Before watching the movie, a friend asked me "Why is everyone so excited about this movie? It is insane!" It was, honestly, a really good question. I love Star Wars, like most of you guys, but when trying to explain someone that is not familiar with this universe, it is not an easy task.
Star Wars is a great piece of science fiction, just like other great movies that precede it; i.e. War of the Worlds (1953), Planet of the Apes (1968), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). And others that came after and during its sequels; i.e. Blade Runner (1982), Aliens (1986), Flash Gordon (1980) and countless others.
So, what makes it stand out above the rest?
Star Wars had a big part in the change of the culture in how we watch movies, especially, being part of the birth of the blockbuster season as we know it; i.e. Jaws (1975). It had also made its presence felt with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) (here) mainly for its technical achievements that marked a new era in special effects.
Where Star Trek excelled in showing us a futuristic vision of how our society would look like in the distant future, Star Wars took us out from the comfort of our own universe and introduced us to the concept of science fantasy. Stories based in the creation of myths, religion and moral choices. For example, no one cared (before the prequels) how the Force worked, we were enthralled by its mysticism and more interested in the consequences of its use.
"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away" was a brilliant way to set up the tone without even watching the first scene. That tiny sentence opens up infinite possibilities in storytelling and convinces its audience that we will witness something impossible become possible.
Simply put, after the original trilogy was completed, people wanted to know more about it. And the Expanded Universe was created thanks to the marketability of its concept. People blame Disney for being greedy but the Expanded Universe which included novels, comics, video games and spin-offs was pretty much the equivalent.
I agree that it is a little bit disappointing that most of the Expanded Universe will be ignored but I believe not all of it will be put aside. The long time fans and their personal investment in its lore will be somewhat rewarded with glimpses of the old stories. For instance:
Kylo Ren (Ben Solo) has a lot of similarities with Jacen Solo. Not only because he's Han & Leia's son but the way he behaved, talked and his obsession with a Skywalker is almost pulled directly from the books and novels. Another example would be Rey. If Rey turns out to be Luke's daughter, it opens the possibility of having Mara Jade (an assassin of Emperor Palpatine sent out to kill Luke), who became Luke's wife, on screen. And last but not least, the identity of Supreme Leader Snoke. There have been theories from him being a clone of emperor Palpatine to him being Boba Fett. If it turns out to be a clone of the Emperor, it will be a direct reference to Dark Empire, Dark Empire II and Empire's End. A series of comic books from the Expanded Universe. And to support a little bit the theory of Snoke being Boba Fett (which I think is a stretch), in one of the stories, Boba Fett trains one of the Solo children, specifically Jaina Solo, to learn how to hunt and kill Jedi / Sith. Her brother, Jacen Solo (who became Darth Caedus at this point) was the target. What if Snoke is training Kylo Ren (Ben Solo) to hunt and kill all Force sensitives? Hence the Knights of Ren, who look awfully close to Mandalorians in the vision that Rey has at Maz Kanata's. When Boba Fett trained Jaina Solo, she overhears a conversation with other Mandalorians about getting rid of both Jedi / Sith. Again, all of this, is mere speculation.
The point is that if we at least see references to the Expanded Universe, I would be satisfied. We can not alienate a whole new generation just because they didn't grow up with the old stories.
So, the answer to my friend's question was answered by The Force Awakens.
The movie echoes Episode IV: A New Hope, making it a reboot / sequel to the franchise. And that's completely fine. New generations have been introduced to the universe which the long time fans (including myself) fell in love with for the first time. Characters like Rey, Poe, Finn & Kylo Ren have all a fresh look even though they feel somewhat familiar.
So, it doesn't matter if the movie has its flaws or it wasn't the masterpiece that people wanted it to be. We are still talking about it. If there's something that The Force Awakens proved is that Star Wars is still relevant.
The long time fans were provided with a reminder of why we decided to invest so much in to this universe and a new generation has been introduced, for the first time, to the beginning of an epic adventure.
That's how I see it with Star Wars. We (the long time fans) have enjoyed a beautiful journey, now it is time to share it with others.
“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Well, there you have it. Thank you very much for your time and I hope you enjoyed the read.