The title pretty much says it in a nutshell, but I’ll go a bit more in depth to explain why.
Yes, the cast from the original trilogy are aging, but episode seven takes place decades later, so it’s not really that much of an issue that the cast has gotten older. Harrison Ford still pulls a nice swagger as Han Solo, our beloved Peter Mayhew is still our favourite “walking carpet” Chewie, Carrie Fisher is still our lovely and strong Princess-turned-General Lea, Mark Hamill still has that Jedi Knight air we remember from Luke in RotJ, even Anthony Daniels is still the same panic stricken C3PO we all know and love. Age hasn’t really changed that much in our heroes, though they’re probably a bit wiser, or more cantankerous, as the case may be.
As for the new characters, they do cut interesting figures in the Star Wars universe, adding to the stories we love rather than taking away from them. Plus, you find out some rather intriguing bits about them as the movie goes along. Personally, I rather enjoy seeing new characters brought into a good story; doing so keeps it from going flat and cliché.
Speaking of the film, it’s fast paced and doesn’t feel like you’re sitting there for a bit over two-and-a-quarter hours, yet it’s a bit like watching parts of the original trilogy with nods to episodes four and six especially and hidden nuggets for the old school fans to find (I had quite a few geek out moments spotting those). It’s certainly better than the prequel trilogy turned out to be (though I think episode two was the best of that set) and feels like a fitting addition to the saga. J.J. Abrams shows he is really good with dynamic camera work and good old-fashioned dog fight sequences, and the audio effects are spot on. I was getting goose-bumps hearing some of them (or was it because the theater was a bit cold?), especially the Millennium Falcon, Tie Fighters, Light Sabers, and X-Wings. I think it would be safe to call this a love-letter to the original three while expanding on the saga in an interesting and plausible way.
One of the big reasons that episode seven feels so much more like four, five, and six is the fact that J.J. Abrams insisted on location filming and as much practical effects, miniatures, and sets as possible, using CGI only where absolutely necessary (particularly with certain characters). Perhaps the film industry (or at least the more intelligent members of the industry) are realizing that CGI should never completely replace practical in-camera effects, but instead should be used to enhance them. That seems to be the route that directors like J.J. Abrams, Michael Bay, and Peter Jackson have taken, and rightly so - their films feel more real to us as the audience than CGI films ever could as a result, thus why fans tend to gravitate towards those rather than live-action CGI films, and one of the bigger reasons why the prequel Star Wars trilogy did so badly.
One thing I don’t understand is a lot of people’s negative reaction to BB8. I have seen quite a few who complained about him (“OMG, a beach ball droid? Really?”), yet I can remember stories dating back to the release of episode four of people saying the same thing about R2D2 (“OMG, a trash can droid? Really?”). Over the decades since his introduction, R2D2 has become one of the most beloved characters in the Star Wars universe with his likeness modeled into everything from telephones and cookie jars to kitchen timers, salt/pepper shakers, measuring cup/spoon sets, and more. With BB8, all I see is history on repeat; and the best part is the fact that he’s physically and tangibly real, a remote controlled prop droid just like R2D2. As a character, he’s a clever and cute little droid with his own set of gizmos and gadgets built into him to help him do his job; and like R2D2, he’s quite an expressive little droid with his beeps and mannerisms. I think he makes a great “little brother droid” to R2D2 and C3PO, and certainly makes a great addition to the core cast of characters.
My hope for episode 8? In addition to the core cast we’ve seen so far, I’d love to see Billy D. Williams return as Lando Calrisian, as well as perhaps seeing some of the “Force Ghosts” we all love and remember (Yoda and Obi Wan chief among them). Other than that, I hope we get to learn more about both Ray’s and Finn’s back stories, as well as find out more about Rylo Ken and who this new Sith Lord really is, along with some of the other more prominent new faces brought in through episode seven. Until then, may the Force be with you.