(THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS! IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE FILM, READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!)
Let me clarify that while I do indeed hate much of what happened from 1999-2005, I was still relatively young during that time period and consequently those films played into my continued love of Star Wars as a whole. I first saw the original trilogy in 1995 (age 8) when my father bought the THX mastered VHS boxset (the last true representation of the original trilogy, I might add), so my wait to see Phantom Menace in '99 could hardly be called a wait at all. As an older person who has since come to understand to a certain degree what makes a film "great", beyond the simple "Did it entertain me?" "Did I like it?" "Natalie Portman is cute" (yes, yes, very yes) mentality of a 12 year old, to the "Does it have good writing?" "Are the characters likable because of the writing/acting or because we are told to like them?" "Does the cinematographer do a good job in conveying the story visually?" (no, no, and no) mentality of a (sometimes) adult, I've noticed upon multiple re-watchings, the originals hold up immensely and still inspire awe and wonder, where the prequels do not.
J.J. and crew have done what 1999 George Lucas could not. They have recaptured that feeling of reality and wonder I felt watching the original 3. I can feel the world, and like Rey, I can believe in the "myths" of the Jedi and the Force. Much of this comes from, not only, Kasdan's writing (pitch perfect in ESB and quite wonderful here as well), and J.J.'s direction, but also the decision to use practical effects whenever possible and the availability of better CGI (used when necessary to great effect). The writing and acting help makes the characters feel like real people, rather than actors just reading lines. I cared about these people, I laughed with them and at them (when appropriate), I cheered for them (and developed a crush on Daisy Ridley that rivals my adolescent self's crush on Natalie Portman), and felt sorrow when bad things happened to them. Losing Han Solo felt like losing an old friend or a beloved uncle you had known for much of your life. Those kinds of emotions are painfully missing from the prequels, which felt as cold and lifeless as the green screen sets in front of which the entirety of the films were filmed.
I don't think this film was as good as "The Empire Strikes Back", but I also don't think it needed to be. For me, it was better than the original Star Wars even though it mirrors it quite frequently (a fact I had no problem with as it wasn't employed to trick us or treat us like we were idiots). They didn't rehash things in the hopes we wouldn't notice but rather referenced things we already knew happened as well as many of the characters in the film knew, or had experienced first-hand. It was very self-aware in this regard.
I know this is kind of jumble of thoughts, but that's how my brain works and I am no writer, so, whatever. Long story short: It was a great re-introduction to a galaxy far, far away, that we haven't truly been able to revisit until now. I literally can not wait to see what other stories will be told.