Kiera Cass book (here) I commented how much it annoys me when main romantic leads have to fight each other. It drives me up the wall. But Han and Leia don't do that! So, if you were scared there was going to be a bunch of melodrama, there isn't. There's pretty much none. And it's beautiful.
By the way, the main characters, who I suspect will be romantic at some point, start off not liking each other, but they get over it nice and quickly. They actually quit fighting faster than Han and Leia did in the original trilogy. I think there's only one scene where they bicker. Beautiful, wonderful surprise.
I Really Don't Think They Could Have Done the Villain Any Better
It's late, so I'll just summarize here and probably expound on a later blog post or an update. His backstory makes sense, his struggles make sense, and his goals make sense. I know I complained about how they could really easily screw the story up, but if they don't, then they nailed the villain. He's a product of previous generations (obviously) and also of the previous stories, and - yeah, they pretty much got him down. I bet they could have cast him better (he seriously looks like he stepped out of a fantasy story) but the actor was still good. His struggles connect to how he connects to the previous generation. Nicely. Done.
All in all, I think it's worth seeing, and I'll probably see it again.