So when do you defend one of the biggest movies in the history of movies? When it is a sequel to the biggest movie franchise in the history of movies and "the Maker" of that franchise feels the need to criticize the first entry in the saga after selling it off for BILLIONS of dollars.
Lucas' criticism of Episode VII is petty at best. Lucas' prequels were poorly acted (with a couple of exceptions), had horrible scripts (that were square pegs hammered into self imposed round holes) and survived purely on CG spectacle. They really only hold up for a single viewing. The story is not only "basic," it is convoluted purely to try and achieve some perception of complexity and creativity. And FWIW, Lucas has overseen the production of 6 Star Wars films and exactly half of those started out on a desert planet and ended with blowing up something big and round. He is the one that came up with the trilogies "rhyming."
"The Force Awakens" is elegant in its simplicity. It sacrifices exploration of trade disputes, vague conflicts between union guilds and the Republic, and attempts to scientifically explain an "ancient religion" to introducing 4 new well rounded (well acted) characters that we can begin to follow the adventures of and actually care about. There are a lot of new ideas and possibilities that come from the new movie as Rey (Skywalker) and Ben Solo make their own hero(/anti-hero?)'s journey. This is what made the original movies great. The room left for the imagination to explore after seeing the movie.
I think people have forgot seeing "A New Hope," back when it was just called "Star Wars," out of context of the other movies. It was a very straight forward story. Farm boy comes in possession of mcguffin, seeks out mentor, learns lesson and saves the day. The movie makes passing references to the "galactic senate," "clone wars," "Jedi," and the "force." But it never stopped for any length of time to serve up exposition on any of them. (With the possible exception of the Force, but it is still a vague concept to this day. Only complicated by Lucas introducing midi-chlorinians to the mix.) It trusted the audience to connect the dots or wait for a reveal of important information when it was needed. Even if that didn't happen until a later episode (not that Lucas knew that there would be an Episode V), a lot like the Flash Gordon serials it was based on. However, It was never about the exposition, it was always about the growth of the characters that drove the story forward. The story always served the characters, not the other way around. "Empire" is my favorite for that very reason, all the principle characters have major development (which could only happen after they were introduced in a very streamlined first movie) with only a couple of new characters introduced. One of which, Boba Fett, was a fan favorite for years because of the mystery surrounding him.
Abrams and Kasdan (and LucasFilm president Kathleen Kennedy) know that this is the first part of a serialized story and have laid the foundation for all kinds of revelations and adventures in the upcoming episodes. The primary complaints I have heard are that Rey is over powered and everything seems to conveniently happen. I am willing to accept this because I am confident and extremely interested to find out why the stormtrooper defected and what Rey's true origin is to explain her use of the force. Why is Luke in hiding? What caused Ben Solo to turn? Who are the Knights of Ren? Who is Snoke? Etc,...That was Abrams and Kasdan asking the audience to trust them and let their imagination fill in the blanks for now. Just like we accepted that some back water farm boy could jump into an x-wing and hit a 2-meter exhaust port in Star Wars.
"The Force Awakens" works on many different levels. It is entertaining as an introduction to Star Wars, my 8 year old niece was on the edge of her seat, literally, all the way through it with her only exposure to Star Wars being Disney XD's "Rebels" cartoon. It is an entertaining popcorn movie, evidenced in its box office results. And as a seasoned Star Wars veteran, I can say that nostalgia played a big role in the film for me. It felt good to be back in THE Galaxy that I grew up with and with the chance, however briefly in a couple of cases, to catch up with the the characters I have cared about all my life. AND bonus, a new group of characters that I already like and will re-watch the film just to hang out with and grow a little more fond of each time, because they are intrinsically likable.
Star Wars is fun (and interesting) again! (Thanks JJ.)