Make it twice that J.J. Abrams has taken a beloved, but moribund franchise, and raised it like Lazarus to a better-than-ever condition. TWICE!
First Star Trek and now Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, and just as he did with the former, this series isn't reinvented, but rejuvenated to a very satisfying degree. Just as you'd hope, there are moments where your face will go flush and you'll be just so damned glad this happened.
What makes this successful is exactly what made the originals successful: a uniquely American alchemy comprised of a simple narrative, an ersatz spirituality, hope, cultural timing and (perhaps most especially) a perfectly cast ensemble of appealing stars. All the things the prequels didn't have. Yes, sorry, it's impossible to appreciate this film and not be aware of how it makes those expensively mediocre prequels look even worse. I know there are those who feel bagging on these second set of films is something one does to be trendy but, no, I just saw them again and they're ridiculously lousy.
One of the best things is that all of the new characters are people/droids you want to see more of and the old characters are like the friends you hope will show up at your class reunion, and do. It's no spoiler that we get to see the original Star "trio" in The Force Awakens and it's somehow comforting that the 40 years they've been away... show. Yup, it looks like our original heroes have seen a great deal of battle, but it kind of adds to their regality and legend. Carrie Fisher, particularly, seems a lot more physically frail, as the director opts for a lot shots of her hugging people flatteringly, but it adds a sweet passion to her performance that's just lovely.
Does one have to have seen all the others to enjoy this one? No. Will it add to the experience? Probably, especially the originals, but for most young people this would act as a perfectly good "gateway episode" to get one hooked.
Now to be picky, The Force Awakens does drag it just a tiny, tiny bit as it transitions from the first act to the second, but it never gets bogged down in too much nerd-liturgy to get frustrating; you always know what's going on in the story. On the very positive, the spectacular effects serve the plot, as opposed to the other way around, as could often be the case in the heavy hands of George Lucas.
But without presenting spoilers, I would have to say that the single most satisfying thing about this new Star Wars film is the collection of new characters and the actors that portray them. I especially fell in love with Daisy Ridley, a young, British actress who's kind of like Katniss from Hunger Games with infinitely more style. John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac and Adam (hot guy from Girls) Driver are all great and exciting additions.
Now let's be honest with ourselves in the harsh light for a moment: None of the previous installments are exactly "Citizen Kane in Outer Space", nor were they meant to be. They speak to millions of us on a cellular level in much the same way a certain generation will never get the song "Let it Go" out of their foundational consciousness. Again, much of our best qualities as Americans are represented by this series of films and, oh my God in heaven, isn't it time we indulge in presenting those aspects for a refreshing damn change?
(Loudinni specializes in reviews 500 words or less sans spoilers.)