The Force Awakens - My Perspective
Ah, The Force Awakens. A film both praised for reviving interest in Star Wars and vilified for essentially recreating A New Hope. When the film's first teaser was released, I was intrigued yet cautious. You see, during the interim between Return of the Jedi and A Phantom Menace, an extended universe had been created by various media (books, video games, comics). I didn't read everything that was published but I read enough to develop some respect for this extended universe.
After Disney announced the upcoming release of a sequel trilogy, they simultaneously deemed the extended universe obsolete. I was a bit disappointed, to say the least, but I decided to give The Force Awakens a try.
I enjoyed The Force Awakens but, quite honestly, it felt lacking. You see, we (the audience) are ready for a mature story to continue the Skywalker saga. We don't need another movie that slowly walks us back into Star Wars lore in order to spoon feed us bits and pieces. I'm ready for a solid move forward with or without new characters, with a strong sense of purpose and new planets to explore, new enemies or obstacles to overcome. Instead of this, we were given a set of new characters mixed in with some old, and not a clue as to how the new characters relate to the old (with the exception of Kylo, since it was revealed early on that he was the son of Han Solo).
To clarify my point above, it would have been preferable if it had been established that Rey was clearly Luke or Leia's daughter, and that perhaps she had already been trained as a Jedi. Finn's backstory could have been expanded upon via flashbacks instead of simply not knowing where he comes from. Ben Solo's backstory could have been expanded a bit by defining his role as seeking a new and different path towards understanding the Force, or possibly present some conflict with his uncle Luke. The common enemy could have been something new, not the fledgling remains of the old Empire.
Perhaps I was spoiled. The expanded universe as presented by those various authors and media showed all of the endless possibilities that were out there. I remember reading several of the books and imagining how these would look on film. The stories introduced new vehicles, new enemies, and even showed how the Rebel Alliance had to work together with the remnants of the Empire for both of them to survive.
Or perhaps JJ Abrams and company preferred to introduce mysterious characters with unknown backgrounds in order to string audiences along for several movies. I can appreciate this aspect when you have a television show (i.e. Lost), but I don't appreciate this aspect when you intend to release a sequel trilogy and time is extremely limited. Think about it: there are approximately 4.5 hours left in the sequel trilogy, and we don't know anything about what took place between the 30 years of Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. (Although some of this backstory has been revealed via books, it is very limited.)
My advice: Speed up the story. Define your characters in an already established universe and give them hell. The audience deserves some closure for a story that began 40 years ago.