When does inspiration end and imitation begin? The new Star Wars directed by JJ Abrams has probably received the most hype of any film since Avatar, and with hype often comes disappointment. However, this long awaited seventh episode of the saga has been greeted with excited reviews. Everywhere, critics assured audiences that ‘this is the Star Wars you know and love.’ Yes, this is the Star Wars we know and love. In fact, we know everything about The Force Awakens because it is essentially a remake of the original Star Wars from 1977, the film so many of us love.
Of all the remakes, reboots and rebranding that Hollywood has supplied, this new Star Wars sticks the closest to the original source material. Not since Gus Van Sant’s shot for shot remake of Psycho in 1998 has a reboot been less adventurous or lacking in originality as The Force Awakens.
Remind yourself of the 1977 original and compare it with The Force Awakens. In both films, droids carry vital information that could threaten the Empire or The First Order as it’s known in Episode VII. In both, someone in the middle of the desert comes into possession of the droids and both characters turn out to have prodigious Jedi powers. They both have a major character dying three quarters of the way in, and both are killed by people once close to them. They both have a cantina scene. In both, they must destroy a massive weapon created by the dark side and in both, they exploit a fatal flaw in the shield design to commit the attack. It’s one thing to take inspiration from George Lucas’s masterpiece but to copy its plot through and through is rather lazy.
The shame is that when The Force Awakens does differentiate itself, it succeeds. The rebel storm trooper Finn, played by John Boyega, is a brilliant new character who really improves the first few scenes. Boyega doesn’t seem to have followed the Star Wars hammy acting tradition and revels in his interesting character. The villain, Kylo Ren played by Adam Driver, is truly fascinating too. Unlike Darth Vader before him, Driver plays him almost sheepishly. He weeps in front of Vader’s old helmet to ask for guidance from the dark side, unaware of whether he has done the right thing. The moment when he kills his father is probably The Force Awakens’ best scene.
It might seem odd to criticise The Force Awakens for being too similar to a great film, but the issue is that it doesn’t even feel like a sequel. It feels like the creative team have just gone right back to Episode IV and pretended V and VI never happened. They have replaced the characters and replaced the Empire with The First Order. The First Order is so powerful and evil that it feels like there was no point to what Luke Skywalker achieved. It actually delegitimises everything that happened in the original trilogy to have everything turn out so badly so near into the future. It’s like space’s version of The Arab Spring. They might as well have just stuck with Vader and The Emperor.