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Thirty years after the Ewoks did their triumphant yub-yub dance, the galaxy is once more in peril.
The First Order picked up where the old Empire left off, and while they're opposed by the Galactic Republic and a growing Resistance movement, they're clearly still doing what the Empire did best: oppressing innocents and wiping out entire planets.
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the last remaining Jedi, has gone into hiding, and both the good guys and the bad are looking for him, hoping he'll turn the tide in the war. That's when Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), hotshot pilot for the Resistance, picks up an electronic map to Skywalker's location on the junkyard planet of Jakku.
His meeting is interrupted by an attack from the First Order, which takes him prisoner for some fun Q&A games with resident Sith Lord Kylo Ren. Before being captured, however, Poe gives the map to his droid BB-8, who promptly heads for the hills.
During the attack, one stormtrooper, later named Finn (John Boyega), decides that massacring innocent people isn't his bag (good man) and plots an exit strategy. He frees Poe Dameron, and the two escape from Kylo Ren's Star Destroyer in a hijacked TIE fighter. The Star Destroyer has the last laugh, however, winging them and sending them crashing down to Jakku.
Meanwhile, resident self-sufficient scrapper Rey (Daisy Ridley) rescues BB-8 from a local scumbag and takes him to the local watering hole the next day. There, she runs into Finn, who escaped the wreckage of the TIE fighter and now believes that Poe is dead. They hit it off—if you call Rey pounding Finn with her steel deathstick "hitting it off"—just in time for the First Order to attack.
They escape in a nearby ship—which turns out to be the Millennium Falcon—and kick a little TIE fighter butt before heading out into space to find the Resistance. Instead, they run into Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), currently smuggling a cargo of dangerous monsters in a much bigger ship…and ever so glad to have their personal rust bucket back.
Pirates attack, monsters get let loose, and Han and Chewie join the new kids behind the wheel of the Falcon.
Han takes Rey and Finn to see Maz, who knows the Force and can lead them to the Resistance. She reveals that Rey seems to be strong with the Force, which guides her down into a supremely creepy basement where a treasure awaits: Luke Skywalker's lightsaber, sliced off along with his hand in Cloud City and now in Maz's junk trunk. (We're really glad she didn't have the hand in there, too.)
The Force is calling to Rey, but she's not picking up that call. Neither is Finn, who basically finds a couple of ne'er-do-wells and splits: he's more frightened of the First Order than he is interested in helping his friend.
If you know your Campbell, you know that never ends well. Sure enough, the First Order attacks with Starkiller Base—a bigger, meaner, uglier Death Star—wiping out the Republic's capital before launching an attack on Maz's watering hole. They knock some stuff over but are driven away by the arrival of the Resistance...led by Poe, who didn't die in that sandpit after all.
Sadly, the damage is done. Kylo Ren abducts Rey to find out where Luke has gone—he's pretty sure she knows—and Finn gets to watch them fly away, knowing that he could have done more to help. Princess Leia—excuse us, General Leia—arrives to take stock of the situation and banter with her former flame, Han.
They travel to the Resistance base on the planet D'Qar, where they plot some way to destroy Starkiller Base before it turns its gentle attention on them (i.e., somewhat immediately).
Rey wakes up in Kylo Ren's rumpus room, and Ren proceeds to use the Sith mind-torture technique on her. She proves stronger than anticipated, however, and actually pulls some tidbits from his weaselly little mind: namely, that he's afraid he can't hack the whole dark side thing. Ren departs in a high snit, and his dark master, Supreme Leader Snoke, orders him to bring the girl to him.
Back with Team Good Guys, BB-8 runs into R2-D2, who's gone silent since Luke's disappearance and may never awaken again. BB-8's map to Luke is apparently incomplete, but that may be irrelevant, however, since Starkiller Base is looking their way, and they need to stop it right now.
Finn says he can cripple the base's shields if they can get him there, and Han and Chewie volunteer to get him there.
Back on Starkiller Base, Rey starts testing her Force powers with the unwitting help of her stormtrooper guard. One successful mind trick later, Rey is loose and armed. Outside, Han, Chewie, and Finn make a crash landing and get to work. They capture Finn's old commander, Captain Phasma, and force her to lower the shields, and then they plant explosives in important-looking places.
They're joined by Rey, who's eager to help.
Starkiller Base continues to slowly warm up in anticipation of D'Qar getting wiped off the galactic map. Kylo Ren interrupts, and Han confronts him, hoping to turn him away from the dark side. It doesn't go so well. Ren kills Han, and Chewie shoots Ren in the arm, then detonates the explosives, allowing Poe's X-wing squad to attack. Ren then follows the fleeing Finn and Rey out into the forests of Starkiller Base.
Rey is knocked unconscious, and Finn fights off Ren with Luke's lightsaber. At least, he does for a little bit. Ren injures Finn and tries to claim the lightsaber with his telekinesis...only to see it fly past him and straight into Rey's hands. And...fight.
Rey's technique needs some work, but just when things look bleak, she finds that connection to the Force and further injures Ren. Poe and his squad find the sweet spot to blow up Starkiller Base but good. A fissure in the ground opens up as the base begins to fall apart, separating Rey and Finn from Ren.
Snoke orders the base evacuated and tells his forces to bring the injured Ren to him. Rey and Finn are rescued by Chewie in the Falcon, and the Resistance forces fly off just as Starkiller Base finally detonates.
Back on D'Qar, R2-D2 awakens and reveals the rest of the map that leads to Luke. Rey, R2, and Chewie board the Falcon to find him, on a distant ocean planet dotted with green islands. There, at the remains of the first Jedi Temple, Rey finds a grief-stricken Luke, who rises and turns to her as she holds out his lightsaber.