The Force Awakens – Plagiarism Edition (SPOILERS!)

And so, of course I joined the zeitgeist. I went to see The Force Awakens. It was a movie that I went to, not because of any prickling expectation of dazzlement (though dazzlement would have been welcome), but out of a love of the original trilogy and a good faith desire to see this new trilogy out on its maiden voyage under its new (hopefully less Ahab-ish) captain. And it was…alright?

It struck me as a concerted effort to make a not-bad movie, and it succeeded in making a movie that wasn’t bad. If anything, I would say that its greatest offense to me, personally, was simply that the business and history surrounding it forced it into an inherently, cripplingly conservative mien. I got the same feeling out of it as I did The Avengers: Age of Ultron–a somewhat overburdened, overstuffed sprint of a franchise installment, containing some distinct highs and lows and some gorgeous visual effects, but unified with no single melody and with too many characters to offer any time to characterization or pace.

(And I still don’t understand why a new republic has a “resistance” instead of an army?)

I think the underlying issue–conceptually–was well-highlighted by a recent episode of Scriptnotes on worldbuilding, in which Craig and John discussed the necessity of keeping parts of the map unwritten in a world so as to not create a setting that’s either too rigid to be modified later or that represents too big an investment of effort to scrap, both of which will strangle any real creativity in the womb. The same thing happened here (along with the billion-dollar investment hanging over it like Disney’s own asshole-puckering sword of Damocles). They ended up with a world that could neither flourish nor wither: a carbonite-frozen wasteland well-exemplified by the desert junkyard of old Imperial vessels and X-Wings. For all that griping, though, it wasn’t bad. It just didn’t do anything interesting either. It was a palate-cleanser designed to wipe the slate; the cinematic equivalent of a sorbet. It just had the misfortune of coming to me when I wanted a meal, and so I was understandably dissatisfied.

But there was one review in particular that I read that echoed one of my biggest nigglings about The Force Awakens, which was that “If this wasn’t a Star Wars movie, it would be plagiarism.”

There were, to be sure, a lot of moments included solely as referential material; to the extent that at times it felt more like we were meant to be experiencing the movie as a museum tour rather than a journey, with Finn and Rey modeling for us the proper delight fan-boys and -girls should be displaying. But when I sat down and started thinking about it, there were really only a handful of scenes that I couldn’t point at and source to one of the earlier installments of the franchise (particularly the original trilogy).

And so, as a sort of thought-exercise, here are all the scenes and plot details, arranged chronologically as they occur in The Force Awakens, that seemed to have been borrowed from earlier installments in the franchise. The scenes are marked with their episode numbers preceding them, scenes that I couldn’t think of an allegory for are italicized, and the moments that felt–to me–like they were the most directly copied are in Sith red(ish):


 

IV: The empire, suspecting that a diplomatic ship is actually harboring rebels, descends in force searching for the stolen Death Star plans; after a blaster fight in which the rebels are utterly overwhelmed, a single prisoner is taken–Princess Leia. Leia, fearing her eminent capture, has hidden the plans to the Death Star on a droid which she then secreted away to a desert planet where the first person who finds it is a scavenger for robot parts, from whom it is rescued by the intercession of a curious but unaware Jedi-to-be: our hero.
V: Rakish hero Han Solo, captured by the Empire, is taken by Darth Vader to be strapped onto a torture table and pumped for information
VI: Vader pulls knowledge of Leia’s sister out of Luke’s mind using the force
IV: Luke, disguised as an Imperial Trooper and pretending to be part of a prisoner escort, rescues Leia from her cell and makes a hasty escape with her help
III: Vader totally wrecks a room full of technical equipment with his force powers after suffering a major emotional blow (the loss of Padme)
V: Following a crash-landing on Degobah, Luke scrambles to collect his things from out of the crashed X-Wing–including his copilot.
V: Luke’s X-Wing sinks into the swamp.
[Callback Shot as Finn looks out at the desert city: IV: Luke and ObiWan look out over Mos Eisly from on a high dune]
IV: A dogfight ensues between our heroes and the villains: a single pilot struggles to outmaneuver two tie-fighters while the unexperienced gunner below barely manages to take one of them out. He cheers prematurely as the other tie fighter closes in, followed by a tense moment as the second tie fighter is destroyed just in the nick of time. The heroes hug and cheer, celebrating their narrow escape.
IV: The heroes aboard the Millenium Falcon are tractor-beamed inescapably into the just-discovered Death Star; they decide to hide in the smuggling holds to escape detection
[IV: “Kessel Run…parsecs…” Space chess.]

Han Solo is caught by one of the many people he’s screwed over, he sells out someone else who ALSO happens to be there. A big scrambling action sequence ensues, including the “creature danger moment” of the episode (other monster moments: II-the arena creature duel; IV-trash compactor monster; V-ice wumpa, swamp monster that eats R2-D2; VI-rancor, sarlaac pit).

(Sidebar: The action sequences reminded me–in how it was assembled and shot–of the “Spock beamed into the water main” scene in J. J.’s Star Trek reboot, but God save the copyright holders if those two franchises should ever cross-pollinate…)

VI: Lord Vader consults with The Emperor via hologram, with the latter questioning his loyalties and asserting that he must destroy his familial ties, to which Vader agrees
IV: The heroes enter Mos Eisley cantina: a bar populated with strange alien creatures and their strange alien music, where the heroes try and source a ship by which to deliver the plans hidden inside R2-D2 to the rebels
[Callback Shot? Big alien reclining on couch with his lithe female companion: Jabba with slave Leia]
IV: Han Solo, unburdened of his cargo and responsibility, decides to leave the resistance to their fate and flee the fighting to come, having never been a part of the Rebel Alliance anyway and putting no faith in their victory
V: Luke, following a strange feeling, is drawn into a deep cave where he is given a violent, prophetic vision of Vader
IV: Luke is handed down his father’s lightsaber by Obi-Wan Kenobi, an old hermit who had been safeguarding it for his descendant until the time was right
V: Luke, plagued by visions of his friends in grave peril, abandons his Jedi training
IV: The empire fires their new Death Star for the first time on an unaware, defenseless planet of civilian political enemies in a show of force, causing its utter annihilation
IV [AGAIN]: The empire, suspecting that a diplomatic ship is actually harboring rebels, descends in force searching for the stolen Death Star plans; after a blaster fight in which the [Empire is] utterly overwhelmed, a single prisoner is taken–Princess Leia.

Rey is strapped down to be tortured by Kylo Ren, but she draws on her innate force connection to not only resist his mind reading, but also to turn it back around on him. [I: “I sense much fear in you.”]
Later, she manages to use it again, instinctively, to mind-trick the guard into releasing her and letting her go.

IV: Ben Kenobi wanders the massive corridors of the Death Star, clabering along walls and over precipices while alternately hiding and seeking a means of escape
III [AGAIN]: Vader totally wrecks a room full of technical equipment with his force powers after suffering a major emotional blow (the loss of Padme)
IV: Finally arriving on the Rebel Alliance’s staging base, the plans of the Death Star are hastened to the planning area, where a weakness is limned and plans are made to attack it (Biggs and Luke share a brief, happy reunion as everyone gears up to fight again)
VI: The primary hurdle the rebels discover in attacking the new Death Star is that it is protected by a shield generator; Han, Leia and Luke decide to embark on a stealth mission to disable the shield generator themselves, thus allowing the primary air assault team to enter and attack the weak point directly
IV: The Empire closes in on the Rebel base and begins the slow process of maneuvering to fire the Death Star on their planet
VI: Han and the others infiltrate Endor and successfully destroy the shield generator [after a few…setbacks]
IV: A small group of X-Wings move in to attack the Death Star, maneuvering through a heavily-gunned, mechanical trench firing at them from all sides. They suffer some losses, but manage to fire on the weak point, only their attacks are ineffective.
VI: Luke, on death’s door, pleads with his father to see the good in himself and join the light side of the force
IV: Luke, boarding the Millennium Falcon, watches helplessly from afar as Obi-Wan is slain by Darth Vader
V: Luke, gravely wounded by Vader (who he’s just realized was his father) plummets away off a catwalk into a seemingly bottomless pit
(IV: Obi Wan, sensing the destruction of Alderann doubles over with shock and agony; alt., III: Yoda, sensing the slaughter of the Padawans, doubles over with shock and agony)
VI: A single rebel ship (the Falcon) deftly maneuvers inside of the second Death Star and proceeds to fire on its weak point, causing a chain reaction explosion in the core that the Falcon itself just barely escapes

Finn tries his hand at lightsaber-ry; gets jobbered by Kylo Ren, a proper-ass force-user

V: Luke, trapped in the Ice Wumpa’s lair, concentrates on his lightsaber lying half-buried in the snow and uses the force instinctively to pull it into his hand
VI: A climactic duel ensues between Luke, the young Jedi, and Vader, the Sith desciple, ending with the Sith wounded and helpless (Alt, II: with the rest of the heroes waylaid, Anakin manages to cripple and defeat Count Dooku
VI: The second Death Star’s core exploding beneath them punctuates the end of Luke’s brief reunion with his father, Darth Vader, as the two are, once again, separated (by death!)
VI: An emotionally-dissonant scene ensues following the destruction of the second Death Star: the Rebels hold a massive celebration while, elsewhere, Luke holds a solemn funeral for his father
V: Luke flies away on a secret mission to an obscure planet where a Jedi master is rumored to live, to begin his proper training as a Jedi




©2013 by Blake Vaughn. The text of this story may be redistributed freely in its original form with attribution to the author, Blake Vaughn, and his website, www.blakevaughn.com, as under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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