Some general thoughts:
* I was careful to try and steer around most spoilers and purposely avoided the last trailer, since I wanted the movie to be fresh. Turns out there wasn't anything really shocking in the movie that wasn't telegraphed if one was looking, but that shouldn't be too surprising.
* As some of the reviews state, TFA is highly derivative of IV-V-VI (i.e. "the original ones"). The plot is basically "our heroes have to stop a planet killer weapon controlled by the evil bad guys." I wonder how a young person who isn't familiar with the original movies would react to this one - it is written with the understanding that everyone knows who Luke, Leia, and Han are. Which is fine, I don't have a problem with that; we can't pretend that Star Wars isn't one of the biggest franchises in movie history, and the movie doesn't try to.
* The new characters' introductions are pretty well done, especially on the heroes side. While the big emotional investment is still in seeing the characters from the original series, there's enough there with Rey and Finn that I'm looking forward to seeing where they go with them. Rey was a little too much in the "we want to have a strong female character, so we'll have her being more capable than anyone else" stereotype, but not to the point where it got annoyingly obvious. Finn's conversion from stormtrooper to helping Poe escape seemed rather abrupt - not as bad as some of the character acrobatics we were put through with Anakin in the prequels, but still. Rebel pilot Poe felt like he was supposed to be a major character who got cut back to being a supporting one. The new bad guys weren't as strong: Kylo Ren seemed not particularly interesting or engrossing - I think we were told more than shown about his inner turmoils that made him turn against his parents - and General Hux was very much a cardboard Evil Fascist General cutout. The female stormtrooper sergeant seemed like the mirror image of Poe, as a character who seemed to be there for bigger things than they were, at least in this movie. Supreme Leader Snoke is as much an enigma as the Emperor was in IV and V.
* However, with those two first points, the next movies in the franchise need to further develop the new characters, and not rely as much on nostalgia for IV-V-VI. The next one will clearly have a lot of Luke in it, since Han's storyline has come to an end. But we need to move things forward in some new directions, however risky that may be. TFA was fun, and a nice return to a beloved universe, but it took few risks.
* Loved the scene where Poe and Finn are piloting a TIE fighter to escape. That was fresh and new; I don't think we've ever seen the inside of a TIE, much less what it looks like to fly one. The need to knock out the star destroyer's main batteries was a good nod to realism, but still, there was some suspension of disbelief that a mostly-undamaged star destroyer wouldn't be able to easily swat down a renegade TIE, main batteries or no. This could have been fixed by having Ren say that he needed Poe alive, so to only shoot to disable (which is what ends up happening anyway)
* I can't believe I'm saying this after the mess the prequels were, in terms of almost swimming in exposition...but, I'm left wanting a whole lot more in terms of info on what the state of the Star Wars universe is. After "Jedi," the second Death Star was destroyed, and the Emperor is dead, but apparently at the time of TFA the galaxy is in mostly the same state as in IV-V-VI, with the Empire now being the First Order and the Rebellion now being the Resistance (exactly what are they "resisting," too, if the Republic has been restored?). Its also very odd to me that Leia's forces are apparently about the same size as the Rebellion's was at the time of the Battle of Yavin. I would dearly love them to bring in Grand Admiral Thrawn as a character, which IMHO makes the most logical sense as an evolution from the ashes of the Empire, but its clear that's not the direction they've chosen. OK, then, so where are we, exactly? Its probably too much to ask to expect them to get into that, too, given how much else they put in the film; I hope it gets fleshed out more in the various side projects which are supposed to accompany TFA.
* It made no sense to me that the Resistance/New Republic would have their new center of government in the same system as the Starkiller planet destroyer, and apparently either not be able to destroy it, or not being able to detect its construction, which is the implication by having the planets' destruction visible by Han and the others on their planet. I know, its very much creative freedom to have them see it at all through their planet's atmosphere, but we're talking trans-system distances unless they're all in reasonable proximity to one another.
* I did appreciate that there wasn't an obvious push to introduce a huge number of new characters and new spacecraft, both of which would give additional toy and marketing possibilities. That was a trap I think the prequels sometimes fell into, and I didn't get that feeling with TFA. I think it says something that neither the good guys or the bad guys have made any significant technological advances in ship design: they're still flying the same TIEs and X-Wings as in the original trilogy.
* It didn't make a lot of sense to me that a ship of such historical significance to the Rebellion as the Millennium Falcon would be left as a derelict being traded between owners and scrappers, which makes me wonder exactly how shaky the Republic's control really is. Same with R2D2...and in the second watching, I'm going to pay attention to see if there's a reason they couldn't have put together the master map in R2 with the smaller one in the rolling droid's a *lot* sooner than they did, to find out where Luke was. That was confusing to me.
* The obligatory lightsaber duel was OK, but I felt it was just there to ensure that every Star Wars movie has one. Frankly, given Ren's assumed greater experience using a lightsaber over both Rey and Finn, he should have gone through both of them like a knife through butter, even injured as he was. Its clear by this point that Rey has much greater Force potential than Ren, so that's probably a lot of what's going on unseen here.
* Hello Admiral Ackbar! And Lando Calrissian's little co-pilot is about twice the same height now, assuming its the same fellow.
* So, I guess this means that Wedge "the ultimate survivor" Antilles is dead by the time of TFA, since he doesn't even make a cameo?
* I so love the fan theory of Supreme Leader Snoke being Jar-Jar Binks; well, hey, we only ever saw Snoke as a hologram, who's to say what he really looks like? :)
* Thinking about all the SW movies to date in two words, I'd characterize the original trilogy as "classic films" (Donna put it better, "classic storytelling"), while the prequels I'd label as "unrealized potential." TFA on first glance I'd put as "mindless fun."
* Some of the fun with a big picture like this is be able to read the articles on the little details that were missed the first time, then looking for them the next time around. I'm looking forward to doing that over the next few days, and I'll probably update this with a few items as they occur to me (or if I find any especially interesting/fun ones).
UPDATE 12/31/15: Some interesting links:
* From “A New Hope” to no hope at all “Star Wars,” Tolkien and the sinister and depressing reality of expanded universes - Salon.com
* Please Stop Spreading This Nonsense that Rey From Star Wars Is a “Mary Sue”
* 'The Force Awakens' Has a Perfection Problem - Bloomberg View
UPDATE 2 1/9/15: Upon second viewing, I've come to the joking conclusion that R2D2 was programmed not to release the map to Luke's location until confirmation was received of Han Solo's death.
Crossposted from http://tagryn.dreamwidth.org/233461.html where there are comments. Comment wherever you prefer; anonymous comments are allowed on DW only