Spoiler-free version: I did enojy the movie, but it also felt like a lot of it was shamelessly ripping off the original Star Wars movies. However, there were also subversions. Some of my favourite bits were the subversions.
Tim Buckley from Control - Alt - Delete (whether you love it or hate it) has a spoiler-free review that articulated something I hadn't realised. Yes, it shamelessly rips off the original Star Wars movies, but, if you still like it and your main criticism is "it's too much like another movie I love", this is probably better than a story following a force-sensitive human as he navigates the inner workings and politics of local government.
Now, onto the more spoilery bits!
Let me just read my notes here... wow, so disorganised. Okay, this will be a bit messy and jumping around the place.
The writing is wonky and the dialogue is clunky. Perhaps a really good example of this is the stuff with Han and Leia and Kylo Ren. Shouldn't they be "Dad" and "Mum" (sorry, "Mom") and "Ben" to each other? Yes, I know they've all had massive problems and fallings-out, but still, their dialogue is weird and stiff and they don't actually sound like a family at all when they talk about their screwed-up family situation. From what I can remember, Kylo Ren is only called by his real name, "Ben", once.
The existence of a "Resistance" to the First Order felt like a massive stupid cop-out that made no sense at all and it came along within the introductory text crawl. Isn't the First Order already a resistance to the order of the new Galatic Republic? So The Resistance is a resistance to a resistance to the Republic? WHY??? Why not just have Republic vs First Order? Well, I know why, because you guys want to get back to Empire vs Rebellion stories. But, again, WHY??? It's a totally eye rolling bit of setup and it's stupid and it's in the first ten seconds of the movie!
There could have been some interesting stuff about the First Order being a terrorist operation and the Republic moving to squash it. But TERRORISM! AUGH! NO! We can't have dangerous and topical stuff like that in a blockbuster movie, and especially not a blockbuster movie that is STAR WARS!!! THAT WILL KILL OUR EARNINGS WHAT IS THIS SILLINESS I DON'T EVEN THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO WAY YOU'RE MAKING A STAR WARS MOVIE OR ANY MOVIE THAT MENTIONS "TERRORISM" NOW GET OUT OF MY OFFICE.
AND GET ME PICTURES OF SPIDER-MAN WHILE YOU'RE AT IT.
Excuse me, I was ranting for a bit there.
The other really obvious thing about the writing and plotting is that the movie basically took all the bits of Star Wars that you like and smooshed them together then turned the dial up to eleven. So much of the plot is lifted from the first three movies. And they literally, and very seriously and straight-facedly, come up with the exact same plan for the Starkiller weapon that they used for the second death star.
One last complaint about the wonky writing: In a scene that's probably supposed to cement the First Order as a truly horrifying and terrible threat, they use the Starkiller weapon to blow up a whole bunch of planets all at once. They're supposedly core planets of the Galactic Republic. It looks like Coruscant might be one of the planets that gets blown up?
This scene has *no* weight at all. The planets show up just in order to get blown up. We have almost no attachment. There's a close-up of possibly-Coruscant, and about twenty seconds later it's blown up too. We get told that this is a great blow against the Republic, then we get back into the
However I actually *did* like the movie! It's just that the writing and dialogue was so annoying at times. Let's get on to stuff that I really liked.
There were some really good moments where they deviate from the Star Wars template. In the trailers and posters, Finn has a lightsaber and is fighting with it, and it seems he's going to be the guy who's Force sensitive. This isn't what happens at all. He tries to fight with the lightsaber, but gets handily beaten both times.
Another great deviation from the template is Rey. She turns out to be the Force-sensitive one. (Does this make her the first major Star Wars movie female character with the Force?) She gets captured and it looks like she's going to be the damsel in distress, but then she rescues herself. She actually has a conversation with Maz (the female orange Yoda-type character) that seems to pass the Bechdel Test.
Another great development - the Kylo Ren / Finn lightsaber duel. In the trailer, a lot of people saw Kylo's lightsaber and its two little blades for the hilt, and they mocked it endlessly. However, the fight between Kylo Ren and Finn shows that this is not as ridiculous as it looks. When you're in a lightsaber clash with someone else? Just push! The saber hilt gets them.
Lightsabers cast blue light and red light onto the actors. This is actually a quite amazing effect and I didn't know I was missing it.
Another fun subversion is BB-8, the little droid with important information and everyone wants to get it. *Everyone* recognises the droid and is constantly trying to get it.
Not exactly a subversion: Poe Dameron, the pilot guy, comes back! He wasn't around for very long in the beginning and he felt like another throwaway character. Then he comes back and is a fun character. He seems a bit super-competent though. Hopefully we'll find out more about him in the future.
The elephant in the room, that we should have all seen coming: Han dies.
Experience with the old Expanded Universe and all its books and novels, shows that if you don't retire the old characters, they hang around and get into everything and overshadow anything new you try to do. The old EU had gone 30 - 40 years past Return of the Jedi, and Han, Leia, and Luke were still getting involved with everything.
Plus the old Star Wars actors are, well, getting old. Just because of that, you know that the old characters have to be removed from the storyline somehow. The questions are: how, who, and when? With Han and Chewie being on the frontlines, they've got huge targets on their backs.
I didn't put all of this together until the start of the scene with Han and Kylo on the catwalk in the First Order base. But then when it started and Han was confronting Kylo Ren entirely by himself, it all became crystal clear. This was it. This was where Han would die.
While talking about Kylo Ren and That Scene, it seems that the movie wants to present him as wavering in between the Light Side and the Dark Side, and conflicted over which way to go. The movie does a tremendously bad job at this. See above about the wonky writing and dialogue. A prediction: He'll get saved and redeemed by Rey and Finn in later movies.
Yet another elephant: Luke was barely in the trailers and so people tied themselves up into knots. OMG what's happened to Luke, has he gone bad? The movie itself is everyone trying to find Luke. Well played, movie!