Ethan Anderton, reporting for /Film:
So not only are there fewer nods to the original trilogy, but they also didn’t want to go overboard with setting up Episode VIII, even though Rian Johnson is hard at work on the sequel already. That’s a good idea considering the original trilogy didn’t have much in the vein of set up for the sequels. Star Wars has no indication that there were more stories to come other than the survival of Darth Vader after the destruction of the first Death Star. And The Empire Strikes Back only takes Han Solo prisoner and leaves Luke Skywalker to ponder the identity of his father. So there aren’t any Marvel Studios-level plans laying the groundwork for countless other projects in the future.
Fan service isn’t a new concept in movie-making. Oftentimes, sequels, prequels, and franchise reboots—all can pay homage to previous works. Nerdy fans like that.
But, like Anderson notes, going overboard on references can be detrimental to the movie. Here’s a Vanity Fair (via The Playlist) quote from Abrams on the subject:
[There] are, of course, references to things, and some are very oblique so that hopefully the audience can infer what the characters are referring to. We used to have more references to things that we pulled out because they almost felt like they were trying too hard to allude to something. I think that the key is—and whether we’ve accomplished that or not is, of course, up to the audience—but the key is that references be essential so that you don’t reference a lot of things that feel like, oh, we’re laying pipe for, you know, an animated series or further movies. It should feel like things are being referenced for a reason.”
We will just have to wait and see to what references Abrams refers.