When JJ Abrams was directing “Star Trek Into Darkness,” he decided that the film’s most powerful scene would have “alternate reality” Kirk and Spock trading places in a key moment lifted from the 1982 classic “The Wrath of Khan.” Some saw it as a brilliant homage — others viewed it as the directorial equivalent of turning in someone else’s homework.
Last month, Abrams released another sequel to a beloved science fiction franchise, this one concerning complicated familial relationships, droids on the run with secret documents, and Death Stars that inevitably get blown up. And, although “The Force Awakens” has blown away the box-office, critics have been wringing hands over its complicated familial relationships, plan-hiding droids, Death Star and dozens of other deja-vu moments.
So, is JJ Abrams one of the best filmmakers in Hollywood? Or just somebody who’s really good at ripping-off the titans of science fiction? In a new interview, the filmmaker is responding to the haters.
“I can understand that someone might say, ‘Oh, it’s a complete rip-off!'” the filmmaker says to The Hollywood Reporter while discussing his Star Wars film’s newly-appointed position as the highest-grossing film of all time.
The comments come in response to a slow-simmering backlash voiced in articles like this one. It reads: “[With ‘Awakens’], Abrams is following not only his instinct for homage (to Steven Spielberg, to Gene Roddenberry) but also the blueprints for rebooting a beloved franchise. Be reverent to the source material. Scatter around plenty of “Easter eggs” for the fans. And, by all means, remake the most popular film in the series.”
But according to Abrams, all the similarities between “The Force Awakens” and Lucas’ original trilogy were by design. “We inherited ‘Star Wars.’ The story of history repeating itself was, I believe, an obvious and intentional thing,” he explains, saying that someone like Rey (Daisy Ridley) was very intentionally designed to evoke Luke Skywalker. “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.”
Indeed, it has been well-chronicled that Lucas cribbed such films as 1958’s “The Hidden Fortress” and 1956’s “The Searchers” for the themes he transported to a galaxy far, far away. And Abrams says that instead of viewing his efforts as a “rip-off,” he sees them as part of a grand storytelling tradition.
“Ultimately the structure of Star Wars itself is as classic and tried and true as you can get,” he explains. “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.”
Ultimately, Abrams says, he saw his job as keeping things within that tradition, while simultaneously setting the stage for a new generation of fanboy-ing. “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 and that is optimistic, in a world where you meet people that will become your family,” he reasons. “I know what we all did, and I’m proud to be associated with it.”