I’ve been reading quite a few reviews of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, albeit cautiously to avoid too many spoilers, and one thing seems to pop out more and more as the reviews come in: the reviewers don’t seem to realize this is a direct sequel that relies heavily on original source material.
Reviewers almost seem to be complaining that the franchise makes no real effort to “reinvent” itself. Or that it makes no qualms about relying on the same structures and mythology already established in Episodes IV, V, and VI. And my favorite is making note that director JJ Abrams did better work reinventing Star Trek. Well, let’s examine this for a moment, rationally.
Maybe Paramount Pictures, the studios producing Star Trek, wanted a reinvention. Certainly that’s a possibility, right? Maybe they came to the table and said to Mr. Abrams, “Here’s what we want: Let’s utilize the original cast of characters, we’ll re-cast them young, and you update it for this generation.” Abrams reboot of the Star Trek franchise goes back to the very beginning and starts from seemingly scratch and moves forward. And, that’s where this criticism that Abrams did a better job reinventing Star Trek begins to fall apart, because that’s probably not what Lucasfilm/Disney wanted (obviously), and Paramount did. Lucasfilm wasn’t looking to reboot the franchise, they’re trying to advance the story and continue it, not reboot it. The only thing ever holding Star Wars back from advancing that story was George Lucas himself. Lucas was the sole driver of the Star Wars franchise before selling it and the rest of the farm back in 2013, and now Kathleen Kennedy, the new president of Lucasfilm, is bringing in scores of creative talent so that one person is no longer holding the story back from being told. It’s all hands on deck, rather than the captain telling everyone to go below, he’s got this.
The franchise doesn’t need to reinvent itself. It only needs to advance the story, and part of that is introducing new characters and, slowly, a new mythology. Any reviewer spending time claiming it needs to be reinvented isn’t grasping the context from which the story is being picked up.
Lastly, let’s address the idea that it’s a bad thing for The Force Awakens to rely so heavily on the themes of the original series. How silly–it’s a continuation of that storyline utilizing many of the same characters as the original. Not only that, but it dovetails off certain elements to create new villains and a new threat to the galaxy. Would reviewers have them charge off in a new and complete opposite direction? One of the major objections to the prequels was that it seemed so weird to go backwards in time, rather than stepping forward. One has to remember that sooner or later you’re going to watch all these movies in succession, and it’s going to seem disjointed when there is a sudden course change.
This line of thinking also fails to consider the Star Wars Anthology films that are in the works. Most of those films will run parallel to the primary Star Wars saga without ever directly intersecting with it. Those films will likely be the ones that serve in some capacity reinvent to the Star Wars franchise, not the mainline films. Or, at the very least, will offer a new way of telling other Star Wars stories.
I’m writing all this without, obviously, without having viewed The Force Awakens, yet. I plan to as soon as possible, but it seems really silly to me to believe the film needed to serve as a means to reinvent the franchise. Additionally, it seems almost equally dumb to pine away at the fact that it relies too heavily on the structure of the original films. If it's obvious that the film makes no apology for it, then that's probably just one objective they had for the story. I even heard one reviewer state something to the idea that “at least the prequels tried took a risk and tried to be their own films.” Yes, and if you ask even a nominal Star Wars fan what they think of the prequels… you’ll see just how well that worked out in the prequels favor.