Monday, December 21, 2015

Is 'The Force Awakens' nothing more than a remake of the first 'Star Wars'? (Big spoilers ahead!)

Is "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" nothing more than a slick, well-packaged remake of the first "Star Wars" film, now known as "Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope"?

This might be a shock to the system for those who have seen and raved about "The Force Awakens," easily the most highly anticipated movie in a generation. It certainly shocked me to hear my best friend and some-time Cary's Comics Craze contributor David Hudson tell me that Sunday when he broke down the film. But he makes complete sense.

Let's hear him out. Hudson, who definitely knows as much about the "Star Wars" film saga as yours truly (hell, I'd put him against most fans), said when you look at "The Force Awakens" from a critical point of view there's nothing terribly original about it.

Sure, director J.J. Abrams' film deftly pays homage to the original "Star Wars" trilogy. (Something I point out in my no-spoiler review, written the same night I saw the seventh episode. Maybe that explains my emotional and sentimental response instead of a more critical one.) 

But as Hudson pointed out, is there enough original material in "The Force Awakens" to say it's much more than a remake of "A New Hope"?

When you get right down to it, why do all the great moments in "The Force Awakens" work? (Beware of MAJOR spoilers after the break!)

Because, as Hudson said, we'd seen a variation of the same circumstances, themes and/or schtick in the original trilogy. He said Abrams has done nothing more than remake the original 1977 film as told through the lens of "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi".

Ironically, there's also more than just a passing nod to what's unfolded in the original series of STAR WARS novels, the Expanded Universe now labeled by The Disney Company/Lucasfilm as "Legends."

For Hudson, Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy, the head of Lucasfilm, have done just enough to remake "A New Hope" without copyright infringement. (My hope is Hudson will have time to write a review of "The Force Awakens" in which he can more eloquently deliver his own point of view.)

Why have millions of fans fallen under the spell of "The Force Awakens"? Again, because Team Abrams rebottled what worked so well in "A New Hope," coupled it with our overwhelming desire to welcome back the original Big Three — Han Solo, Princess Leia Organa (now known as General Leia Organa) and Luke Skywalker — Chewbacca and the droids and tossed in our sentimental love for the original trilogy — and voila!, you have "The Force Awakens." (Not my idea, it's David's.)

So is "The Force Awakens" a remake or an extended homage? You decide. I break it down in detail; consider yourself warned about spoilers. I'm about to spoil any secret fans have kept from you.

Are you still reading? … This is your last chance to click away — because you can't unsee what you're about to read. You can't say I didn't warn you.

"Luke Skywalker has vanished." = Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi hiding in plain sight: While living on Tatooine, Kenobi gains the reputation of being a "crazy old hermit" known as Ben Kenobi as he oversees and protects Skywalker from a safe distance. As old men, both Jedi Masters separate themselves from the rest of the galaxy because their most promising student fell to the Dark Side. (More on that later!)

In the Expanded Universe (aka EU), Skywalker is exiled from Coruscant (the New Republic's capital planet) on order from the New Republic after a costly Jedi-Dark Jedi battle, but before "The Force Awakens," he goes into hiding on his own.

Kylo Ren and the First Order invade Jakku = the Imperial Stormtroopers going to Tatooine: And why are the Stormtroopers in Jakku? Because …

BB-8 has important information to deliver to General Leia Organa = R2-D2 has an important message to deliver to Kenobi: Resistance pilot Poe Dameron retrieves the map where Skywalker has been since he vanished. He inserts it into BB-8 to stay out of the hands of the First Order. In "A New Hope," Leia records a hologram message for Kenobi in which she tells him Artoo is carrying the plans for the Death Star.

 • Rey is a Luke Skywalker figure: As I called it in my review of the Japanese trailer for "The Force Awakens," Rey lives a lonely existence on Jakku, a sandy planet only dissimilar from Taotooine in that it doesn't have twin suns.

Like Skywalker and the Rebellion in "A New Hope," she has heard about the Resistance — not to mention Skywalker, a person she considers "a myth." They live apart from that world until circumstances dump them into the middle of the respective Empire-Rebellion civil war and First Order-Resistance conflict. They both are talented pilots and until they meet an important Jedi (or in Rey's case, a fallen Jedi), they don't realize they have a raw talent for using the Force.
This is the concept art by the late Ralph McQuarrie for the character
Luke Starkiller, whose costumedesign has more than a passing
resemblance to Rey. 

Rey's costume design is similar to the one based on the Luke Starkiller figure: This is as much an homage to the late Ralph McQuarrie's brilliant designs that weren't used for "A New Hope" as anything, but it's significant to show her costume isn't unique to "The Force Awakens." Another cool McQuarrie homage is Finn, a Stormtrooper, using a lightsaber to battle a Stormtrooper. After all, McQuarrie envisioned a lightsaber duel between Starkiller (who later became Luke Skywalker) taking on a Stormtrooper before that same battle became Kenobi vs. Darth Vader in "A New Hope."

Rey rescues BB-8 from a scavenger = Uncle Ben Lars buys Artoo and C-3PO from Jawas, known for being — you guessed it! — scavengers, just as Rey is on Jakku.

Strangers bond quickly and become quick friends in the midst of danger and adventure: Finn and Poe Dameron as well as Finn and Rey = Skywalker, Han Solo and Leia

Kylo Ren is Vader-esque: Ren doesn't just wear a mask that amplifies and deepens his voice, he seems to worship Darth Vader's burned mask (somehow retrieved from the funeral pyre in "Return of the Jedi"). He also looks to the Dark Lord of the Sith for inspiration to stay on the path of the Dark Side of the Force and "finish what you started." What exactly that means has yet to be explained, but Rey's look is more than an homage. Rey, in fact, calls Ren on his own crap that he's ashamed of being weaker than Vader. The back of Kylo Ren's mask is identical to the back of Vader's.

Kylo Ren = Kyp Durron and Jacen Solo: In the EU, Kyp and Jacen are Skywalker's gifted Jedi students who turn to the Dark Side. Both characters kill Jedi. Unlike Jacen (Skywalker's nephew/the son of Han Solo and Leia), Kyp returns to the Light Side. Jacen Solo takes his fall one step further by calling himself Darth Caedus. The new Sith Lord fashions himself after Vader and oversees a small, Empire-like fleet, one opposed by the New Republic — not unlike the First Order, which was born out of the remnants of the Empire.
Darth Vader and in the Expanded Universe, his grandson, Jacen Solo, as
Darth Caedus (artist unknown)

Kylo Ren and Vader each answer to a higher authority figure: Supreme Leader Snoke is the Emperor Palpatine of "The Force Awakens."

Starkiller Base = Death Star 

Complicated father-son relationships and fallen Jedi: Kylo Ren is Ben Solo, the son of Han Solo and Leia. (That makes Ben Solo/Kylo Ren the nephew of Luke Skywalker and the grandson of Anakin Skywalker, the man who would become Darth Vader.)

Luke Skywalker trained Ben Solo until Snoke seduced him into the Dark Side — just as Palpatine did to Anakin Skywalker, who once he swore allegiance to Palpatine became known as Darth Vader (as seen in "Episode III - Revenge of the Sith"). Anakin was Kenobi's student/Jedi Padawan and in "The Force Awakens," Luke Skywalker is the Kenobi figure. Interesting note: In the EU, Skywalker names his son Ben.

Rey's disturbing vision = Skywalker's "dark tree" experience in Dagobah and his vision of the future in Cloud City (in "The Empire Strikes Back"): What does it all mean? Who is leaving Rey on Jakku? Will we find out how someone found Skywalker's lightsaber (originally his father's)? (Remember, he held it until Vader cut off his son's right hand during their Cloud City duel). My suspect is Kylo Ren, on a lifelong obsession with Vader. Rey's vision includes a hooded Skywalker touching Artoo; Kylo Ren, possibly having just killed other Jedi; the snowy woods where she and Finn will battle Ren; and being left on Jakku as a child.

 • Jedi mind tricks: Rey dupes a weak-minded Stormtrooper into releasing her from captivity is the "Force Attacks" equivalent of Kenobi tricking a Stormtrooper on Tatooine into thinking "these aren't the droids you're looking for" (in "A New Hope").

Rey avoids Stormtoopers on the Starkiller Base = Kenobi avoids Stormtroopers on the Death Star 

Han Solo is killed by Ren's lightsaber on the Starkiller Base = Kenobi sacrifices himself in his lightsaber battle with Darth Vader on the Death Star 

Rey uses Anakin and Luke Skywalker's lightsaber in her duel with Kylo Ren = Luke Skywalker uses his father's lightsaber in his duel with Vader in "The Empire Strikes Back": The only mild difference is Rey has no training as a Jedi Knight before she's forced to battle Kylo Ren. In "Empire," Skywalker only has his brief training under Kenobi and then Yoda before he chooses to face Vader. As Hudson told me, what this shows is that any member of the Skywalker family is so strong with the Force that they need barely any training to hold their own while facing their opponents in a lightsaber battle. (More on that in a bit!)

Rey vs. Kylo Ren = Jaina Solo vs. Jacen Solo in the EU; Rey vs. Kylo Ren = Skywalker vs. Vader in "Empire": Taking on the big baddie Sith Lord is a rite of passage for any Jedi in the "Star Wars" saga. In the thrilling and final EU novel, the badass Jaina Solo realizes and accepts she's the natural choice to battle — and is forced to kill — Darth Caedus, the name her twin brother, Jacen, takes as a murderous, Vader-esque Sith Lord. Rey and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo are about the same age and both have pale skin and dark hair, but are they fraternal twins? (More on that also … but not yet!)

 • Rey is the "New Hope" for "The Force Awakens" generation: It took me seeing Abrams' film twice in three days to realize the subtitle refers to the Force being awakened within Rey. This speculation is supported by Abrams and Mark Hamill (the one and only Luke Skywalker — duh!) saying in various interviews that the new film sets up Rey and Finn as being the stars of the new trilogy.

So, I realize it's obvious Rey is the "new hope" for the Light Side of the Force in "The Force Awakens," just as Skywalker is in "A New Hope."Also, as the wise Maz Kanata says in the aforementioned Japanse trailer for "The Force Awakens," "hope is not lost today. It is found." (But I don't remember that line being in the film! Hmmm ...) Rey's also the catalyst (we hope!) to bring Skywalker and peace back into the galaxy.

 But the big question of "The Force Awakens" remains …

Who is Rey's father?: Is it Skywalker? Being his daughter would make her use of his and Anakin's lightsaber all that more symbolic — not to mention the closing minutes, when she offers that same lightsaber to Skywalker. More importantly, it would explain Rey's vision and her instincts on knowing how to use the Force and wield a lightsaber.

Or could she even be the daughter of Han and Leia? How else would you explain she's so adept at piloting (yet she apparently lived all her life on Jakku until she ran into BB-8)? Sure, she survived by being a scavenger and gathering discarded parts, but Rey has an uncanny ability to repair the Millennium Falcon — much like Jaina Solo, Han and Leia's daughter in the EU, who excels at repairing machines and droids. But why wouldn't Han and Leia recognize Rey? Just one more thought to make the situation more complicated: In the EU, Jaina is the most talented Jedi Knight and warrior (aside from Uncle Luke) and the greatest pilot (aside from her father, Han) in the galaxy.

There's a good reason why Rey doesn't have a last name in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Grade — upon seeing it as a "Star Wars" remake or an extended homage: B+

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