Okay let’s play a game. Name this film… There is a war taking place in a galaxy far, far away. A small droid that interacts exclusively in beeps and boops. An antagonist with a respiratory problem. The rugged hero. Unassumingly innocent protagonist. A big moon (or space station.) A plan to destroy the space station (or moon.) Red and yellow targeting system. One sweet shot. Sound familiar? If you said Star Wars IV: A New Hope or Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens you would be right. JJ Abrams has been under some criticism for the similarities between the two films that open up separate sections of the saga. The question is, are these similarities justified or just lazy?
Think about the first time you watched A New Hope. Think about the excitement and the anticipation that was thrown at you. Whether you watched it on December 27 1977 or yesterday there is no denying the atmosphere it generates. The characters, the soundtrack, the battles that seemed bigger than life itself. There is no doubt there is a feel to episode four that is completely absent in Episode One. The opening of a trilogy in this legendary saga has to do two things. It has to have that feel to it to allow the devoted fan to slip into the nostalgia (particularly after waiting 32 years) of Star Wars films gone by as well as introduce and hold the attention of new viewers, whether they are fans of science fiction or not. And that is exactly why Abrams decided the apparently obvious parallels between the two films happened.
During a discussion with Chris Rock at the Tribeca Film Festival JJ Abrams “tried to borrow familiar beats” from Episode IV. Explaining his creative decisions, Abrams said:
“[‘The Force Awakens’] was a bridge and a kind of reminder; the audience needed to be reminded what ‘Star Wars’ is, but it needed to be established with something familiar, with a sense of where we are going to new lands, which is very much what 8 and 9 do. The weird thing about that movie is that it had been so long since the last one. Obviously the prequels had existed in between and we wanted to, sort of, reclaim the story. So we very consciously — and I know it is derided for this — we very consciously tried to borrow familiar beats so the rest of the movie could hang on something that we knew was ‘Star Wars.’”
There are a huge amount of similarities, there is no doubt about that but the new elements that Abrams and his team have added make The Force Awakens an incredible piece of film making. The new characters, a crisper and more contemporary feel to the humor (attracting a broader audience) and the development of a universe that already seemed infinitely huge make Episode Seven sensational, regardless of similarities to previous films.