This should begin to make things right. There is a record in need of straightening when it comes to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Episode VII is often under-appreciated by Star Wars fans who fail to grasp the quality and creative excellence we are privileged to have already in this sequel trilogy. We must, however, maintain belief that what is fallen can be redeemed.
In this series, James and Ryan lead you from the dark into the light. We can sense the conflict within you. Let go of your hate of The Force Awakens.
A New(er) Hope?:
There is a belief which erroneously states that The Force Awakens is A New Hope on carbon freeze and then thawed out only to be blind and with some hibernation sickness – but otherwise the same. It is accused of stealing A New Hope’s plans, stowing them in a droid and then miraculously blowing it up. These accusations range from wildly exaggerated to demonstrably false. This first part in or series aims to set the record straight and demonstrate how Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a creative endeavor with its own spirit, ideas, and insight into a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.
We begin with a window into space when blaring fanfare produces the words “Star Wars” across the screen in giant yellow lettering that is slowly pulling away from our view. Space is evidently littered with blocks of helpful, context-giving, exposition at this point. That could be any Star Wars movie though and no one could hold that against any film in the franchise. But then the camera pans and we have a view of a planet, moon, space installation, and/or heated space battle. Now, we see the moon is silhouetted by an enormous Star Destroyer with a cross-shaped tip as they are in hot pursuit of Poe Dameron. He’s got a droid with the plans to a new battle station. What? No? He’s got a map to Luke Skywalker? As it turns out, this is mission is more like Saving Private Ryan, the mission is a man. We have an opening battle, but so did Revenge of the Sith and no one was bugged by that. The battle in The Force Awakens is as different from Vader’s boarding party in A New Hope as The Battle of Coruscant in Revenge. The similarities are dropping off quickly.
Kylo Ren’s ordering of the destruction of this Jakku village gives us an intriguing angle we’ve never seen before: the events from the perspective of a Storm Trooper. There is absolutely no parallel to this in A New Hope, unless you count our heroes pretending to be Strom Troopers and even so it’s way out of place here. Is Poe Dameron supposed to be Princess Leia? The only similarity is they get captured and interrogated, ya know, that old trick from Waging War 101. BB-8 roams Jakku but we see very little of that when compared to R2 and 3PO in A New Hope.
Things diverge hugely here as, in A New Hope we are treated to a quickly concluding sub-plot of R2 and 3PO’s split, capture by Jawas, and subsequent reunion. The Force Awakens, however, treat us to the introduction of the character, and our protagonist: Rey. From here the plots are somewhat jumbled but do have some similar beats: protagonists escape on the Millennium Falcon and are promptly captured, they go to a bar/saloon, there’s an encounter with TIE Fighters, the protagonists have to destroy a Super Weapon, and there’s the death of a mentor. Some of this stuff happens in asynchronous orders from each other and some of it is in entirely different context. The similarities cannot be denied. This doesn’t account for the many plot points for which there is no analog in A New Hope. The Battle of Takodana, Maz Kanata and the Force Vision, Finn and Rey’s duel with Kylo Ren, and the fact that the on-planet raid of Starkiller Base mirrors more closely the Battle of Endor than Yavin (minus Ewoks though, so there’s a win for everyone).
Another common falsehood making the rounds claiming that The Force Awakens copied A New Hope’s characters without change. Let’s examine this claim.
Luke vs Rey:
Luke and Rey are orphans who live in desert planets. Well, Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne are orphans in America. That’s about how similar they are. Luke is eager to fight the injustices of the Empire and is ready to leave Tatooine in order to do so. He’s a good pilot and a moisture farmer who grew up with his Aunt and Uncle raising and teaching him. When Luke learns of the Force he’s eager to learn more and when he finds out Princess Leia is on the Death Star he leaps up at the chance to rescue her and then he proceeds to blow up said Death Star.
Rey was abandoned on her planet by her parents and appears to have raised herself and learned to earn a living by scavenging. Rey is not eager to leave Jakku and wants to stay to await the return of her parents. She is brought into the wider Galactic Conflict simply because she liked BB-8 and wanted to help him. When Rey learns about the Force, she decides she wants nothing to do with it. She proceeds to get kidnapped by the First Order and after being assisted in her escape from Starkiller Base, she barely manages to defeat an injured Kylo Ren.
Luke is eager and a bit bright-eyed and bushy-tailed due to his shelter existence. Rey is reluctant and worldly due to her time living alone.
Not so similar after all.
Han Solo vs Obi-Wan Kenobi:
What of our two mentor characters? They seem quite similar, right? Well, sort of. Both of these gentlemen are veterans of an older war and have a personal connection to the bad guy in a black mask. Both mentors are looked up to by the main protagonist and their deaths greatly affect those same protagonists. Hmmm… Kinda like Gandalf the Grey, Qui-Gon Ginn, and tons of other mentor figures before them. This is a common fixture of storytelling and by no means originating from Star Wars.
Obi-Wan and Han are extremely different apart from being mentors that die. Obi-Wan is a Force user in exile and keeping tabs on Luke from afar. Han is a war hero who returned to his smuggling habits after his son fell to the Dark Side. Furthermore, Han doesn’t really mentor Rey that much at all. They have more of an emotional bond than a teacher to student one. In truth, Maz does most of the mentoring. Han mirrors himself more than anyone and even that shows some growth. He’s a smuggler in trouble with crime bosses in both A New Hope and The Force Awakens. In A New Hope he doubts the Force but in The Force Awakens, he’s accepted it as real. Han and Obi-Wan do share some plot beats but they’re not Star Wars exclusive and it’s honestly less borrowed from than Qui-Gon was for The Phantom Menace.
Poe Dameron vs Leia Organa:
The fact that this comparison exists is absurd in of itself. What an ace Resistance fighter pilot and an Imperial Senator/Princess/Secret Rebel Conspirator have in common with each other is negligible. Poe is no copy and the only thing he’s guilty of is being a POW and Class II Possession of a McGuffin.
Kylo Ren vs Darth Vader:
People often falsely attribute too much to Vader in A New Hope. Much of his characterization came from The Empire Strikes Back. His only accomplishments in A New Hope are to fail to recover the Death Star plans, win a thrown duel, and track the Falcon to Yavin IV only to fail protecting the Death Star from Luke, and ultimately defeated a non-Force user that neither his sensors nor senses picked up. Kylo Ren at least lost his duel to Finn and Rey only after suffering a bowcaster wound. A weapon we saw could devestate Stormtrooper. Don’t get me wrong, Vader is great, played perfectly, and appropriately menacing but in a single film we get both more accomplishments and characterization from Kylo Ren. That conflicted, childish characterization may not be to everyone’s taste but I think Adam Driver did a bang-up job portraying Kylo and I look forward to how he develops further.
Finn vs Han Solo:
Finn and Han are both reluctant to join in the fight against the Empire or First Order. That’s it. Similarities die there. Han is a smuggler hired by Obi-Wan and later won over to the Rebel cause by Luke and Leia. Finn is a former stormtrooper who wanted out of the First Order but not in with the Resistance. It’s only when Rey is kidnapped that Finn finds his courage and desire to stand against the First Order. Try again.
Okay so A New Hope and The Force Awakens have some parallels and repeated themes but that’s expected of a new era of a franchise takes off. When examined critically though, we can see that The Force Awakens has unique characters with unique motivations and arcs. You can also see that the echoed plot points don’t even serve the same purpose. Furthermore, if you want to criticize The Force Awakens for being to similar to A New Hope, you have to prove why that’s a bad thing. I simply can’t count any of this against The Force Awakens.