1. Kanjar Ro is a great villain, and the Battle of Gobotron was thrilling. If you don’t want to read any real spoilers, you should go away now, and come back after you see the movie.
2. Luke, Leia, and Han have had it very rough since the Battle of Endor. Gerry Canavan argues that this shows that J.J. Abrams has a tragic understanding of the universe in which you only get a happy ending if you stop telling the story at precisely the right moment. Maybe there is something to that, but the reason that the story of Luke, Leia, and Han is so sad is because we wanted them in a certain kind of story, and Abrams is smart enough to rub our noses in it.
Star Wars is a war story. The joy in the overthrow of the Empire was the hope that these characters could – in relatively short order – move on to more peaceful pursuits. Even after destroying the One Ring, the hobbits still had to clear the Shire, but they soon moved on to rebuilding their homes and their lives. There were other wars, but Sam Gamgee didn’t have to spend the rest of his life fighting them. He got to be a gardener, and a happy family man – for a while. It would have been a different story if those same hobbits had to keep fighting the orcs forever.
To want to see Luke, Leia, and Han in a Star Wars movie set thirty years after the Battle of Endor is to want to see their lives consumed by an endless war. A lazier artist could have portrayed them as basically happy and sitting around having boring, idiotic, conversations about this war in a CGI Jedi temple, but Abrams gives it to us straight. We (the consumers) wanted to see these characters in another war story, and the honest consequence is that they are haunted, exhausted, and broken.
3. Daisy Ridley is terrific in a difficult role. In the first trilogy, Luke and Han had vices that they struggled against. Luke was terribly immature, and Han was deeply selfish. Overcoming those vices gave each character a moral arc to go along with the obstacles thrown at them by the plot.
This especially helped Mark Hamill. Hamill wasn’t a particularly good actor, but Luke’s cluelessness and impatience was all out on the surface and visibly warred with his idealism, and compassion. Hamill did an excellent job of displaying all of those emotions. In Return of the Jedi, Hamill had to project gravitas, and Luke’s conflicts were more subtle and internal. Luke is more powerful and less flawed, and Hamill’s performance isn’t nearly as successful as in the previous movies.
Everyone who is focusing on Rey as a “Mary Sue” keeps talking about her skills. She is at least as good at flying the Millennium Falcon as Han Solo from the moment she first steps on board, and has a superior understanding of the ship’s mechanics. Without any Jedi training at all, she is a more powerful and subtler force user than Luke at the end of Empire Strikes Back.
But it isn’t just the pilot skills and the force powers. She has the heart of a lion, and a heart of gold. She is given some minor internal conflicts (she is waiting on her family to return, she is terrified by a force vision), but nothing like Luke’s jerkish treatment of Yoda or Han’s frankly mercenary “I’m not in this for your revolution.”
Rey could have been insufferable, but she is always likeable, and that is to Ridley’s credit.