If you are a fan of the original trilogy, a trilogy that in its own respect is practically its own genre, then it you may have been frustrated or thrown off by how The Force Awakens copied A New Hope. In a lot of ways the film feels almost like a remake of its counterpart rather than a new installment. For many die-hard fans this was a good thing, great even, the franchise was finally getting back to its roots and producing good pieces of cinema. But for many other, it was infuriating and unoriginal and very much unworthy of the praise (and money) that the film is getting.
But whether you like or hate the film, the similarities are hard to deny– impossible even. In the wake of such criticisms and scorn, Abrams, in an interview with THR has finally addressed his thoughts on the film:
“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.”
But while it is clear that he intended to pay homage to the originals, Abrams points out that they were not the film’s only influence and that much of what made the original trilogy great were already developed in popular culture:
“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.”
And, like any true artists, Abrams looks forward to the future rather than just the past. He hopes to build on the past to develop new themes and characters alike:
“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.”
But for me, the enjoyment of the film didn’t hinge on what he copied, but how he morphed and altered those elements to tell a new tale. While A New Hope IS heavily copied in the film, many elements were changed or improved. Kylo Ren, for instance, wasn’t the “complete villain” that we saw in Vader. His character had a lot to learn and has a lot of growth ahead of himself. So we will get to see a Kylo Ren that changes with this new saga and hopefully get to see an amazing head-to-head battle betwixt Ren and Rey in the future. Additionally, after Starkiller Base blows up we are not quickly whisked to the end of the film, but an amazing forest-fight between the two main characters that was gritty, unique and character revealing for both parties. While the film follows a lot of what made the original trilogy great, it quite clearly improved many aspects and turned the film into something unique and awe-worthy.