On the technical front he’s competent to talented. Depending on how into lens flare and extreme close ups he feels. Force Awakens is very well shot. The editing was apparently aggressive, and introduced some confusion. Abrams seems to have take personal responsibility for that. Saying the movie was aggressively cut down at his direction (or by JJ himself I’m not sure) close to release to deal with some seriously draggy bits. The characters are charming, the visual and production design is right on.
Its on writing and marketing that he sort of obnoxiouses up stuff. I really don’t think he’s suited to being the sole creative voice. And he’s a far better producer than director. What good writing he’s done has mostly been as a show runner or part of a writer’s room.
I really hate that criticism because its lazy.
1st its a direct sequel. Its gonna follow on from, and feature references to the original. After the prequels some nostalgia fueled nerd bait was warranted. People like me, who avoided watching even the Original Trilogy for a decade after Revenge of The Sith, needed to be reminded of why we like Star Wars in the first place. And an excuse to get excited about it.
2nd. The films share so many beats because both of them utilize The Hero’s Journey as a plot rubric. And they both use the same version of it. As do a huge proportion of the stories told in human history. In fact so does the entire Original Trilogy. I’m willing to bet this new Trillogy. Episode 1 and the Prequels tried to do so. But Georgey got distracted by trade negotiations and sand feels.
Boiling it down to just those similar plot beats glosses over a bunch of really interesting and potentially important variation in character and theme.
People point out that Rey and Luke are both young people stuck at home, swept up in an adventure that will take them far away. And that supposedly makes these movies identical! That’s the Hero’s Journey for damn sure, but it doesn’t make them the same.
Luke lives in a small town, with family. He’s fundamentally safe, and well fed. He is well off enough to have a speeder, and access to flight training. Aware of the world around him and its goings on. But he is deeply frustrated with his boring lot in life. And many of his wide circle of friends have already left for bigger and better things. He is afraid that if he doesn’t follow soon. He will be left behind, and stuck in his boring life. When something exciting wanders into his life. He pokes it with a stick till adventure topples out. Fights for a place among the more experienced people he’s wound up with. And generally embraces the whole thing.
Rey appears to work in some sort of labor camp. She lives alone. In a ruin. She has no family. Seemingly has few friends. She is alone. She is tethered to where she is by poverty, and a fear that if she leaves a family she never knows will never make it back to her. Her chief associate is a boss/scrap buyer Unkar Plutt who manipulates the valuation of her scavenged goods, and thus her supply of food. Seemingly to keep her stuck there. When something interesting crops up in her life, she follows up purely to help another person. Repeatedly begs off the adventure, requests to go home. And only sticks it out because, Jesus Christ she has some friends now.
Its a completely different character arc. Completely different character type. And you can run that though for nearly item on the bulleted lists of how they’re the ‘same movie’. The sameness usually comes from a beat within folklore or the Hero’s Journey. And requires glossing over all the interesting bits. Its not a “remake” because Abrams deliberately called back by using droids as the inciting incident/adventure bringing stranger dictated by the rubric the same way Lucas did. Nor because he opted to set it on a desert planet like the first one.
By that standard its also a rehash/remake/ripoff of Disney’s the Sword in the Stone. John Snow’s arc on Game of Thrones, the new Voltron reboot, and anything to do with Perseus.