10:40 AM, Wednesday, December 16th, 2015:
Here's your warning: spoilers like a mother, fucker. I'm not on Facebook, you won't stumble across this shit by accident, so I'm talking about freaking everything. Giddy-up.
Also, this will be a kind of running diary as I'm too goddamned amped up to not write. I'm on the airplane now...
Since the movie starts when I get there, a 45 minute delayed flight for me simply means the PROJECTOR BROKE and I have to wait another 45 minutes before it starts. It's a new level of annoying, but the definition of privileged, VIP, first world problems. I mean I'm flying into Houston, Andrew is picking me up, giving me my own theater and playing the goddamn movie for me to "quality control" for him. Wow. So I'll move on...
Thank you to those on Facebook who were at the premiere on Monday and truly have kept things spoiler free. Also to the publications who even though the embargo on reviews is now technically lifted, still keep headlines vague. Everything is overwhelmingly positive, that's about all I know. Andrew of course decided to write "GOOD EFFORT" after he saw it this morning at 12:01am and I will promptly punch him in the arm for that when I see him, but I know Andrew well enough to hear him saying it and know exactly what would keep him from being GLOWING about the movie, which is:
There's no way to match the sentimental pull of Empire which is what all Star Wars films will be compared to for the old fans. I also presume I will argue: in a couple decades, kids seeing this movie will have an affinity as we did about Empire. In fact, you see it in people's feelings about The Phantom Menace, now nearly 17 years old. Kids that saw that movie are pushing 30 now and I see the swell of "the prequels weren't THAT bad" whereas my generation was like "what the serious fuck?" Now I'm in the camp that once Phantom Menace DESTROYED my expectations (I wrote the song "Star Wars Blew" to the Chili Peppers "Scar Tissue" and played it often on my radio show), I enjoyed parts of 2 and 3. You just have to let go that it was Star Wars. Nothing from the prequels really felt like Star Wars... but once you boarded the train and the rhythm of them, there were some cool moments. What just kills you looking back on them however, is holy fucking balls it looks bad. It's a goddamned cartoon and those poor actors look ridiculous sooooooooo much of the time. I watched the arena scene from 2 the other day and my jaw dropped. How Lucas could be THAT far off on what looks good is beyond me. I just think he was old, tired and lazy. It sucks filming for a couple weeks in some windy, dry, shitty desert. So that entire fucking movie was filmed on a cozy GREEN SCREEN soundstage. It's just awful filmmaking and thank the fuck christ he isn't involved with it anymore. The original trilogy came at the perfect time for technology where Lucas pushing the boundaries simply couldn't go overboard... because there was hardly a way to.
So the first thing I'm hoping for is that this is a Star Wars movie. I want it to feel like a movie, not a cartoon. I want real fucking dialogue scenes. I want intriguing, thoughtful pauses. I want sweeping, real shots. Action scenes?  Sure go at it, make me feel like I'm in a dog-fight... but when you're on the ground and in the real-life moments, give it the necessary emotional breadth that takes time. And clearly, the question of where/what happened to Luke is going to be teased throughout and most likely we'll see him very little until the end for a nice big SMACK IN THE FACE spoiler, which is fine, but again - humanity, humility, emotion. Those are my hopes. Empire had it all over the place, Star Wars had it about 75% of the time and Return of The Jedi had it maybe 50% of the time... but they all had it. And those moments resonate forever. I'm asking a lot, because my favorite moments in the entire series is Luke talking to a fucking muppet about life and I don't see that happening here, but make me have a difficult time with my personal list between making it 2nd or 3rd best. Empire needed the first movie as a build-up to be that great, it just can't happen in the beginning of a new trilogy, but let me struggle between "A New Hope" and "The Force Awakens" as to which one is better... that will thrill me beyond words.
Alright, an hour from landing which means 2 hours from showtime. Holy. Shit.
8:14 pm
I've now watched it twice. I am indeed thrilled beyond words. However, in-between the first and second showing, I spoke with Andrew who had concerns and then I read through a bunch of reviews and it seems everyone is making an interesting mistake with their own nostalgic minds...
The parallels between A New Hope and The Force Awakens are both more common and more expected than people are realizing if you understand the Star Wars universe.
- Just because you notice that a droid is used to deliver a message in each movie doesn't make it derivative or lazy: that's what droids are for. That's why they have those compartments. That's why they can project shit for humans to see.
- Just because Rey's character is reminiscent of Luke as she learns how powerful she is, doesn't make it derivative or lazy: the story is rightfully about introducing a new Jedi. And thankfully they decided to not make her 7 fucking years old like Phantom Menace. Also, she was clearly advanced by being on her own for so long and not a whiny fuck like Luke.
- Just because Leia and especially Han seem to have almost regressed back to "A New Hope" doesn't make it derivative or lazy: they very subtly give the context of why that was true: they lost a son. They were devastated, broke apart, and went back to the only thing they really knew. As an old man who has lived a few lives, I get that. I did that. Believe me, that's what you do when you're devastated.
- Just because Han went to a bar to find a clean ship to get the droid back to the resistance doesn't make it derivative or lazy: that's WHERE YOU GO to find sleazy people when doing undercover shit. That's why Obi-Wan did that and found Han. This is the universe. They didn't throw that in just to make fans feel giddy about old-times, that's actually the appropriate solution to their problem.
- Just because the new weapon is a bigger version of the death star doesn't make it derivative or lazy: that's like saying our country having a new bomb and invading a new country every 20 years isn't realistic... uh, that's what we humans do. That's how we do war. This is STAR WARS so these fuckers just do it better, they don't invade countries - they blow up planets. Look at our politics. Look at how little our memory is about war, etc. That's life. And to their credit, this weapon was a lot more freaking badass. Almost worked. ;-)
Now simply giving context to those 5 aspects, the bulk of the issues people have had are kind of dissolved. The only thing truly derivative were little nods to the past (trash compactor reference/chess board, etc.), but they really are slight and appropriate.
Now that I've dealt with that, I can say this: it was absolutely Star Wars. The pacing was right, the story was right, the look was spot-on... they did NOT short-change the emotional parts or the dialogue. Seeing Han and Leia talk again felt like my parents reuniting and really fucked with me. Yes, they are older, slower and do indeed look different... but so are my parents. And throughout all that? They're still who they were in their 20s and 30s... just a 1/4 of the energy. That's how it should be.
I was extremely impressed at how subtly they explained major, major, major plot-points. If you weren't paying attention, you totally would've missed that it was Han & Leia's son that pulled a massacre like his grandfather that sent Luke into hiding. They were so careful not to beat you over the head with that exposition which REALLY reminded me of Empire/Jedi. And the polar opposite of how it was treated in the prequels. As well, the prequels just don't exist anymore. At all. They're as much a part of this canon as the Clone Wars cartoon is... they feel like cartoon facsimilies of these 4 films. That will get worse and worse as these release.
Han dying was almost a foregone conclusion to me. It made sense and the wrinkle I liked was that truthfully? Leia killed him. He knew Ben (sorry, Ren - nice little piece there for VIII) was gone and Leia convinced him to believe. He was right.
Luke not even speaking is a bummer, sure, but honestly? Good. He can have the bulk of the next one or two. There's no way to do this many characters justice in a short amount of time. Rey, Finn, Kylo and doing justice to Han? A touch of Poe, Hux... where could you have brought in Luke? Nowhere. Finding him is the entire plot, well played, and we see him at the end. I love it.
And we all caught that Rey is either his daughter or Han & Leia's daughter, right? Leia knows it too - it's why she said "May the Force Be With You" to her. It's why Kylo Ren went apeshit when he heard it was "the girl". Even he knows who she was. Han & Leia could've easily had twins or it could be Luke's daughter, but everyone in the univers (except us) knows it.
I also loved that they made Kylo flawed and bad at his powers. Killing his father will push him to his full potential on the dark side, something Luke was unable to do. That's a great wrinkle...
...and that's how I feel about everything that was slightly reminisent but twisted a bit: that's Star Wars. The family lines, the mysterious force... this really nailed everything. I have minor squabbles about a few choices, but it's because I'm a writer and I would've gone certain ways... but guess what? They probably did too, and then came back to this. These aren't lazy filmmakers that threw something together. These are the best of the best and I trust they played this over and over and got it right. The lead-up to 8 is going to be excruciating, but it should be able to give Empire a run for its money.
Also, I feel for everyone who has to watch this in a theater with other people. My first viewing compared to my second viewing was night and day. Being able to concentrate alone, by myself... was so much better than I realized. The one with the fans? Constant distractions, people getting up, sitting down... so many parts ruined. UGH. I HATE SEEING SHIT IN THE THEATER.

So there it is. Man this is gonna do gangbusters business. I bet it makes the most money in 2015 AND the most money in 2016. It's just a great movie and if the only issue you can find is that you feel it's derivative, then people will watch it again and again and again. I didn't think it was derivative at all, I think it was a Star Wars movie. You can argue they're ALL derivative. Duh. If it didn't have all those hooks in the earlier movies it would've been slammed for being an action movie in Star Wars clothes.

Thank you JJ and congrats to Greg (the person the locked entry is about, but I guess now you can figure it out - lol) for what had to be an incredible experience and one we'll talk about soon!
What a way to end a year.
PS - Andrew snapped a pic of me sitting in the theater alone as the credits rolled. Very cool...
Thanks again, Andrew. What a memory.