So for a TL;DR review: Go see this movie. It washes away the stank of the prequels. Nary and gungan or midiclorian to be seen here. There were enough good moments that the flaws were overshadowed.
Is it perfect? Oh no and I'll get into the nitpicks in a bit but it's a good 'popcorn' movie.
So what was good?
Well, apart from redeeming the series from George Lucas's creepy and clumsy grasp, there's a lot to like.
1. It feels like Star Wars. It feels like a lived in, worn world. Unlike the sterile green-screen excesses of the prequels, this world has dirt on it. A lot of shooting was done on-location and it shows. Expect more costumes than computers. But when computers are used, for example to create vistas of crashed and decaying Star Destroyers, it is used to good effect.
2. The characters are likable. This is subjective, of course, and I liked some characters more than others (which I'll get into later) but a big reason why I cut this movie slack for its plot holes has to do with liking Rey, Poe, Han Solo especially. As for Finn, well, he does close his mouth eventually and he's good in the comic moments. Even BB8 was likable, with more personality than R2 even.
3. The wonder is there. This is the hardest thing to pull off and I'll give JJ Abrams credit for achieving it. The crashed Star Destroyers, the looping dogfights (In atmosphere), freezing someone AND their blaster bolt in mid-air (!) just tickled me.
4. Han Solo. Harrison just slipped back into this character and ran away with the movie. Han is the emotional core of this movie, not Rey (which is why her...gifts aren't unbearable). His decisions, his actions drive the middle and late plot and he is the at the climax of the movie. Without him, The Force Awakens would be an inferior Star Wars remake.
5. Chewbacca. Most of the aliens and droids are not translated in this movie and Chewie's reactions almost steal the show. He actually gets to act and do things in this movie, earning his place in the story for the first time.
6. Reasonably competent and effective bad guys. I like Kylo Ren quite a bit and consider him one of the main characters in way Darth Vader never was in the Star Wars trilogy. Likewise, in the first half of the movie, the tie fighter pilots, storm troopers, officers all execute their orders quite well. Later on, they become blaster magnets, which I'm not fond of, but they do a good enough job feeling formidable that they don't feel like disposable cardboard cut-outs. In fact, they take Finn's defection quite personally.
7. The movie doesn't shut down plotlines or characters. One of the dumbest things in the long, long line of dumb things Lucas did in the Phantom Menace was to kill off Darth Maul. Kylo Ren, Snoke, even the blond Nazi general guy all survive to oppose the heroes in the next movie. That's smart. Starkiller base might be destroyed but there's no indication that's the whole of the First Order's strength, in fact we know it's not as we see at least one huge Star Destroyer unaffected by the planetary weapon's destruction.
What didn't work?
Oy. Could be a long list but I'll try to keep it focused.
1. Rey's super powers. The speed and ease with which she masters the Force makes training feel unneeded. She is powerful enough to resist Kylo Ren's mind probe. That's fine. She even gains insight into him, during the contest. Still fine. Then she gains the ability to do jedi mind tricks to fool stormtroopers DESPITE HAVING NEVER SEEN THAT POWER BEFORE. Not fine. She's far too good at shooting which, trust me, is not easy to do. She's even more mysteriously competent with a lightsaber after some sort of zen moment comes over her. That really, really didn't work for me.
You see, power has to be earned. Potential can be inborn, I can buy that. That's why her piloting and mechanical skills didn't bother me. I bought that as her Force potential. But the rest of it is unearned. This is bad writing, very bad writing. The only reason it doesnt' sink the movie is that, again, I found her likable enough and she isn't the main protagonist. We don't follow her for the whole movie the way we follow Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy.
2. Finn. Just...Finn. This screenplay went through several hands and you can see the seams where it was welded together. Despite being raised from childhood as a stormtrooper, Finn fails in his first field exercise. That's fine. But then he decides to rebel and escape. Sure, still fine. Then he's slaughtering fellow stormtroopers, folks he's grown up with, the only family he's known, without remorse. Not fine. It would have taken three seconds of screen time to give this some depth and signifigance and they didn't take the time. Bad writing. He's also supposedly a stormtrooper, an infantryman, and yet he runs panicked from a 105 pound girl with a stick, gets his butt kicked by her (try it at home, kids and see if that works), and basically is borderline cowardly. Not fine. Next he knows how or where to deactivate the planetary shield on Starkiller base. That...doesn't make sense. How does he know. Does an infantryman in the 101st Airborne know where the powerplant is at the Pentagon??? (spoilers, no, he doesn't unless he was stationed somewhere near them). Again, this could have been fixed with a few seconds of dialog, which we don't get. Not fine. Then, here's the seam showing, he tells Han Solo he's in Sanitation.
Sanitation??? He's a stormtrooper. He's not a janitor. This makes no sense. It feels like it's from another draft of the script. Which, I suspect, it is.
3. Unanswered questions. Some of these could be left undefined so future, non-JJ Abrams filmmakers won't be locked into his canon, but there's a long list of things that are confusing or don't make sense. Like: Who is the First Order? What's their relationship to the Republic? What is the Resistance? Who is Rey? Why was she abandoned on Jakku? How is Rey able to out-fly experienced TIE fighter pilots? Why is there a map leading to Luke? Who made it? Did Starkiller base really drain a star each time it's fired? If so, have they never fired it before? If not, why did it get dark-ish after powering up? What are the Knights of Ren? Is Kylo good with a lightsaber or not? ...you get the point. There are nits.
For all these, and other flaws, I still found myself delighted by the movie. It was more dramatic than Guardians of the Galaxy, I didn't feel 'good' after seeing The Force Awakens like I did with GOTG. But it was good ENOUGH.
So far, so good. A lot will depend on what comes next, if Marvel can continue to revive the old Studio system, if there's a Kevin Feige substitute keeping a hand on the Star Wars tiller, if they can do a new plot rather than just repeating Star Wars/Empire/Jedi.