In Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens, the main plot centers around the fact that Luke Skywalker is missing, evil people (an Imperial remnant group called First Order) have gained political power again, and it's up to Han Solo and Leia Organa to find Luke and lead the resistance. So the plot isn't that new, it's the same as the original trilogy: you have a ragtag band of misfits fighting an evil empire that very much resembles the one they were up against in the previous movies. The plot mainly focuses on setting up the plots of subsequent movies, by getting all the main characters together and having them meet, and dealing with the fact that the bad guys plan on making their own new, bigger, better, 370-inch plasma screen Death Stars for just $19.95! In HD surround sound!
There are a lot of new characters, but the main heroes are Rey, a force-sensitive girl from desert planet Jakku, who was living as a scavenger (finding junk ships and whatnot and selling their parts), Finn, a former Stormtrooper, and a cute little droid soccer-ball called BB-8.
The main villain is Kylo Ren, who is kind of like an emo teenage boy cosplaying as a sith lord. He isn't the leader of the villainous First Order, described by TV Tropes as: "if the Nazis that fled to Argentina after World War II were actually able to reconstitute themselves into a functional state, then became a North Korea-like hermit kingdom slowly rebuilding their strength for 30 years.". But Kylo Ren is the main character on the villains' side directly confronting the protagonists, while his leader, Supreme Leader Snoke, kind of doesn't actually do very much, at least, not in this movie. He appears as a scary giant hologram of himself. I'm not sure why, but he didn't look scary to me, just cartoonish, like an animation student's attempt at making a crazy video game monster up based on Gollum, but bigger. Kylo Ren wasn't all that scary either, because he doesn't seem like an experienced fighter, or like he has the maturity and emotional control necessary to really be dangerous. The closest thing the dark side has to a competent villain is iron lady, Captain Phasma. I see her as a kind of more mature, evil foil for Rey.
Everything I liked about this movie was what was new, (except that weird, bad CGI villain guy) and what I did not like was everything that was old, or that was just imitating something already seen before in the franchise. Death stars, but BIGGER! An R2-D2, but ROUND! The old cantina scene, but different-er? An evil villain with a red light saber, a mask, a tragic backstory, and a relationship to the major hero character? But now, it's his SON! A kid growing up with a hard life in a desert planet who turns out to be the hero of the story? But she has TITS! Wow, how interesting! That kind of thing was my main issue with this movie. It seemed like it just did too many things similarly to the other Star Wars films, as if it were afraid of being its own thing. It rested heavily on appearances by original Star Wars characters, actors, motifs, and concepts, as if it was afraid audiences would hate it if they got a more original story.
Not to sound like comic book guy from The Simpsons, but that's why I like the novels of the extended universe so much. Since they're not movies, they don't have to try so hard to shoehorn in elements that people want and expect and know and love and cherish due to nostalgic fawning over the old movies. They can be their own thing, because they're not movies, and are not bound by the same audience expectations as movies.
Other than that issue, this is a decent movie, neither very good or very bad, in my opinion. If you watched it before having seen another Star Wars film, you would probably think it was "eh, OK, I guess". One thing is, it's confusing and all over the place, with lots of new characters and locations, but because it's fettered so much by being in the Star Wars franchise and having to appeal to fans of the old movies, it also has to take time out to give roles to all the old characters as well. So, it just kind of feels like an awkward, overwhelming information dump used more to set up future movies than to tell its own story well.
This movie has significant issues. Is it worth seeing just once just for the handful of performances that are good? Yes. It is competently made enough to be enjoyable, but I'm not rushing out to buy it on DVD, and it hasn't made me eager to see the next one. It felt like the people who designed this film cared more about marketing and extending brand awareness than they did about creating a good story. There are some interesting elements and good scenes, but overall, I cannot comfortably say that I think it's a good movie.