Several days ago the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story dropped, and it looks really, really good. But on some corners of the web, talk has already devolved into meaningless ridicule on how this is “clearly” ripping off The Empire Strikes Back, with the AT-ATs and such. Despite the fact that these are not AT-ATs, c’mon! At this point you’re just looking for faults. Everybody thinks they’re a critic, everyone believes they’re informed. On this account, it’s really too early to tell, so no – you’re no more informed than the next person.
But let’s bring it back a step. More and more I find that people who originally loved The Force Awakens are now finding that it’s suddenly too similar to A New Hope, or other films in the series. If that’s a matter of word of mouth criticism, or personal peeves, I don’t know. In the past week alone, I’ve seen more than a handful of backhanded compliments made, all essentially saying, “I like The Force Awakens, but it’s just a rehash of stuff that came before.” Are these individuals opinions wrong? No, there are quite a few similarities to be made between the latest Star Wars outing and those of yesteryear. But that doesn’t make it any less of a good film.
It has been stated (and forgive me, because I don’t recall the source), that calling The Force Awakens a rehash of episodes past is equivalent to calling a song with a chorus repetitive. Think about that for a second. Would one call a song repetitive if the chorus repeats itself? Let’s go a step further.
Star Wars is a family saga, and a generational one. The mistakes of past generations don’t necessarily mean future ones won’t make the same mistakes, or slightly similar ones. Can one honestly say that the lessons learned by predecessors are automatically instilled in ones progeny? No. And to make a believable Star Wars universe, you have to be aware of that generational divide. In real life, history repeats itself. It would be silly to assume that in crafting a generational journey through the Star Wars universe anything contrary to a repeating history would be appropriate.
Starkiller Base, the planet turned superweapon, is similar to the first two Death Stars, but it’s vastly larger and more powerful. Not only can it destroy a whole planet; it can destroy entire systems. Is this bad storytelling? Or is it realistic? Was it bad storytelling when humans chose to build hydrogen bombs in 1952, after seeing the destructive power of the far weaker atomic bomb just a handful of years prior? Starkiller Base is, for all intents and purposes, the superweapon equivalent within the Galaxy far, far away, and to criticize the film for that reason is particularly unwarranted. And yet this is the most common criticism I see.
But this isn’t the only complaint. Many say it takes the same “formula,” or “tropes,” used in A New Hope. Let’s explain why this is okay. Star Wars is a monomyth, a cyclical adventure or quest undertaken by a hero. And as a generational monomyth, it clearly cycles through some of the same themes, character types, and so forth as the generations move forward. In other words, a monomyth is the hero’s journey. First is the call to adventure, which the hero initially refuses. They receive aid from an outside figure, sometimes a supernatural force, which allows them to cross that threshold, and then the world (or Galaxy) opens up for them. The path is full of trials, but eventually the hero(es) receive their boon, or the ultimate goal of their quest. The hero wins their first trials, then loses (oftentimes losing the father figure in the process), which pushes the hero to becoming who they are meant to be. And then they overcome their final trial. That’s the hero’s journey – the monomyth. And in so many words, not always in the same order, both A New Hope and The Force Awakens share that story structure. As do countless other stories.
But despite it all, The Force Awakens reworking of this trope is brilliant. My favorite example of this is that, instead of a supernatural force user like Obi-Wan Kenobi pushing Rey to accept her fate, it’s a defecting Stormtrooper.
But more importantly, even if this was a direct rehash of another film, the characters aren’t. They may fill similar roles, but their goals, the way they react, and their plights are entirely new. The Original Trilogy would have been a vastly different tale had you placed these fresh characters among it. And that’s part of the brilliance of it all. Though history repeats itself, though situations materialize that feel rehashed, it still surprises you because of the different characters involved in this take.
The villain of the story is quintessentially NOT Darth Vader. He is a wannabe. That is not a criticism. That is a fact. One that the film makes explicitly clear. Had they attempted creating another Darth Vader would have been a folly far greater than the perceived fault of creating “yet another Death Star,” because that’s just not as believable, or as emotional as a character warring within himself.
It surprises me even as I write this, for I’m currently watching the film as I type, that I even need to make this counter argument to begin with. What we received with The Force Awakens is a superb Star Wars experience. The ultimate goal of the film was to continue the legend, recapture the magic, and rework the myth with different characters for a new generation. On all accounts it surpassed its objective, and anyone who argues that is hating on the film for the sake of being entitled to hate. Did it rely too heavily on past concepts? I guess? But really, what else is it going to work off of, other than the universe it’s already entrenched in? If that’s the biggest issue with the film, which is truly a non-issue, then wow, we’ve got a great film on our hands guys! This was the first time you’ve truly felt the Star Wars experience on the silver screen in over 30 years. You were capable of suspending your disbelief of the impossible for the alotted 2 hours and 15 minutes, because you were able to place yourself in the hero’s shoes. You believed what was happening, because the struggle was so familiar, and at the same time so new. This is a great film guys. It’s not perfect, I’m not arguing that. But give it the credit it’s due. Just enjoy it guys.