I have to say that, just a day or so after publishing a defense as to why The Force Awakens wasn’t just lazy fan service but, rather, an intentional, loyal continuation of George Lucas’s original echoing design (click to read and watch), it was really refreshing to hear director J.J. Abrams literally make the same argument.
At the 40:15 mark of a newly published “Awards Chatter” audio podcast interview by The Hollywood Reporter, Abrams is asked about – and answers – the most common complaint regarding Episode VII: that it’s just a remake of Episode IV.
“I can understand someone might say, ‘Oh, it’s a complete ripoff,” Abrams tells host Scott Feinberg, and then immediately adds, “We inherited Star Wars. The story of ‘history repeating itself’ was, I believe, an obvious and intentional thing.”
He goes on to suggest that Episode VII needed to, by necessity, have more echoes and callbacks than the next two episodes should (or likely will). A small comfort, perhaps, to those who feel as if J.J.’s movie didn’t entirely restore their prequel-ruined childhood but, well, it’s something. So there you go.
For Abrams – who was thrilled (not begrudgingly obligated) to work and live in this echoing mythology – it’s still the characters (not the echoes) that matter most. So the goal of the film, ultimately, should be that we like these characters. We care about them. We’re fascinated by them, their personalities, their struggles. We’re invested in their journeys, in them. I wholeheartedly agree. These should be the primary goals. Unfortunately for some in the audience, though…well, I’ll let J.J. speak first.
Abrams says that, at the end of the day, when you get past all of the echoes and repeats and callbacks, “The thing I think the audience is focused on – and cares more about – is not ‘Is that big planet gonna blow up?’, cuz we all know it’s going to blow up. What you’re really caring about is what’s going to happen in that forest between these two characters, who are now alone.”
And he’s right…about some of his audience. But not all of it. First, I should say, he’s 100% right when it comes to what we should care about. But if history has proven anything – and by history I mean his mythology-heavy TV shows Lost and Alias – it’s that there’s a very strong contingent of the populace out there who only care about the plot machinations. They’re so obsessed by the puzzle pieces that they lose focus of the picture. And not just the picture but, more importantly, the whole point of the picture.
Lost is the best example. Many complained it didn’t answer every question, that it wrapped up with too many mysteries. Others, like me, never needed any particular mystery answered (regardless of how much we may have enjoyed it). It’s not what we were looking for, or longing for. What we needed, and wanted, was to be satisfied by the character arcs, the journeys, the themes, and where each of them landed – and ended – individually and together.
So, in short, the people who complained about the ending of Lost are likely similar to those who hold something against this Episode’s echoes. The ones who don’t complain about the repeating motifs in The Force Awakens – and even appreciate them – are the types who are excited by how those echoes inform the characters, the relationships, and how they resonate within in the broader mythos. As one of the latter, I have to say it’s a much more satisfying experience.
To listen to the full, 50+ minute career-comprehensive conversation (you really should; Abrams is a joy to listen to, both in what he shares and how he shares it. A really cool, smart, charming guy), click here, or find the podcast in iTunes.