BOSTON (CBS) — “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the J.J. Abrams-helmed first step into Disney’s reboot of the “Star Wars” franchise, hits theaters nationwide on Friday. The first reviews began trickling in Wednesday morning, and the response from critics has been overwhelmingly positive.

Ratings aggregator Rotten Tomatoes  gave “The Force Awakens” a 97% rating, based on 105 reviews. Many had praise for the film’s young new stars (Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac) as well as old ones (Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill)–and nearly everybody snuck in a dig about “Star Wars” creator George Lucas’s lamentable 1999-2005 prequel trilogy. Here’s a look at what critics have been saying so far.

Related: Keller @ Large: Sharing Star Wars Mania

RETURN TO FORM

Manohla Dargis wrote in The New York Times that director Abrams had “returned to basics, largely by dispensing with a lot of clutter.”

“Mr. Abrams may be as worshipful as any “Star Wars” obsessive, but in “The Force Awakens” he’s made a movie that goes for old-fashioned escapism even as it presents a futuristic vision of a pluralistic world that his audience already lives in. He hasn’t made a film only for true believers; he has made a film for everyone (well, almost).”

The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy called the film “the best Star Wars anything — film, TV show, video game, spinoff, what-have-you — in at least 32 years.”

“As before, monumental battles enacted by enormous, obliteration-capable forces are paralleled by intimate mano-a-mano duels to the death; in this case, the climactic example of the latter is very effective and emotional, something every Star Wars fan of good standing will find entirely compelling.”

PRAISE FOR CAST

USA Today’s Brian Truitt was wowed by Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a lonely scavanger who lives on the planet Jakku.

“Ridley brings a lot of pathos to Rey while also giving her a strong sense of naivete at first, which plays into her being the Luke of this new trilogy,” he writes, adding that “By the end of the movie, pretty much everybody is going to want a Rey action figure, guaranteed.”

The Washington Post’s Ann Hornady wrote that Abrams had gathered a cast audiences will look forward to rooting for in the next two films of the sequel trilogy.

“Oscar Isaac brings just the right amount of cocksure street smarts to his role as Poe Dameron, and Adam Driver is similarly right-on as a shadowy, somewhat simian figure named Kylo Ren,” wrote Hornady, adding that “As often as not, the funniest lines belong to Boyega.”

The Boston Globe’s Ty Burr writes that the movie succeeds because its director knows how to use the best character elements from the original trilogy to tell a “Star Wars”-worthy story–including the swagger of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo.

“He’s wonderful, and the scenes between Han and his long-suffering copilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew, under the throw rug), have exactly the rancorous warmth we remember,” Burr writes.

The Millennium Falcon. (Photo credit - Disney/Lucasfilm)

The Millennium Falcon. (Photo credit – Disney/Lucasfilm)

Listen: Rich Shertenlieb’s Spoiler-Free Review Of ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

TOO FAITHFUL TO ORIGINALS?

Not everyone was gushing with praise for the seventh “Star Wars” installment. While many praised the film’s similarity to the original movies, Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir said it was “more like a remake or a mashup of the first two “Star Wars” pictures than a sequel.”

“This is the work of a talented mimic or ventriloquist who can just about cover for the fact that he has nothing much to say,” wrote O’Hehir. “He has made an adoring copy of “Star Wars,” seeking to correct its perceived flaws, without understanding that nothing about that movie’s context or meaning or enormous cultural impact can be duplicated.”

Variety’s Justin Chang echoed that sentiment, pointing out several plot points that he thought felt were just recycled from 1977’s “Star Wars.”

“At a certain point, however, “The Force Awakens” feels so determined to fashion a contemporary echo of the original trilogy that it becomes almost too reverential — or riff-erential, given Abrams’ fondness for playing on recognizable tropes, themes and plot points in his film and TV work,” Chang wrote.

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