J.J. Abrams pulled off a neat trick with this picture. First, he purged from our filmic consciousness the abominations that were George Lucas’ middle three Star Wars films, which were bloated, antiseptic stories populated by green screen zombies and seemingly produced for the sole purpose of reinvigorating the merchandising arm of his global empire. For more on this, see Red Letter Media’s brutal takedown of those films and The People versus George Lucas.
Second, Abrams eased into it, essentially hewing to the first film in both style and story. There is nothing new or even particularly daring here, but Abrams is wisely more interested in establishing his bona fides and recreating the feel of the first three films. This one is a mix of action, fun and nostalgia, self-referential but not so self-referential as to be lazy.
Third, he strongly established four different new characters – three of whom have true motivations that emanate from a backstory – for the franchise to rely upon going forth.
It’s not perfect. Some of the self-reference is a little haggard, and the plot at the end is a little thin, pat and hurried. Yet, Abrams needed to exorcise the franchise of its demon menace, Lucas the bloodless toy purveyor, and he has done so in a movie that can reconnect new viewers to the wonders of the first pictures.