"Three decades after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, a new threat arises. The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy and only a ragtag group of heroes can stop them, along with the help of the Resistance."
It's impossible to compare the new Star Wars movie to the Original Trilogy or the Prequel Trilogy in any way other than writing and execution; And when it comes to that, The Force Awakens certainly does not disappoint.
This movie takes advantage of a little bit of everything from the previous 6 movies in several different ways, from humorous references to the previous films ("Do they have a garbage chute? Or a trash compactor?") and bring some elements full circle (The theory that Leia had that Luke might have disappeared because he was trying to find the original Jedi Temple [which was on Ach-to]).
J.J. Abrams did a fantastic job directing the movie. There were lots of fantastic shots and pans that only J.J. could have captured. A couple of my favorites were the shot of the Millennium Falcon flying over the dunes on Jakku and the camera follows behind it, and the shot of the Resistance X-Wings flying across the water to rescue Han, Chewie, Rey, and Finn from the First Order. They also decided to very much tone down the amount of lens flares (which I didn't really dislike in the first place, but that's just me).
The visual and special effects were fantastic, as to be expected from any Star Wars movie. There was not a moment where I could tell between the animated parts and the practical elements. To contrast that, I also really appreciated that they went to such great lengths to keep lots of the effects practical (i.e. BB-8 and the rest of the droids were remote-controlled or actors in costume and elaborate sets and props) in homage of the original movies to keep the practicality there, and when they did end up animating, it all looked fantastic.
The entire movie was super well acted by both returning actors (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill) and new timers to the series (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis). You could feel the connection between Finn and Poe as friends, Rey and Luke at the end as Master and Padawan Learner, Han and Chewie were just as witty and sarcastic partners as smugglers and as Resistance fighters.
One of my favorite things about the Star Wars franchise is that, no matter which film you watch, every single fight you will see fits the character/fighter's style so well. For example, The Old Republic Jedi of the prequels (Obi-Wan, Anakin, Mace Windu) were more elegant and coordinated because that's the way their characters were trained to fight in the Jedi Academy. The fights in The Force Awakens fit their characters in the same way. The characters are a bit inexperienced with a lightsaber and a bit less coordinated and rely heavily on their emotions to help them live through these intense and brutal fights that kept the heart pounding.
My absolute favorite thing about this movie, however, is that they utilized bits and pieces of the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Most of us remember when Disney made the decision to disregard the original EU of books as canon and reestablish and limit the Star Wars extended canon to the Clone Wars and Rebels animated series', the modern ongoing Marvel Comics series', and the Disney-published books. J.J. & crew decided to take that decision and throw it back in Disney's face by taking some of the original EU and including it in the movie (i.e. the inclusion of BB-8 specifically, Han and Leia having a son [not the same son as the books, but still], the Starkiller Base, Master Skywalker, etc.). Hopefully we'll see some more of the original Expanded Universe in the future movies. Maybe Luke has learned some Dark Side techniques to use for the Light Side... Who knows?
Many fans are angry about this movie because of its story parallels with the originals. For example: the Resistance making a desperate attempt to save their secret base from the ultimate evil superweapon that is getting ready to destroy them all; and when Rey and Kylo Ren were having their little "force battle" over Luke's lightsaber that was stuck in the snow, I know that moment reminded me of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke was stuck dangling in the Wampa cave and has to force his lightsaber over to him to escape. Some people think that plot points like that in the story made this movie nothing more than just a "re-hash of A New Hope," but it isn't; all of that was done intentionally, and I, for one, appreciated it very much. It added a familiarity that a sequel to such an iconic movie like Star Wars needs in order to keep the nostalgia flowing and keep audiences engaged; but it was also definitely different enough that it's still a unique story that holds itself up on its own.
The villains in this movie were phenomenal. The stormtroopers actually felt and acted like soldiers this time and could actually shoot decently. Kylo Ren was a fantastic follow-up to possibly the greatest movie villain of all time, Darth Vader, which is something very difficult to do. In addition to Ren, we have the rise of a new leader of the Dark Side, Supreme Leader Snoke, who, along with Ren, is shrouded in mystery. There are many theories going around as to who this guy is, and it sets up a lot to be revealed in Episodes VIII and VIIII. Unfortunately, the price of having such great villains is the loss of a most-beloved (and my personal favorite) character.
As we all know, in the recent weeks since the film's release, a certain Stormtrooper known to the internet as TR-8R (AKA Stormtrooper FN-2199 [AKA Nines]) has essentially taken over the internet as one of the last memes of 2015. While I am a fan of Nines, I do wish that we could have gotten a little bit more time with Captain Phasma. It's fairly obvious that Disney was trying to make her the next Boba Fett character and get her a huge fanbase like he has. Unfortunately, this didn't pan out the way they had planned mainly because, while she is already really cool and unique as a Stormtrooper, Phasma didn't get near enough screentime or action like Boba Fett did in The Empire Strikes Back. Hopefully we'll be seeing more of Phasma in Episode VIII, and then maybe she'll get the fans that she (probably) deserves.
Full of sci-fi action, excitement, humor, heart-wrenching emotion, and a great amount of nostalgia with a few really good plot twists thrown in there, and a great deal of mystery surrounding certain characters, on both sides of the playing field. The Force Awakens is not only a great addition to the Star Wars franchise, but also a great movie on its own.
J.J. did it.