Ladies and gentlemen, the wait is over! I got the chance to see Episode VII late Thursday night. Overall I was very pleased. As a straight up movie, it was action-packed and quite enjoyable. I am going to post here my initial impressions, spoiler-free, and I know Nate plans to do the same very soon. We'll wait until after the New Year (at least) before diving into details and whatnot.
Lots of positives to be found. There were a bunch of cool tech tidbits, adding to the realism of the background. Tons of new, fresh aliens and droids. We'll be working our way through them for quite some time. Lots of humor, when appropriate. A good crop of one-liners scattered about, here and there.
Great to see old friends. Delighted to see really strong characters emerge as new friends. I quite like BB-8, Poe, Finn, and Rey.
Decent main bad guys in the First Order. OK good guys in the Resistance. From the movie alone (at least from one viewing), it is difficult to tell what, exactly, is going on politically. First Order and Resistance. Plus Republic? I understand there are already extensive background texts out there that have lots more details, including "Star Wars: The Force Awakens Visual Dictionary"). I will have to dive into those soon as I try to make sense of it all.
Without giving anything away, I think the plot is the weakest element of this film. For Star Wars nerds like us, that may not matter too much, as we can survive and thrive on just the details alone. Thankfully there are no grating elements like Jar Jar and (as Abrams mentioned before release multiple times) no midi-chlorians talk.
I plan to see this movie at least three more times in the theater before January is out. Perhaps more. It's fun and fast and brand new. It feels like Star Wars (which is a bit odd to say, but an important aspect for me, nonetheless).
As for a rating, I'd say 4/5 stars. The imagery, excitement, and thrill of it all carries the day even when the actual storyline could have used some extensive help. More on my thoughts in this regard next year, when spoilers will be less damaging.