JJ Abrams on Star Wars ‘rip-off’ allegations: ‘It was important to me to go backwards to go forwards’

Abrams has been accused of sticking too closely to the original Star Wars tropes

JJ Abrams has responded to criticism of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, commenting on suggestions that it has a little too much in common with the original Star Wars, with both plot and structure at the heart of the ‘rip-off’ criticisms.

The Force Awakens is the first Abrams-fronted Star Wars movie, and the first since Disney bought the franchise from creator George Lucas. Abrams spoke in-depth to The Hollywood Reporter about the similarities to Episode IV: A New Hope in particular, focusing on the idea of ‘going backwards to go forwards’ with the new movie.

Abrams said “It was obviously a wildly intentional thing that we go backwards, in some ways, to go forwards in the important ways, given that this is a genre – that Star Wars is a kind of specific gorgeous concoction of George [Lucas]’ – that combines all sorts of things.”

“Ultimately the structure of Star Wars itself is as classic and tried and true as you can get. 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 Kurosawa references, to Westerns. I mean, all of these elements were part of what made Star Wars.”

“I can understand that someone might say, ‘Oh, it’s a complete rip-off! What was important for me was introducing brand new characters using relationships that were embracing the history that we know to tell a story that is new – to go backwards to go forwards.”

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Abrams goes into specifics about those characterisations, too, continuing:

“I understand that this movie, I would argue much more than the ones that follow, needed to take a couple of steps backwards into very familiar terrain, and using a structure of nobodies becoming somebodies defeating the baddies.

“Which is, again, I would argue, not a brand new concept, admittedly – but use that to do, I think, a far more important thing, which is introduce this young woman, who’s a character we’ve not seen before and who has a story we have not seen before.

“Meeting the first Storm Trooper we’ve ever seen who we get to know as a human being; to see the two of them have an adventure in a way that no one has had yet, with Han Solo; to see those characters go to find someone who is a brand new character who, yes, may be diminutive, but is as far from Yoda as I think a description of a character can get.

“A character who gets to enlighten almost the way a wonderful older teacher or grandparent or great-aunt might, you know, something that is confirming a kind of belief system that is rejected by the main character; and to tell a story of being a parent and being a child and the struggles that that entails — clearly Star Wars has always been a familial story, but never in the way that we’ve told here.”

Disney are expected to launch a new Star Wars movie every year for the coming few years, while it was recently revealed that the filming on the Irish island of Skellig Michael necessary for the next movie has already taken place, after further access to the landmark was revoked by the authorities. Abrams and co had the foresight to complete filming alongside the footage for the first movie.