It seems that people I normally interact with and follow are a bit divided over The Force Awakens and I thought I would toss my 2c in. Yes warning, spoilers.
Overall I enjoyed it, but then again, after horrifying all my co-hosts on the most recent superversiveSF round table by noting that I thought the 3rd Starship Troopers movie was pretty good but that the 2nd one was terrible (Apparently nobody knew about any after the first and they all hated that, I still like it, there I said it!), you might want to take my opinion under advisement.
That being said, I thought it worked as a film. It did feel like a bit of a rehash of the first film and it would seem J.J. Abrams has a habit of doing that, given his effort on Star Trek Into Darkness. In his defense though, I think Abrams makes a better Star Wars director than Star TRek director. This is a universe with big laser space battles, huge explosions, technology in the background and all the rest. He tried to do that to Star Trek and I don’t think it worked as well but Star Wars seems more suited to that sort of treatment. Overall I enjoyed it and I will go and see the next one to see where the story goes.
What seems to have divided people is the character of Rey, with feminists celebrating her and many others decrying her as a Mary Sue. As more than a few people have noted, Star Wars has never been shy of having butt kicking female characters, Princess Leia and Queen Amidala come to mind and the entire Rebellion in the original trilogy was run by Mon Mothma. I don’t really understand the fuss. I chuckled when she kept asking Finn not to hold her hand when he was trying to protect her, she struck me as a head strong teenage girl who was used to living hard and looking out for herself, suspicious and unable to accept help from a stranger.
There was also much made of her ability to fly the falcon, to use the Jedi mind trick without training and make use of a light saber to battle Kylo Ren without any training. This seems to have annoyed a lot of people and i’ll admit at the time these struck me a somewhat implausible but upon reflection this seems like a mistake. She didn’t know the name of the Falcon but she did have some knowledge as to various modifications that had been made to it and did seem to be familiar with the ship that had been sitting there for years. Assuming she was able to fly ships in general it doesn’t seem implausible at all that she could pilot this particular ship, it seemed like she had in the past. It is more implausible with would fly at all rather than that she could manage to fly it.
Onto her ability to use the force, perhaps I am over thinking the movie and I will be disappointed but both of the times she displayed force talents she was emotionally distressed and in danger of either torture or death. When she just managed to perform the Jedi Mind trick, almost failing, she was in the hands of Kylo Ren and he was intent on torturing her and later when she fights him she has just witnessed him killing her friend Finn after Kylo Ren killed his own father in front of her. I don’t know what Star Wars universes people who are complaining about this have been watching but these are exactly the way you are not supposed to use the force unless you want to fall to the dark side. The dark side is easier and seductive for its offer of easy power. Of course it takes years of training to be a Jedi, you need to learn to use powers that are more easily accessed by being frightened or angry.
Finally as to the light saber battle, there seems to be two possibilities. Kylo Ren may not have been that much of a swordsman. Finn, not a force sensitive but presumably with a reasonable amount of combat training was holding his own against Kylo Ren. The other possibility was that Kylo Ren is smarter than he appears. He does offer to train Rey and she has shown a reasonable command of force powers when sufficiently agitated. He let Finn fight toe to toe with him in an effort to upset Rey and then let her get good and angry fighting him before offering to train her.
Maybe I am wrong, maybe she will turn out to be a Mary Sue and the next couple of films will be a disaster, time will tell, but I don’t think the criticism leveled at this one is justified yet.
Very final thought, some people were celebrating the idea that The Force Awakens passes the Bechdel Test, just for some perspective for people who think that is a big deal and some sort of feminist high water mark, as Bob Chippman noted, so does Bikini Carwash.