Star Wars: The Force Awakens—you know, that movie we’ve been anticipating/debating/worrying about for three years now—was finally unleashed into the world a little over a month ago, and we still haven’t gotten tired of talking about it. It helps that the film is lighting up the box office charts, already taking the #1 domestic crown off the top of Avatar’s head and now working its way up the global all-time chart. The film was, thankfully, not terrible, and maybe more importantly it offered up plenty of reason to continue talking about the story and characters long after we’d left the theater. But for some, The Force Awakens fell short of expectations in one very specific way: it’s too familiar to the original trilogy.
Indeed, when we finally got to experience The Force Awakens, we discovered that Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan used the story template of the original Star Wars, effectively building their film on top of the skeletal foundation of A New Hope. There’s a lonely reluctant hero awaiting “something bigger” who gets roped into a big adventure to vanquish evil; there’s a cavalier, dashing pilot; there’s a finale that involves said pilot driving into one very specific weakness in the enemy’s big weapon, which is essentially another Death Star.
As it turns out, these aren’t just coincidences, this was all part of Abrams and Kasdan’s plan. Speaking with THR, Abrams addressed complaints that The Force Awakens is simply a rehash of a Star Wars story fans know already:
“It was obviously a wildly intentional thing that we go backwards, in some ways, to go forwards in the important ways, given that this is a genre — that Star Wars is a kind of specific gorgeous concoction of George [Lucas]’s — that combines all sorts of things. Ultimately the structure of Star Wars itself is as classic and tried and true as you can get. It was itself derivative of all of these things that George loved so much, from the most obvious, Flash Gordon and Joseph Campbell, to the [Akira] Kurosawa references, to Westerns — I mean, all of these elements were part of what made Star Wars.”
The filmmaker continued by citing influences older than Star Wars that made up what he says are the “least important” aspects of the movie:
“I can understand that someone might say, ‘Oh, it’s a complete rip-off!’ We inherited Star Wars. The story of history repeating itself was, I believe, an obvious and intentional thing, and the structure of meeting a character who comes from a nowhere desert and discovers that she has a power within her, where the bad guys have a weapon that is destructive but that ends up being destroyed — those simple tenets are by far the least important aspects of this movie, and they provide bones that were well-proven long before they were used in Star Wars.”
Abrams elaborated even further, specifically citing the new characters as his main focus:
“What was important for me was introducing brand new characters using relationships that were embracing the history that we know to tell a story that is new — to go backwards to go forwards. So I understand that this movie, I would argue much more than the ones that follow, needed to take a couple of steps backwards into very familiar terrain, and using a structure of nobodies becoming somebodies defeating the baddies — which is, again, I would argue, not a brand new concept, admittedly — but use that to do, I think, a far more important thing, which is introduce this young woman, who’s a character we’ve not seen before and who has a story we have not seen before, meeting the first Storm Trooper we’ve ever seen who we get to know as a human being; to see the two of them have an adventure in a way that no one has had yet, with Han Solo; to see those characters go to find someone who is a brand new character who, yes, may be diminutive, but is as far from Yoda as I think a description of a character can get, who gets to enlighten almost the way a wonderful older teacher or grandparent or great-aunt might, you know, something that is confirming a kind of belief system that is rejected by the main character; and to tell a story of being a parent and being a child and the struggles that that entails — clearly Star Wars has always been a familial story, but never in the way that we’ve told here.”
While I’d have to argue with a couple of things there (C’mon, Maz Kanata is New Yoda), Abrams makes some solid points, specifically that he took the familial aspect of the Star Wars saga and twisted it into something different. We’ve seen a young man reject his mentor, and we’ve seen a father try to corrupt his son, but we’ve never seen a son so clearly and violently reject not only his father, but the philosophy of “good.”
I also think it’s interesting that Abrams specifically notes that The Force Awakens needed to take a couple of steps backwards “much more than the ones that follow,” implying that Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII and Colin Trevorrow’s Episode IX will be more focused on moving the new story forward rather than echoing George Lucas’ original films.
Speaking of which, Abrams reiterated that he and Kasdan gave plenty of story ideas to Johnson for Episode VIII, and that they addressed all but a few ending requests made by Johnson to help the story of his sequel:
“Larry and I had a bunch of thoughts of where certain things could go and we shared those things with Rian Johnson, who’s directing VIII. He had things that he came up with where he asked if it was possible if we could make some adjustments with what we were doing at the end, most of which we did — there were just a couple that didn’t feel right, so he made adjustments — but it was just collaboration. We’re all fans and friends and supporters of each other, and there’s been no one cheerleading and supporting louder and more consistently than Rian on this, and I feel that I am grateful that I now get to take that position for him.”
While I certainly had some issues with The Force Awakens, I still think it’s a wildly entertaining film and admire the passion with which Abrams approached the project. This was an impossible task for any filmmaker, and Abrams made the film he most wanted to see, as a Star Wars fan. That said, I am insanely excited to see Johnson take this franchise to new heights with Episode VIII.
For more on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, peruse our recent links below:
- Lucasfilm Gives Fan-Favorite ‘The Force Awakens’ Character His Own Name
- Simon Pegg on His ‘Star Wars’ Journey from ‘A New Hope’ to ‘The Force Awakens’
- ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Toys Making Fans Ask “Where’s Rey?”
- Will ‘The Force Awakens’ Box Office Success Convince Disney to Release Future ‘Star Wars’ Films in December?