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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Isn’t Really A Remake Of A New Hope

force awakens

Every so often, a fan theory comes along to remind us how good fan theories can actually be when the work and time is put into them. Less than a year ago, EC Henry composed what I believe to be a masterful breakdown of The Force Awakens that (dare I say it) makes the movie just a little bit better.

Is Star Wars: The Force Awakens a remake of the original Star Wars (A New Hope)? I’ve always considered the movie to borrow voraciously from that original film, while also lifting plenty from the other two parts of the trilogy. But many reviewers like myself have talked ourselves breathless about how TFA features yet another “droid on the run” story with Death Stars, cantinas, and a modest chosen one.

But in EC Henry’s video essay below, the case is made that TFA is really a “creative remix” of the original trilogy, and there’s a strikingly good reason for this that might shed light on the future of the entire franchise. I’ll unpack the theory below (with some of my own observations), but here’s the quick 3-minute breakdown.

As EC Henry points out, nearly all of the similarities between TFA and A New Hope occur in the first act of both movies. BB-8’s story is parallel to R2D2’s, and we’re on a barren planet that slowly reveals our hero, Rey, who is reminiscent of Luke in some ways.

The Millennium Falcon departing Jakku, followed by meeting Han Solo and Chewbacca, is where the first act in TFA ends (roughly), which mirrors the end of the first act in A New Hope, when Luke meets Han and departs Tatooine aboard the same ship. Henry also implies that Greedo and Han’s antagonism is mirrored with Han’s confrontation with the mercenaries aboard the freighter.

At this point, TFA’s second act starts to mirror the second half of The Empire Strikes Back. There’s a monster-in-space encounter (Rathtars in place of the asteroid worm) followed by Han deciding to visit an old friend (Maz Kanata as a fill-in for Lando Calrissian). We also see Kylo contacting Snoke in the same way Vader contacts Palpatine.

To save for time, TFA converges the Luke/Dagobah subplot with the Cloud City subplot. Rey goes to a mysterious planet and learns more about her origins and destiny with Maz pulling double duty as a fill-in for Yoda. And just like in Empire, the villains show up to wreck things. Rey is defeated by Kylo Ren (a la Luke and Vader’s first fight) and is captured, similar to how Han is taken away by Boba Fett.

force awakens

From here, TFA mirrors the third act of Return of the Jedi. The Rebels/Resistance meet to discuss their rescue plan and discover “another Deathstar.” The story breaks in two with ground forces on Starkiller Base trying to break down the shields and Rogue Squadron attacking from space, just as the Battle of Endor had two fronts. There’s an epic lightsaber battle happening as the space assault reaches its climax, with the Jedi using fury to overwhelm the Sith (Rey slicing Kylo is quite similar to Luke taking down Vader).

As Henry also points out, there are exceptions to this where small elements of the original trilogy are mirrored throughout (the catwalk scene, for example), but there certainly seems to be a primary structure in place that combines all of the movies in a coherent way. But what’s the point? Why would Lucasfilm do a creative remix like this at all?

The expectations for TFA were always going to be astronomically high, so the strategy here makes some sense. Add all of the nostalgic fan service to TFA as a tribute in order to gain credibility for this new trilogy, so the next two movies can unfold in more creatively bold ways that aren’t enslaved to the source material. Put more simply: they started with a look at the past and ended with a strong look toward the future.

And in one strange way, TFA is basically the movie George Lucas intended to make in the 1970s. Rather than a trilogy, he envisioned the entire arc of Star Wars to be told in a single movie. TFA essentially fulfills that vision and authorial intent, so as someone who had a lot of problems with the film, I’m finding myself appreciating it more for what it manages to accomplish in light of what couldn’t have been done 40 years ago.

Did I miss anything? Add some of your own observations below. And if you like this essay, be sure to subscribe to EC Henry’s channel, and consider supporting him on Patreon for more great videos.


Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

Or just say hello on Twitter: @@jonnegroni

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Review: ‘Rogue One’ Is About Half Of A Great Star Wars Movie

rogue one

Before Rogue One, which is aptly subtitled “A Star Wars Story,” even begins, it suffers from a remarkable weakness no other movie in this franchise has ever had. A real purpose.

It’s a standalone prequel to the original trilogy, filling the gap (and space) between Episodes III and IV, but it does nothing of note beyond that, except to elaborate on a minor plot point that sets up A New Hope, in the form of a ragtag suicide squad on a mission to retrieve the Death Star plans so Luke Skywalker can find them in a droid days later.

All the while, Rogue One presents side character archetypes as protagonists to a well-realized war movie, one without much of the Force or any stunning lightsaber duels to balance against the space battles. It’s exactly one-half of what we love about Star Wars, but lavishly treated with respect for fans who’ve always yearned for a shift in emphasis toward the “Wars” in “Star Wars.” Cinematographer Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty) managed to make this universe feel big again, and one of the film’s greatest strengths is its sense of location and a visual consistency begging for a better story to match it.

There’s no doubting this is the galaxy far far away, just taking place a bit earlier than what George Lucas and his team established aesthetically 40 years ago. The colors, technology, and overall atmosphere are masterfully recreated, less so however with the CGI-rendered actors we recognize from A New Hope as well, not that they’re the prime focus of what’s essentially an ensemble film. Less recreated, however, are any deep or enriching characters to serve as a compelling thread throughout this surprisingly complex (and fast) war drama.

rogue one

It seems at one point that Disney and Lucasfilm intended to give a weightier role to Jyn Erso, played rather straight here by Felicity Jones, once again one of about three women in a Rebellion consisting of hundreds of men onscreen, which is a noticeable step back from the more balanced Force Awakens.

Much of the material used in the trailers for Erso seem to have been shifted in those pesky reshoots, so that the rest of the “Rogue One” rebels too rebellious for the rebellion could have thematically interesting moments of their own. That was the intention, anyway. Instead, even the most creative characters are quite thin, falling short of what’s done so successfully in Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a more cohesive and ultimately satisfying “misfit ensemble in space” movie.

Rogue One is a classic example of what happens when a beautiful and polished movie filled with colorful characters fails to come together by the third act, which is more bombastic and methodical than anything epic or narratively  fulfilling. The story builds to something far more grand in scope, while also personal in its individual characters’ struggles against the overwhelming Empire, but instead, everything simply fizzles out and fades to the distance to make way for New Hope matters, muting the questionable triumph for these rebels, instead of what the dialogue suggests we ought to feel for them.

rogue one

That said, Rogue One is an easy sell for fans of Star Wars, who will love it anyway for everything that does work—like the complexities rendered for a tougher, less forgiving Rebel Alliance and world-class sci-fi cinematography and sound mixing—and overlook what is sorely missing that would have made this good film actually great, or at least as memorable as something like The Force Awakens, a flawed movie that had a much easier time justifying itself.

Come for the snarky droid, stay for the blind Force monk, and prepare for one scene in particular toward the very end that will make you yearn to see a “real” Star Wars film.

Grade: B

Extra Credits:

  • Now I’m really worried about that Young Han Solo spinoff.
  • Better than the prequels, but that’s about it.
  • First Star Wars movie not scored by John Williams, which is pretty sad. But Michael Giacchino did a tremendous job, and this one has a main score I found much more memorable than in Force Awakens. Edit: I do wish, though, that the music matched the movie’s actual tone. I just don’t blame Giacchino.
  • Alan Tudyk as the aforementioned snark droid, K-2SO,  was easily the best character. Not just in terms of comic relief, but as the obvious heart of the team, similar to Tudyk’s “Wash” in Firefly.
  • Some of the cameos and Easter eggs are great. A handful are just pointless and completely unnecessary, similar to the prequels. Still, I won’t spoil any so you can view them as surprises. Not enough of this movie is a surprise, anyway.

    Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

    Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


Retronalysis: Rewatching A New Hope

star wars new hope

Later this week, a new Star Wars trilogy will be kicked off by The Force Awakens. In preparation for this event, I’ll be rewatching the original trilogy (from A New Hope to Return of the Jedi) each day this week. My goal is to reevaluate these films’ merits, decades after their release.

This is also a discussion post, so if you have any lingering thoughts about the original trilogy after reanalyzing them yourself, be sure to sound off in the comments.

Let’s begin.

George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, claims to have always intended A New Hope to be the fourth entry in a series of “episodes.” When Star Wars (1977) premiered, the studio allegedly forced him to omit this chapter heading from the opening credits, because they believed it would confuse audiences.

Since then, A New Hope has become the de facto title, and for good reason. Much like the first act of a movie, A New Hope serves more as an introduction of characters, rather than a full story. And the creators of this film did a fantastic job of making it feel like it could be more than just one movie without delivering something that felt incomplete (a mistake studios have been making pretty frequently these days with their non-starter franchises).

The story is simple, yet set against a vast and complicated setting. The characters are easy to understand and relate to, but their circumstances and backstories feel rich and unexplored. Part of the fun that comes with Star Wars is letting your imagination fill in the blanks when new story elements are brought in, including the reveal of the Force, the Clone Wars, and the history between Darth Vader and Obi Wan.

Simply put, the characters exist in a world that feels different, but familiar. The sounds aren’t synthesized and foreign. The materials are imperfect and rusty. This is a fantasy that is more down to earth (so to speak), making it feel more “lived in” than many other epics we’re used to seeing.

star wars new hope

A New Hope begins with a swift explanation of who the Empire is and what they’re capable of accomplishing. Their massive ship descends upon a remarkably smaller one on the run. The stormtroopers easily break through the rebel soldiers on the ship and quickly take over.

This entire sequence is well-done because it manages to convince you of how powerful the threat of the Empire is without having to really say it. And your understanding of this conflict between the rebellion and an all-powerful military keeps building from there.

A lot of people tend to dislike what happens next, when the movie shifts perspective to the two droids who escape this ship and wander the desert planet of Tatooine. True, this entire sequence drags a bit, but consider how peculiar it was for the movie to spend so much time on the story of these two droids, who are arguably the crux of this entire movie. The plot moves forward because of them, and they’re essentially the glue that brings all of our main characters together. I don’t think A New Hope would have worked quite as well if the movie hadn’t given them this chance to establish their legitimacy in the story.

Because the movie builds from each of these moments, the ending will feel huge when you consider that it all started with these two droids. It was a novel idea that truly paid off.

star wars new hope

I’ve always appreciated the handling of Luke Skywalker’s introduction. It’s very modest and believable, so it takes you a few minutes to grasp that this is the story’s main protagonist (and John Williams is there to help you figure it out in one of the movie’s best scenes).

Granted, he’s a bit whiny, and his worst lines of the franchise occur in the first half hour. But it’s clear that making him a little unlikable at first was Lucas’s intention. It made his story arc much more interesting and expansive, making it a treat to rewatch his journey in later viewings.

The movie’s only major bout of exposition comes during Luke’s first extended conversation with Obi Wan. Here, Obi Wan tells Luke about his father, the Force, the Clone Wars, and all sorts of other plot points that we’re hearing about for the first time.

But because Alec Guinness delivers this long scene with such grace and gravitas, it actually works. Most sci-fi movies that are this high-concept typically fall flat on their face by the time the characters erupt with exposition, but they casted the perfect actor to help us get invested.

Mos Eisley serves as an excellent set of scenes that help establish more of our characters, along with some new ones. Interestingly, Luke gets very little development here, which is for the best. Instead, Obi Wan gets a chance to prove to the audience that he really is a powerful Jedi Knight. The mind trick — which is gracefully explained in just a short sentence — and Obi Wan’s quick lightsaber demonstration get the point across that the Force is a dynamic, mysterious tool our hero can one day use.

At this point in the movie, we just want to learn more about the Force and see all of this Jedi lore in action. But the movie instead branches off into the story of our next main protagonist, Han Solo. We’re quickly introduced to the more grounded aspect of this universe, which is another saving grace for this franchise. And like Luke, Han doesn’t arrive with fanfare. We don’t truly understand his importance to the story until his fateful confrontation with Greedo, which tells us more about his character in less than a minute than some movies can do in two hours.

star wars new hope

The next act of the movie is arguably its best, as we watch these characters go on their first real adventure. And it’s right in the heart of the Death Star, a massive space station that’s been shown to have destructive powers beyond even our heroes’ imaginations. At this point, I was still reeling from the quick elimination of Luke’s entire family, an event that truly sets the stakes as we see just how hopeless it is to resist the Empire. Now, once we have a few allies and (dare I say it) hope, our heroes are plunged into a pretty hopeless situation.

To be fair, we know that this has to happen in order for Luke to meet Leia. But the fate of Obi Wan and other somewhat extraneous allies seems murky. Throughout the entire sequence on the Death Star, our heroes are faced with increasingly dangerous threats that keep us entertained and wanting more.

But the true grab of the Death Star scenes is watching these characters interact and play off of each other. It’s great because this is the result of all the character development achieved in the first act, so watching them together onscreen is both fun and engaging.

To be fair, some of what happens on the Death Star is pretty silly and oddly convenient. Han rushes into a hallway full of stormtroopers, and they run away from him for no reason. Our heroes don’t get shot once by these apparently “precise” soldiers. Luke makes a weird lasso to get away from stormtroopers who have the high ground on him, and it actually works without him or Leia getting injured, despite having no cover. And there’s very little Obi Wan action, to the point where I actually forgot about him.

star wars new hope

Of course, Obi Wan and Darth Vader battle, which is a pivotal scene. It establishes Vader’s lightsaber skills, and it validates their history only alluded to earlier. Honestly, I found this scene pretty underwhelming the very first time I ever watched it, but it’s grown on me over the years. Yes, they’re tapping their lightsabers slowly, but the thing to remember is that Lucas originally intended the lightsabers to be extremely heavy, which was changed for later movies.

Once you forego the belief that the lightsaber fights should be quick and pretty, this scene becomes a lot more interesting. You focus more on what’s going on between the characters, which is really what the point of this scene is. It’s not the best lightsaber fight, to be sure, but it’s definitely not the worst.

The final stretch of the movie is also its most critical. By the time our heroes escape the Death Star, there’s little chance for rest and mourning as Luke is summoned to fight off more of the Empire with Han. This is the part of the movie I like the least, not because it’s a bad scene, but because at this point, I’m exhausted. Danger upon danger has been thrusted upon these characters, and though the reality of the story demands it (they can’t just get away that easily), I was ready for Luke and the gang to take a breath.

Thankfully, we do get respite in the third act, though only for a moment. Lesser movies would have extended the Death Star scenes in order to borrow its weight for a climax, but A New Hope opts to show us the heart of the rebellion. On Yavin, we see what the alliance is truly like, and we get a chance to see Han Solo weigh his choices that have been building up since Tatooine. Will he stay and help, or will he take off with the reward? Both choices are believable, which makes his confrontation with Luke all the more heartbreaking when his “May the Force be with you” is met with silence.

star wars new hope

The symbolism in the movie’s climax isn’t subtle, which is probably why it’s so effective. Almost all of Rogue Squadron is eliminated, including Luke’s childhood friend. Up to this point, Luke has relied on wit and creativity to make it out of each predicament he’s been in, but for the first time, he has to rely on the Force to save the lives of his friends. All while dealing with the fact that Darth Vader’s ship has picked off all of his allies, with the exception of Wedge.

Two things save the day: Han’s rescue and Luke’s reliance on the Force. These are two somewhat disparate elements, as one displays the loyalty of a friend, while the other is otherworldly and focused on the promise of someone departed. In fact, it’s these two strengths that Luke will have to weigh as the next two movies progress, making for a brilliant first entry in the trilogy.

We do see that Darth Vader survives this battle, opening up the film for sequels. But aside from that, this is a massive blow to the Empire that symbolically shows that the rebels do have a fighting chance. In that way, the film could have easily stood alone, hinting that Luke’s transformation into a Jedi Knight was well underway. And with Han, Leia, Chewie, and the droids at his side, who could stop him, right?

A New Hope is definitely one of my favorite films of the franchise, by far. I only touched on some of what I love about the film here, but I don’t doubt that many of you reading this can relate. Let me know what you think about A New Hope below, and I’ll see you back here tomorrow to talk about The Empire Strikes Back.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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