Director J.J. Abrams landed his perhaps most challenging and exciting role when given the opportunity to bring the Star Wars community together again with the newest revamping of the franchise, The Force Awakens, 2015, which is the seventh in the films saga. It also gives the blockbuster as a genre an opportunity at being more than just a estimation of money and American in motif. The film dubbed itself as the Star Wars installation that fans wanted and expected, after a series of seemingly pointless re-cuts of the originals, and popular but widely disliked prequels from George Lucas, director of the initial 6 films. It uses the strategy of J.J. Abrams widely admired filmmaking techniques, as well as leading itself to a pastiche of successful genre transformations.
Abrams established his career as a director by revealing himself as a master remixer. The idea that he tends to copy, transform and combine the elements of existing stories, seen with some of his earlier works that are built on established templates. This is what drives and makes Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a successful and familiar project. We can take J.J’s previous works, “Taking Care of Business, 1990” about a rich man and a poor man swapping their identities, a story derived from Mark Twain and his story “Prince and the Pauper, 1881”. Or one of his biggest successes, “Lost, 2004-2010”, that incorporates the stranded on an island story from another popular TV show “Survivor: Borneo, 2000” and “Castaway, 2000” and combining it with a non-linear timeline made critically acclaimed by Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction, 1994”. He then showed us Hollywood’s greatest talent, transforming the old into the new, with “Star Trek, 2009) moving him to the big screen and giving fans familiar material to successfully relaunch a franchise. Abrams took this creative incentive and applied it to the StarWars franchise, however, fans shouldn’t expect anything less from the series, considering the first six films prided itself on the transformation and collaboration of a number of genres and influences.
Star Wars is a film that lands itself in the ‘Blockbuster’ category but with many sub-genres such as fantasy, science fiction and even space opera ( a term usually associated with simplistic writing styles and melodrama set in space). But this genre blend only becomes more complex when looking closely at some of the influences that have given the film its status in box office royalty. The obvious is the idea of a technology driven world that engages in space fairing, allows science fiction critic, then the fantastical nature in the presence of the “Force” means StarWars lands a “Science Fantasy” genre, recognised by fans. By default, to be considered a ‘Blockbuster’, you either had to make a lot of money as a film, or cost a LOT to produce. Sometimes there were the odd cases of doing both or the opposite together. Star Wars was this exception, in that it cost a modest $11million to make and ended up being the second highest grossing film gaining $194 Million in 1977 with A New Hope, directed by George Lucas. However, reason Star Wars gained blockbuster status is the way Lucas originally produces A New Hope, and now J.J. Abrams using this for The Force Awakens have told the story across conventions of genre and film technique.
Blockbusters have came from almost a decade of change to cinema, and A New Hope, the original Star Wars film that we can now see The Force Awakens draws inspiration from, is no different. It draws from the success of TV series’ popularity when the audience prefered the luxury of their own home, in particular “Flash Gordon, 1930s” using soft wipe transitions and more iconically, the opening credits.
Flash Gordon (1936) VS. Star Wars IV (1977)
Lucas also played on the massive success Asian countries were showcasing to western cinema, in response to content bans across borders. Star Wars then made reference to Japanese director and creative Akira Kurosawa’s works, in particular The Hidden Fortress (1958). Spiritual Martial arts of Japanese samurai were the foundations for the Jedi Knights as well as a low ranking duo as main characters, seen in the two droids of A New Hope. Lucas and Star Wars were able to transform potentials and great ideas across genre. Kurosawa used film techniques from American Westerns and detective stories to his own films about the samurai, Lucas liked this idea aswell, and borrowed scenes from Westerns, for example when Luke discovers his family have been murdered resembles the same scene from “The Searchers, 1956” .
A New Hope 1977
The Searchers, 1956
Now what J.J Abrams has brought us with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is a similar but not the same version of the 1977 film. He’s taken the storyline and familiar plot of the original and hugely successful and adapted it for his own. The Force Awakens, needs to be recognised alongside A New Hope(1977), if you’re to see the conventions being readapted by Abrams for this blockbuster. We have a side by side comparison of some of the major storytelling ideas Abrams has treated fans to in his new adaptation.
The Force Awakens (2015) on the left and A New Hope (1977) on the right
An old force wielder is found and showcased as a mentor
Vital information abut enemy secrets is tucked away inside a small companion droid and sent away as a diversion.
The droid is then found by an orphan on a forgotten planet and showcased to this message. Later the message creates a mission to which they discover themselves as a major part in the galaxies future.
The Villains own a destructive planet-planet like weapon thats capable of destroying other planets. Note: This is also J.J. Abrams style from pervious space movies as seen in Star Trek (2009)
The leader of the villains murders an elder figure, in which the orphan views and screams “NO!”
The heroes of the movie then infiltrate the planet-like weapon to disable defence systems…
Using the information stolen and retrieved from the loveable droid at the start…
To fly down in the trenches and destroy the weapon by hitting a particular spot on a seemingly impenetrable fortress…
For the third time in the franchise…
Amongst these similarities, it’s worth pointing out that he has transformed as much as he has used from previous films. Such as a female lead character in Rey, and black actor John Boyega, who was a former storm trooper as the second lead. His villain too, is showcased throughout the film to have huge insecurities and weaknesses, a failed admirer of former villains and removes his mask that makes him threatening.
J.J Abrams took what many believe to be the biggest film franchise of the modern era and revamp it into not only a continuum, but a A list blockbuster that has expanded throughout TV shows (such as The Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels), Books (The Last of the Jedi), Video Games (Knights of the Old Republic, The Force Unleashed) with his film The Force Unleashed. The film allows the success of the story from a low budget tale, to convey conventions of a blockbuster that are far more sophisticated with a knowledge of its influences. We love the familiar, and The Force Awakens, dawns the new era of popular franchises and old stories in Hollywood becoming box office smashes.
A, Ferrari 2015, J.J. Abrams: His Secret on Directing and Visual Storytelling, Indie Film Hustle, viewed 24th September 2017, <https://indiefilmhustle.com/jj-abrams/>
D, Charpentier 2010, West by East By West: The Influence of Kurosawa on the West and Vice Versa, PopMatters, viewed 24th September, <http://www.popmatters.com/feature/131926-west-by-east-by-west/>
D, Bronzite (year unknown), The Hero’s Journey – Mythic Structure of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, Movie OutLine, viewed 25th September 2017, <http://www.movieoutline.com/articles/the-hero-journey-mythic-structure-of-joseph-campbell-monomyth.html>
K, Brennan 2006, Kurosawa Films, Star Wars Origins, viewed 25th September 2017, <http://www.moongadget.com/origins/kurosawa.html>
Wookiepedia 2017, Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens, Fandom, viewed 25th September 2017, <http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/Star_Wars:_Episode_VII_The_Force_Awakens>