We're nearly a week removed from the first showings of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and it is clear this is not only going to be the biggest movie of all time (until Episode 8) but it has successfully reinvigorated Star Wars as the daddy of all franchises.
Fans and reviewers alike have fallen in love with the new but old universe J.J. Abrams has conjured up from Lucas' data tapes and as a movie, it is easily among the top 5 of the decade so far.
Yet there are some who are not 'drinking the coolaid' and the main complaint is that they consider this more of a remake of A New Hope than a new installment and that too much has been borrowed in terms of action.
Before discussing it in too much detail, it's important to note what this film HAD to achieve and note... THERE WILL BE FULL SPOILERS... Seen the movie... you can go about your business...
Not seen it?...
Rogue Squadron Goals
This had to be the film that made the kids of 77-83 fall in love with Star Wars all over again, as well as the kids of 2015. It had to show the same heart the originals had, while acknowledging the societal shifts in the near 40 years since the first movie was shot. The damsel in distress trope worked in 1976 but it doesn't in the same way today. Likewise, there is a black president of the USA... something few ever imagined in 1976, those tonal shifts had to be incorporated for the movie to be successful.
On the other hand, the movie also had to right some of the 'wrongs' of Lucas' prequels while not obliterating it from canon. Make no mistake, it would have been VERY easy for Disney to say to George "If we buy this, the prequels are out... any sequel is to ROTJ." and he'd have still signed the deal, lest he be harangued for ever more for denying us more movies for his own ego.
They didn't go that way, but in truth there was very little in that second trilogy that people could LOVE other than characters we already know to be dead and the spectacle afforded by the technology of the time which was let down by the storytelling.
Telling The Story
Abrams was a child of that first trilogy, so he knew better than anyone what brought him and us to the dance and the truth of Lucas' original work being based on mythology. Those stories don't just happen once and get told forever, they often happened EVERY couple of generations. His career has been built on that. He took both Star Trek and Mission Impossible and reinvigorated them, being able to bring fans of the originals and new fans together through re-telling familiar stories.
Hollywood and Disney in particular have not had a good rep when it comes to rebooting and remaking movies. Frivolous reboots and retelling of origin stories have jaded the public and conditioned them to hate seeing something they've already seen and that accounts for a lot of the bad reviews.
Not All Remakes Are Immediately Obvious
Yet it wasn't always like this... take two totally unrelated films, Robocop & The Crow and you in essence see exactly the same film. Sequences are virtually identical, even down to dialogue being so close it could be seen as stolen like Emil's
BOTH are considered classic movies and while some note the similarities, they are considered OK because it is basically the same tale, of a Christ like second coming who is vengeful but ultimately on the side of good.
Yes, there are a lot of nods to earlier Star Wars movies in terms of scenes. There is a cantina scene because Finn is trying to escape just as Luke and Obi Wan were, there is a riff of Luke's first go at the guns of the Falcon and a version of both Death Star battles. There is someone very like Moff Tarkin only far younger, and every other character fits an archetype from an earlier movie.
Even the movies emotional climax, which some have derided as copying Ben Kenobi's death, is there for a reason.
To show that sacrifice is ongoing, there will always be a need for it and just as Obi Wan's sacrifice made the boy Luke Skywalker become the man who destroyed the Death Star, this sacrifice made Rey and Finn into the adults who could not only take on Kylo Ren but almost best him and be the hope in the fight against The First Order.
Han saw enough of himself in Finn, scared, trying to leave only to find that pull for someone you care about so strong that it helps win the war. Most importantly, Han saw Kenobi killed, just as Luke did.
Remember that knowing look Ben gives right before he dies? That was for Han...and was him saying "When the time comes, you know what must be done..."
Han has always known of how Vader ultimately WAS still good, even though he struck Obi Wan down, when his son turned, it became when, not if he would have to face him.
When he's offering Rey a job, it's not the job she thinks it is...he knows then that she and Finn are the future and as soon as he sees her taken by Kylo and Finn's determination to get her back, he knows what he has to do... while many take the conversation he has with Ben/Kylo to be helping him to become fully evil... it might not be... Han is likely hoping there is "too much Vader" in him and by the end of it all, like his grandfather he will see the light one last time.
It's the ultimate turnaround for Han, the guy who was the skeptic and talked of "hokey religions" and "old fossils". When he is telling Rey and Finn "it's all true..." he is saying "and it will all happen again..."
Han's death teaches Rey and Finn that they may have to make the same sacrifice to stop evil winning and Finn almost does immediately. Indeed, what some see as clumsily borrowing from the first movie is actually a life lesson.
Are either Obi Wan or Han's deaths less meaningful cos it happened before/again? or more important because this is the inevitability of it needing to happen and it being the cost of good triumphing over evil?
Ironically the next time we delve into this new universe will be in the past with Rogue One, set prior to the first Death Star's destruction. It's clear we will see some very similar sequences in that movie, as those stealing the plans will have had much the same experience as Luke, Leia, Han & Chewie, only less successful. As long as it's not gratuitous remaking, then it's fine.
The Force Awakens is NOT a gratuitous remake, it is a cleverly done remake that takes the best of what made the originals great and makes it better. There is always room for those kind of movies, it's how Star Wars got made to begin with!