In some ways it's unfair to compare The Force Awakens to previous films in the Star Wars universe. Unfair or not though, I have to say that I'd rather watch any of the original trilogy or even the much derided prequels rather than see Episode VII again.
It's not that The Force Awakens is a bad film. It's not. The opening scroll promises a good yarn and yet there is almost nothing in the film which is spectacular, emotionally moving or dramatically gripping. It is just okay. All the way through.
I suspect this is partly due to the premise that it is 30 years after Return of the Jedi and that most of the action centres on completely new characters, rather than on the ones we know and love. The prequels may have been wanting but they still told the story of the likes of Darth Vader, Obi-Wan, Yoda, the Emperor and others.
It may be a personal failing but I'm just not that interested in Finn, Po and Lord Snoke (who sounds like a member of the House of Lords one might read about in the Sunday papers). The only exception to this is Rey (Daisy Ridley), who by the end of the film was developing into an interesting character.
While we are on the subject of characters, the villains leave a lot to be desired. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has potential but loses all sense of threat when we see him trying to pray away the goodness in himself. You'd never catch Darth Vader doing that.
Then we have Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) who even fans of the film concede was "under-utilised". She appears to be the new Boba Fett, in that she looks great in her armour but ultimately does nothing.
Finally we have the ludicrous figure of General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson). Contorting his face into the most bizarre sneers and enunciating his words in the fashion of a pantomime villain, Hux gives an unintentionally comical and tinny speech to massed ranks of storm troopers about "the looooathsome rrrresistence" or some such nonsense. You'd never catch Peter Cushing doing that.
Delusions of grandeur
Another issue is the constant one-upmanship so often seen in Star Wars. What's better than a lightsaber? Why, a double-bladed lightsaber, of course. What beats a Star Destroyer? A Super Star Destroyer! Surely nothing tops the planet-destroying Death Star? Why, here's a Starkiller that can destroy FIVE planets!
Oh, and guess what? The Starkiller is destroyed by a squadron of (upgraded) X-Wings that hit its one weak spot. Does the Empire/First Order ever learn? Apparently not.
I find my lack of interest disturbing
The underlying problem with the film though is that nothing seems to matter. Five planets we know absolutely nothing about are wiped out and yet it didn't mean half as much as Princess Leia seeing her homeworld disintegrated before her eyes in A New Hope.
The attack on the original Death Star may have been ripped off from 633 Squadron but it was still shot with greater skill and tension than the final X-Wing attack in The Force Awakens, even if the latter had better special effects.
Even the death of Han Solo, at the hands of his son no less, moved me not at all. It just seemed so obvious, and even Han himself seemed not to care – so why should the audience?
One could also point out the apparent holes in the plot. For example the weird fact that no one in the galaxy knows how to read maps, and that R2-D2 is apparently so attuned to The Force that he knows to wake up from years of sleep just when the story most demands it. The only other comment to make on the plot is that it, to put it politely, borrows heavily from the original Star Wars film.
A tall order
The more I think about it though, JJ Abrams has been given a near-impossible task by setting The Force Awakens 30 years after The Return of the Jedi. This should not really be thought of as "Episode VII" of the Star Wars saga but as "Episode I" of a new tale set in the same universe. Even conceding this though the film could still be better and more original than it is.
Despite all my criticisms though, The Force Awakens is still an okay film. The disappointment is that it could have been a great one but isn't. Perhaps, to paraphrase Rey, Abrams greatest fear is that he'll never be as powerful a storyteller as George Lucas.