(photo by Annie Leibovitz, who is as good at her job as always)
I don't have the blind, seething hatred that a lot of people seem to have for the prequel trilogy, but a couple of fun characters and decent action scenes aside, they really weren't very good. I came away from all three thinking that George Lucas greatly miscalculated, maybe even misunderstood, what it was that made the originals so beloved and doubled down on the CGI and heavy-handed metaphor, and overexplained backstories that barely even needed underexplaining in the first place.
The Force Awakens, on the other hand, did pretty much everything right, especially in establishing the balance between the Star Wars we've known before and the story we'll be getting moving forward. There's no question that new characters like Rey, Finn, BB-8, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, et al are the focus of the story and will presumably remain as such throughout this third trilogy, but story does well by our love of the original characters. Their stories are advanced along in a logical manner and, crucially, they all have stuff to do rather than just playing the "Hey, it's that guy / gal / robot / drooling beastie."
Getting back to the new characters, our new leads - Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac as Rey, Finn, and Poe, respectively - are just spectacularly fun, and I'm more than happy to turn the keys of the franchise over to these three for the foreseeable future and see what sort of adventures they get up to separately and in any combination. And like most people, I'm sure, I totally want a BB-8 of my very own and suddenly that toy one you can control with a phone app doesn't seem so expensive anymore.
Kudos, too, to the special effects team for giving us back the feeling that all of these spaceships, creatures, environments, etc. actually have weight and could exist somewhere. My biggest complaint about the prequels is that everything looked like a video game because CGI was really not as far along as Lucas and the ILM folks seemed convinced it was (and, really, still isn't, but it is getting better... the film has two major CGI characters, and while one of them looks fantastic the other was still a little dodgy).
People expressed concerns when Disney bought the franchise, and again when J.J. Abrams was named director, and yet again when they remembered what things were like the last time we got a new slate of Star Wars movies, but for my money all of those fears were unfounded. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is exactly what a Star Wars - or, indeed, any action-adventure flick - should be, and that's a damn fine night out at the movies.