Once upon a time, in a Galaxy far, far away, known as Hollywood, a little known fan of old pulp-fiction named George Lucas had himself a little dream. After several re-writes, many studios picking it up and dropping it again, and having to jump through an incredible amount of industry hoops, Star Wars was finally released upon the unsuspecting audience in 1977. Safe to say it went on to become a resounding success, revolutionising the film industry and amazing audiences in a way that had simply never been done before. This was the dawn of the blockbuster, the beginnings of high-concept cinema, and thus a legacy and a cultural phenomenon was born. I’m not going to bore you by talking about what Star Wars meant to the industry any further. It’s been covered a thousand times by a thousand writers before myself, and I could not possibly add anything else to the discussion that is not already there. Safe to say, the original trilogy was a resounding success, and changed the course of cinematic history forever.
Fast forward twenty one years, and the world waited with anticipation and held-breath for the second-coming of Star Wars. A Phantom Menace was set to be released to the baying public. Unfortunately, they ate it alive. It was hated for being everything that the originals were not. Gone were the wonderful practical effects, replaced instead by eye-fucking CGI. Gone were the lovable and well-written comic relief characters, instead we got Jar-Jar Binks. Safe to say, the prequels were pretty unanimously hated, and, though you may find that occasional guy, deep in the back of the bar, hidden away in the shadows, who may whisper ‘Was it that bad?’, before covering his ears from the en-suing nerd rage,that guy is a rarity. The prequels were, from a cinematic viewpoint, horrendous films, and justifably hated. Stars Wars as we all knew and loved it appeared dead in the water. That was, of course, until Disney stepped in.
Once the Lucasfilm/Disney deal was complete, we salivated in anticipation. Star Wars was coming back! And no more shoddily made prequels, either. We were getting brand new episodes. The Saga would continue. To excuse the pun, there was A New Hope, and that hope was called The Disney Corporation. With J.J Abrams set to helm Episode 7, which would eventually become A Force Awakens, things looked positive. Regardless of your views on him as a storyteller, it’s impossible to deny that what he did to the Star Trek franchise was phenomenal in terms of re-awakening fans desires to see further adventures. Now, whether the quality of Into Darkness (2014) matched the undeniable enjoyably Star Trek (2009) is entirely up for debate. What Abrams did though, undeniably, was craft a fine movie from a pre-existing franchise and bring it to a modern audience. It stood to reason that he would do the same with The Force Awakens which is, arguably, the most anticipated movie of all time.
And he delivered. Removing the fanboy elements, removing one’s personal opinion on what makes a good ‘Star Wars Movie’, Abram’s delivered. The film was, technically speaking, absolutely brilliant. We got action set-pieces that again featured practical effect as opposed to CGI, which of course was noticeably deployed in places but was generally sparce. We got new characters, new stories, new possibilities. The cinematography, editing and directing was near-perfect, and most of the actors put in a fine performance. We got a genuinely interesting villain Kylo Ren, brilliantly portrayed by Adam Driver, and we even saw the return of a few fan favourites. It also goes without saying that Williams’ iconic score was again absolutely on point. Simply put, under all the pressure in the Galaxy, Abram’s delivered a fantastic return to the series that once brought both critical acclaim, currently holding a very healthy 8.4 rating on IMDB. It has also become the third most successful film of all time, bringing in a whopping $1.8 billion worldwide as of writing. I, as a pretentious idoliser of the likes of Von Trier and Lynch, was shocked at how good a film it really was. It all looked so good, and then it happened. The inevitable fan-base backlash.
The first issue that seemed to annoy the devout fans, at least that I became aware of, was that they felt as though this was simply a reboot, as opposed to a sequel. That the story felt less like a new chapter in an engoing and idolised saga, but rather a re-telling of the film that kicked it all off. I must confess that, to a certain extent, these parallels are in fact noticeable and that this is not an argument without any merit, more a misguided one, and one easily debated. The idea that a protagonist begins in a deserted landscape, living as an orphan, before becoming embroiled in a large quest during which they learn that they are something special and then fulfill their destiny. Sound familiar?
Now, this happened to Luke in the first film, and the parallels between him and Rey are relatively easy to make. Both live on an isolated and dangerous desert planet. Both are orphans. Both become embroiled in a large story and come to the knowledge that they have a greater destiny. This seems like a solid argument, until you remember that this is effectively the storyline to almost every adventure film ever made. Superman was an orphan deserted on a foreign planet with great powers who eventually learns he has an important destiny. In fact, the orphan theory is derived traditionally from the constructs of storytelling laid out by Todorov in his writings years ago. Todorov identified that the orphan was a common character trait, and this formula has been used throughout storytelling history, from page to screen.
‘But wait!’ I hear you scream ‘What about the Han’s death? That’s clearly ripping off the Obi-Wan death from A New Hope!’. True, it is, but again, important characters being killed off in order to drive both narrative and character development are again not exclusive to Star Wars. Back only as far as 2008, we saw how Rachel Dawes death was the catalyst from Harvey Dent’s descent into madness in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. In fact, Han’s position in the story again links back to Todorov and his narrative theory. In A New Hope, Obi-Wan’s job was ‘The Dispatcher’. Another prime example of a dispatcher in contemporary cinema/literature would be Gandalf from The Lord of The Rings. The Dispatcher’s job is simple; they tell the primary protagonist of their destiny, and send them on their way.
Quite often they also die, in order to drive the protagonist’s story and send them on course with their destiny. Like Gandalf’s ‘death’ spurs Frodo on to dedicate himself to reaching Mordor, Obi-Wan’s death in A New Hope spurs Luke on to confront his own destiny, and forces him on. So, in The Force Awakens, Han Solo is not ‘playing Obi-Wan’, he is simply fulfilling the dispatcher role, and that, my dear readers, are why there are so many similarities between the stories. Because all traditionally told tales of destiny are told this way, and almost all pan out in the same direction. It is an age-old technique that will never die, and now you are aware of it, you will start seeing it over and over again, in almost everything you ever watch. Sorry guys!
‘But wait, OK, I’ll buy that,’ I hear you yell, getting closer and closer to your laptop/phone screen, ‘but what about the fucking Star Killer? Come on man, that’s a lazy death star knock-off.’ Well, dear active reader, I do hear you, and I give you that. There are two major arguments to that though, and both are relatively simple. The first is that, within the narrative set out by J.J himself, it stands to reason that The New Order would want to prove their dedication to The Empire by building a super-weapon of their own. The Death Star was The Empire’s crowning achievement, why would they not want to have their own, in order to prove that they are capable of matching their legacy? The simple answer is that they would. So that argument for me holds little weight. Sorry guys, no ifs, buts, or coconuts. The second argument in terms of this leads me nicely into my next and last point, the fact that poor J.J could never win.
Yes, you heard. He was fighting a losing battle here from the start. The problem is that with something as culturally important as Star Wars, everybody gets their own idea of what film they want to see. They spend months speculating over small details, connecting dots in their own minds as to how the story goes, and how they would like to see it as a fan, and then when the version that’s been running in their mind is not what runs upon the screen, they are naturally disheartened, and thus they begin to slander the film. The problem is, of course, that the writer/director cannot possibly create over a million individual films to suit the needs of all. Oh, and to those slating the screenplay? What did you expect? The script is hardly Academy Award quality, but it’s certainly not Attack of The Clones Bad. ‘I hate sand, its coarse and it gets everywhere’. In comparison to lines such as those, The Force Awakens may as well have been Othello.
They have to try and please as many people as possible, and that means they will inevitably fail to please many. The prequels spent too much time on politics? They’re shit. The Force Awakens doesn’t talk about politics enough? They’re shit. The prequels showed us new planets we didn’t care about? They’re shit. The new films show us everything we’ve seen before? They’re shit. Abrams never had a chance to please everybody, so he tried his best to simply make the very best film he could, and pray to whichever deity has watched George Lucas’ ass all these years that things would work out O.K for him, and luckily, they have in the majority. The point of this article was not to slate you die-hard fans in anyway, in case that came across. Without you this franchise would not be the billion dollar juggernaut it is, and you undoubtedly have a right to your opinion. What I’m saying is this; Please, if you are one of the five people worldwide who hasn’t seen it yet, when you see it for the first time, leave your mind empty. Don’t make up your own film. Let the film tell you the story it wants to tell you, and judge it on it’s merits as a piece of art/entertainment, and not simply how many of your personal boxes it ticked. It is a fine piece of Blockbuster cinema, and commands your respect.