Plot-wise there is still a bit of confusion. Judging by our catch-up with Luke and Rey, we kick off the minute Force Awakens ended, but the opening crawl and action scene imply time has passed, mostly to the First Order's advantage (and on that front, there is still much confusion as to why there was a Resistance when there was a Republic, and why those resistance always allude to themselves as "Rebels"). From the opening seconds, though, it is clear that a new hand it as the wheel, and one soon understands why Disney seemed so impressed with director Rian Johnson's work here. The visual language is more poetic and effective than Abrams' anonymous work in VII and more appropriate to the universe than Gareth Edwards' more visceral experiment. Between a kamikaze jump to light-speed and Luke Skywalker showing us what a Star Wars Mexican standoff would look like, This is the first film in Lucas' galaxy far far away to carry images that will sear themselves into your retinae.
The plot, in Disney fashion, tries to offer us comforting beats from Empire Strikes Back, our reference episode from the original saga, but, more often than not, this is to subvert our corresponding expectations. A grand second-act mission does not go as one would expect, and, thankfully, potentially groan-inducing revelations are either handled very well or, thankfully, simply do not occur. Not all is perfect, and this film specifically suffers from issues with the Great Disney Plan: clarity of context, as with the First Order thing, clarity with the villains, some of which, such as Snoke and particularly Phasma, do not register as hoped... But the new ingredients, particularly the new lead trio of Rey, Finn and Poe, are definitely winners. Daisy Ridley carries most of the film's emotion on what turn out to be very solid shoulders, while Oscar Isaac is given more to do this time around. In the baddie camp, we're still missing someone with the cold killer poise of Peter Cushing (the real one, not Rogue One's CGI abomination), but Adam Driver continues to knock it out of the park in unexpected ways as Kylo Ren. It is the kind of part that could have gone either way - and, in the hands of a Lucas directed Hayden Christensen, went truly bad - so kudos to Driver for making us care for his conflicted antagonist.
Just as much of the early word on Episode VII was about a great return to form from Harrison Ford, so the internet has been on fire about Mark Hamill burning through the screen. I find the comparison unfair. While Ford merely tapped into that old magic - something he can do very well, admittedly - Hamill's turn as Skywalker here is something else. There are still deep, buried traces of the earnest farm-boy many of us grew up with, but when Master Skywalker decides to throw his weight in, Hamill unleashes a presence and charisma he had never hinted at previously, and it is a jaw-dropping joy to behold. The late Carrie Fisher also glows throughout, her gentle warmth giving the film a lot of its more touching moments.
All in all, this might be looked back on as the one where the new generation of Star Wars films finally decided what they wanted to be, and which language they wanted to use. It does not reach the lofty heights of Empire, nor does it slavishly adhere to that classic's structure. In fact, it offers a cleaner ending, one that opens a fresh horizon with new, established and compelling characters. It will be intriguing to see what happens next.