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J.J. Abrams Explains Why The Force Awakens Isn't Just a Carbon Copy of A New Hope

Illustration for article titled J.J. Abrams Explains Why iThe Force Awakens/i Isnt Just a Carbon Copy of iA New Hope/i

A droid carrying important information is jettisoned on a remote desert planet. A mechanically inclined loner with a mysterious past finds it, setting them off on an adventure that will see the destruction of a huge weapon and more. Yes, The Force Awakens mirrors the original Star Wars, and J.J. Abrams thinks it had to.

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“It was obviously a wildly intentional thing that we go backwards, in some ways, to go forwards in the important ways,” Abrams said in a podcast with The Hollywood Reporter. “Ultimately the structure of Star Wars itself is as classic and tried and true as you can get. It was itself derivative of all of these things that George loved so much, from the most obvious, Flash Gordon and Joseph Campbell, to the [Akira] Kurosawa references, to Westerns — I mean, all of these elements were part of what made Star Wars.”

Though Abrams admits to hitting all the tried and true beats from the original film, he thinks that pales in significance to everything else.

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“I can understand that someone might say, ‘Oh, it’s a complete rip-off!’” he said. “We inherited Star Wars. The story of history repeating itself was, I believe, an obvious and intentional thing, and the structure of meeting a character who comes from a nowhere desert and discovers that she has a power within her, where the bad guys have a weapon that is destructive but that ends up being destroyed — those simple tenets are by far the least important aspects of this movie, and they provide bones that were well-proven long before they were used in Star Wars.”

Those bones, he feels, were necessary to get where this story had to be.

“What was important for me was introducing brand new characters using relationships that were embracing the history that we know to tell a story that is new — to go backwards to go forwards,” Abrams said “So I understand that this movie, I would argue much more than the ones that follow, needed to take a couple of steps backwards into very familiar terrain, and using a structure of nobodies becoming somebodies defeating the baddies — which is, again, I would argue, not a brand new concept, admittedly — but use that to do, I think, a far more important thing, which is introduce this young woman, who’s a character we’ve not seen before and who has a story we have not seen before, meeting the first Storm Trooper we’ve ever seen who we get to know as a human being; to see the two of them have an adventure in a way that no one has had yet, with Han Solo; to see those characters go to find someone who is a brand new character who, yes, may be diminutive, but is as far from Yoda as I think a description of a character can get, who gets to enlighten almost the way a wonderful older teacher or grandparent or great-aunt might, you know, something that is confirming a kind of belief system that is rejected by the main character; and to tell a story of being a parent and being a child and the struggles that that entails — clearly Star Wars has always been a familial story, but never in the way that we’ve told here.”

Abrams continues from there:

Illustration for article titled J.J. Abrams Explains Why iThe Force Awakens/i Isnt Just a Carbon Copy of iA New Hope/i
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“And yes, they destroy a weapon at the end of this movie, but then something else happens which is, I think, far more critical and far more important — and in fact even in that moment, when that is happening, the thing I think the audience is focused on and cares more about is not, ‘Is that big planet gonna blow up?’ — ‘cause we all know it’s gonna blow up. What you really care about is what’s gonna happen in the forest between these two characters who are now alone.”

“Yes, the bones of the thing we always knew would be a genre comfort zone,” Abrams concluded. “But what the thing looks like, we all have a skeleton that looks somewhat similar, but none of us look the same [on the outside]. To me, the important thing was not, ‘What are the bones of this thing?’ To me, it was meeting new characters who discover themselves that they are in a universe that is spiritual, that is optimistic and in a world where you meet people that will become your family.”

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It’s a great podcast, that’s well worth a listen. They talk about Abrams’ early career, why he didn’t want to be “The sequel guy,” how Rian Johnson contributed to Episode VII, how Abrams influenced Episode VIII, and more. Here’s the link again.

[The Hollywood Reporter]


Contact the author at germain@io9.com.

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DISCUSSION

Yeah, I get what he’s saying and I’m sure he believes it, but I don’t buy it. I don’t think the movie needed to be so similar to A New Hope. It certainly didn’t need to be to be successful: the prequels made loads of money even though they weren’t very similar at all (or as well liked). Star Wars is one of the most risk-free properties you can work with. This movie was guaranteed to make a profit and establish a new trilogy no matter what.

meeting the first Storm Trooper we’ve ever seen who we get to know as a human being

Which I thought was a really cool idea! And which I really appreciated as a new idea. But it’s also kind of undermined by the fact that, within minutes of switching sides, Finn (and the rest of the characters) immediately begin to treat all the other stormtroopers as expendable cannon fodder again.