Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Is JJ Abrams' "The Force Awakens" Just a Copy of the Original "Star Wars" Movies?

The final trailer for JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens gave fans of the iconic film series visual delights while teasing their imaginations about the new stories to come.

When originally conceived of by George Lucas in the 1970s, Star Wars was intended as a modern day fairytale and moral parable that would feature recurring themes, motifs, and symbols.

Much of what has been revealed in the various movie trailers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens appears “new”. This is only true in the most superficial sense—and as viewed by the most casual of viewers and fans.

In fact, the three trailers released for JJ Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens suggest that he borrows heavily from George Lucas’ first Star Wars films—primarily Episode IV: A New Hope—in ways both obvious and subtle.

The Star Wars films feature planets that have only one type of environment. Star Wars: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back had the desert and snow planets “Yavin” and “Hoth”. Star Wars: The Force Awakens features the desert world of “Jakku” and an unnamed “ice planet”.    

Luke Skywalker begins his “hero’s journey” on the desert backwater planet Tatooine. Rey begins her “hero’s journey” on a similar planet called Jakku.

The lightsaber is an Arthurian weapon of destiny. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens it is rumored that a quest to return Luke Skywalker’s lost lightsaber to him, and to keep it away from the presumed main villain Kylo Ren, drives the narrative. In Star Wars: A New Hope the lightsaber was Luke’s connection to his father, as well as an introduction to a broader world where he would eventually become a Jedi Knight.

The original Star Wars film began with two droids, R2-D2 and C-3P0 escaping to the desert world of Tatooine after their ship was destroyed. In the new Star Wars film, the Tie Fighter piloted by John Boyega’s character, “Finn”, crashes on the desert world of Jakku as he flees The First Order. On Jakku he meets Daisey Ridley’s character “Rey” and they begin their adventure.

In the original Star Wars film trilogy, the Empire constructs two Death Stars, moon sized battle stations with the ability to destroy a planet, which the Rebels subsequently destroy. As seen in the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie trailer, The First Order, an “updated” version of the Empire, has apparently turned a planet into a weapon called “Starkiller Base”.

Han Solo, the rogue, swashbuckler, pirate from Star Wars: A New Hope did not believe in the Force, a concept he described as “hokey religion”. Now presumably wiser (and 30 years older), Han Solo tells the two main characters in the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer, that yes, the Force is real, and everything they heard about the legendary exploits of the past is true.

In Star Wars: A New Hope, Princess Leia is tortured by her father Darth Vader. She does not surrender the location of the secret rebel base. In its sequel, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo is tortured by Darth Vader…for the latter’s sadistic pleasure. As shown in the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, hero Poe Dameron is tortured by the evil Force-using villain Kylo Ren. Does Poe provide the information that Kylo Ren presumably seeks?

The narrative of the original Star Wars Trilogy was centered on how the love and faith of a son (Luke Skywalker) could eventually redeem a father (Darth Vader) who was thought to be too far fallen into the grasp of evil and despair to ever be saved. In the new films, Kylo Ren is likely either the child of Han Solo and Princess Leia, or perhaps the son of Luke Skywalker. JJ Abrams’ new film is thus a reversal of Lucas’ story arc. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, parents must now save the soul of a child who is lost to the Dark Side of the Force.

JJ Abrams’ The Force Awakens will feature many more examples of overlaps and borrowing from George Lucas’ original Star Wars films. As fans and observers of the Star Wars universe have noted, the real secrets of Abrams’ new trilogy are to be found in the “expanded universe” of novels, comic books, video games, and other material that Disney, quite conveniently, decided were no longer “canonical” after they purchased the property from George Lucas in 2012.

Some examples.

It is no coincidence that The First Order’s main base is named “Starkiller”: this was Luke Skywalker’s name in Lucas’ original draft of Star Wars. Likewise, “Finn”, actor John Boyega’s character, could very well be inspired by the Star Wars concept art done by visionary artist Ralph McQuarrie’s of “lightsaber” wielding Stormtroopers for the original film. In the Star Wars novels, Han Solo began his career as a young Imperial officer who left the Empire because of how they treated aliens like his eventual best friend and Wookie copilot, Chewbacca. In the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Finn, a young officer in the First Order, leaves the service after also suffering a crisis of faith that he explains as “I was raised to do one thing…but I’ve got nothing to fight for.”

JJ Abrams is a master of making “synthetic” films that are hommages to other directors.  Super 8 was a love letter to 1980s era Steven Spielberg; Abrams’ first two Star Trek movies borrow heavily from George Lucas’s A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.

(Abrams has admitted that he has no real love for Star Trek, and much prefers Star Wars.)

JJ Abrams has shown that he can copy other filmmakers—with varying degrees of success. The question now becomes, can JJ Abrams return the magic to the Star Wars universe that was lost by its wildly disappointing and ill-advised prequels? On December 17, 2015 the world will finally have its answer.

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