I went to this movie not knowing anything new (though I've just rewatched I, IV, V & VI). Always been a big fan of the first three movies (Star Wars: A New Hope, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi), and didn't care for the second three (Star Wars: Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith). I knew by the end of Empire that Leia was "the other," something I argued about for three years because an amazing number of Star Wars fans couldn't see Leia as having that potential.
I was really convinced going in to see The Force Awakens that Rey was Han and Leia's daughter, and, perhaps to protect her, they "hid" her away. She looks much more like their offspring than Adam Driver does. And I thought that helped to explain why she was instantly at home in the Millennium Falcon. But Rey is a great character, and if she's Luke's daughter, that explains a lot (except for her height). It is striking that when Daisy Riley has her hair done more "Earth style," she looks a lot like very tall Natalie Portman. Daisy Ridley was wonderful and I think she'll go far in the movie biz.
I'm not an Adam Driver fan, but I loved him as Kylo - he was basically the ultimate malicious fan boy but the object of his devotion was Darth Vader. If you noticed, he had some power, but he seemed to be barely tolerated by much of the Empire. His parentage was a great surprise and I'm glad that wasn't spoiled for me.
Really liked both Jon Boyega & Oscar Isaac (whom I met when we were working on a movie in Pittsburgh a few years back). Some people were critical of Boyega, but, remember, his character getting his bearings as an individual deserter for the first half of the movie and he was overwhelmed a lot of the time. That was appropriate. Both Boyega & Isaac were terrific and I look forward to them working together in future SW movies.
Adored the Mas character, one of the most realistic CGI characters ever. I hope she survived the bombing of her cantina.
When Han and Kylo both wound up on that bridge, I knew at least one of them would not walk off. That was well-done.
Thought the on-again/off-again relationship of Han and Leia worked very well.
The effects/production values mostly quite good. The practical effects were excellent. There's a tendency for full-CGI sequences to look very gray (particularly noticeable in Harry Potter movies and sometimes in LOTR movies). The filmmakers avoided this.
Loved the "Empire spaceship graveyard."
The bad things:
Not enough Carrie Fisher - Leia. After being a forceful, competent leader as a 19-year-old, Leia seems to have badly faded away. Hated that. Bad scriptwriting there.
Gwendolyn Christie was really underused. She might not have been killed so maybe she'll be back. She's wonderful with weapons and it was sad you never saw her with a light saber or at least a staff. [[Yes, I hear she'll be back YAY!]] Gwendolyn deserves the "best sport" award during the marketing of the movie because we had no clue that she was going to be so invisible in this movie.
The Empire seemed overwhelmingly huge and the Republic seemed incredibly tiny. This was a serious mistake. They needed to be slightly more evenly matched. The Rebellion can't survive with 10 X-wings and one base.
The new Death Star-ish weapon was just too powerful. With the Empire losing two huge weapons in the past, you think their weaponry would be better distributed and not in one basket like that. On the other hand, it was bizarre that the Empire destroyed all the planets in a system except for the planet where they knew the little droid was (since destroying the droid would have solved the problem of Luke's location getting out).
Since moviemakers can do anything with CGI, they did just that. As a result, we got an utterly unbelievable sequence with the Millennium Falcon flying very close to the ground. Sorry, that didn't work for me at all. The asteroid sequence in Empire, pre-CGI, is still the best science-fictional flight sequence ever.
There was way too much running around in the desert town in the first 20 minutes of the movie. Way too much. Pacing of the movie was generally frenetic after that, but usually made more sense.
A few too many convenient coincidences, especially R2-D2 "waking up" at a key moment in the plot (though a friend suggested R2-D2 may be sensitive to "the Force" and started coming around when Rey was in the area.
Finally, the overall plot is too much like the overall plot of A New Hope. Rian Johnson wrote the rather loopy Looper which I liked a lot and wrote the next script so I hope it's not so derivative of earlier Star Wars movies. He'll also be directing episode VIII.