1.) Abrams struck the perfect balance between highlighting the old cast while handing off the reins to the new generation.
2.) BB-8 got right everything that Jar Jar flubbed. He was a cute character that added humor and charm with loads of appeal for younger viewers, but he was never grating or obnoxious. Part of his success was the use of subtle visual humor rather than noise or big flamboyant gestures.
3.) The puppetry used for the aliens was phenomenal and gave The Force Awakens a real, lived-in feeling. They also blended seamlessly with the few times CGI was used to supplement or replace them.
4.) The villain displayed the petty aspect of the Dark side. He was a lot like I imagine Vader was when he first took on the mantle of his new identity.
5. Building on #4, nobody whined. I can confirm that The Force Awakens had a zero tolerance policy for whining. I suspect Abrams coached the newer cast members on how to act in scenes where they’re supposed to appear young and recalcitrant without the infernal, infuriating whining that made both the prequels and many of the early scenes in ANH with Luke so grating to watch.
5.) We got to see another side to the stormtroopers. They are omnipresent in the original trilogy, but we never got to see the humanity of these iconic figures until now.
6.) The New Order looked even more visually stunning than the original Empire.
7.) There were plenty of female characters, in both major and minor roles. Female aliens. Female pilots. A female villain. Females everywhere. It was glorious.
8.) The space battles were amazing. I must confess, in recent years I’ve become bored with a lot of fight and action scenes in blockbuster movies. They’ve all started blending together. But The Force Awakens kept them short, sweet, and visceral. The occasional bone-jarring boom of Star Destroyer cannons was also a wonderful addition to break up the normally high-pitched sound design of Star Wars space battles.
9.) The original cast members were allowed to show their age.
10.) The Force Awkens felt like Star Wars. I try not to hate on the prequels because plenty of people I genuinely like are huge fans, but to me those films just never felt like Star Wars. Everything in the Force Awakens, from the more subdued color palette to the characters felt like they were truly born of the Star Wars saga.