Star Wars character John Boyega in space suit

A note on those notorious spoilers: I'll be talking about plot elements of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in this review, some of which might not have been revealed in the copious pre-release trailers, but I'll steer clear of anything that could fairly be considered a big reveal or the resolution of any of those plot elements. Consider yourself warned!

A few months ago, when discussing Star Wars: The Force Awakens with some friends, one said he was worried that the movie would just be A New Hope retold with a woman and a black man. At that point I (a woman) shared a meaningful look with another friend (a black man), and we both shrugged and said that'd be fine with us.

The Force Awakens is not quite that, but it also doesn't veer far off course. And that's not a criticism here. After the atrocity of The Phantom Menace and the lesser crimes of the following prequels, J.J. Abrams needed to reassure Star Wars fans that Disney made the right decision in buying LucasFilm and putting him in charge of the nearly 30-year-old franchise. And Abrams has shown himself to be a perfect fit for Star Wars for all the reasons he was a terrible one for Star Trek.

The first true sequel to the original Star Wars trilogy is quite simply fun. The new generation of characters is every bit as likable (or dislikable, when necessary) as Luke and Leia and Han and Vader, and while they find themselves caught in the orbit of those legendary people, they still shine all by themselves.

They also defy easy categorization into any of those old roles. Finn, a young Stormtrooper who nopes out of combat at the first sight of a dying comrade and proceeds to bullshit his way into the Resistance, brings a very new perspective on things. Rey, an orphan scavenging to get by on a backwater desert world who turns out to be surprisingly strong with the Force, is far smarter and more capable than Luke was at her age. Poe, the Resistance's best X-Wing pilot who becomes Finn's immediate bestie, is the sort of character previously relegated to spin-off novels. And Kylo Ren, a temperamental young Dark Side initiate yearning to live up to Darth Vader's legacy, is far more of a peer to the good guys than we usually see.

So as heartwarming as it is to see an old Han Solo and Chewbacca piloting the Millennium Falcon again, as right as it feels to see Leia in charge of the Resistance, the fanservice provided by familiar characters and a comfortable plot – in which the Resistance must destroy the First Order's Starkiller Base, a phrase that sounds a lot like an off-brand version of A New Hope – is just a comfortable wrapping around a charismatic new cast that promises a bright and exciting future.

While one may hope that the next two planned films in the series – rounding out a trilogy of trilogies – will show a little more originality, the familiarity of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a balm to fans who have been burned too many times before.