It is a good movie.
It is, most importantly, definitely a Star Wars movie, and a downright fun one at that. It feels like the original trilogy, (the only trilogy, as my wife would say, and now that we have better Star Wars to look forward to I don’t feel any need to perpetuate any excuses to explain the prequels), it LOOKS like the original trilogy, it ACTS like the original trilogy, it’s got (almost) all the original actors. Perhaps most importantly, it’s got a script co-written by Lawrence Kasdan (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi) and John Williams is back with the music. It’s Star Wars, the one I was fascinated with at the age of 7. I have some issues with the movie, but they’re issues with a Star Wars movie.
The most remarkable thing is, despite the fact that nearly every significant player (and some less-significant players) in the original series is back, they never overshadow the new characters. John Boyega’s Finn is almost instantly relatable and consistently interesting; Daisy Ridley’s Rey is equally captivating and interesting, and Oscar Issac’s Poe Dameron manages to steal every scene he’s in (of which there are very few, but I assume that will change in the future).
J.J. Abrams made a big deal out of going back to practical effects, animatronics, and physical sets. And while there’s most definitely a lot of CGI used in the movie, the attention to real effects pays off, and gives everything an appropriate weight and presence (which is still possible to do with CGI if you’re very good, just as the prequels managed to be fake, sterile and lifeless despite having plenty of practical miniatures… bluescreened in). The new battles are energetic, full of life, and every single one is meaningful and important to the story.
Many reviews you’ll find out there claim the movie went overboard on references to the original trilogy. I beg to differ. On the one hand, it’s kind of unavoidable to reference the originals when you have so many returning characters… not to mention, the events of the original films actually happened to those people. On the other hand, it’s probably not wise to NOT reference the originals if you’re trying to establish that this is in fact the same Star Wars you already knew.
And on the other OTHER hand (This is Star Wars, I’m now some kind of multi-handed beast) as my wife is quick to point out, the story behind Star Wars was old when it came out: it’s the standard hero’s journey tale. Anything following that is going to resemble the original Star Wars, at least a bit; and the original Star Wars can’t claim exclusive ownership of an entire ancient mode of storytelling. At any rate, it’s not Star Trek Into Darkness, copying awkwardly large chunks of a famous previous movie and hoping you haven’t seen it.
Ultimately, as I said at the top, this is a good Star Wars movie (and, proof that it’s possible to MAKE a good Star Wars movie even/especially if you’re not George Lucas). It even manages to fix a few of the issues with the original trilogy. My wife, who is a serious fan of the original trilogy and was terrified that this movie would be another disappointment, even thinks that this is the BEST Star Wars movie, and I tend to agree with her.