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J.J. Abrams Explains Why ‘The Force Awakens’ Was Like ‘A New Hope,’ Says Mark Hamill Was Reluctant To Return To ‘Star Wars’

J.J. Abrams Explains Why 'The Force Awakens' Was Like 'A New Hope,' Says Mark Hamill Was Reluctant To Return To 'Star Wars'

Most everyone agrees that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was the movie the franchise needed, a strong, hugely enjoyable entry that brought back the wonder and magic of George Lucas‘ original trilogy. But let’s face it, a significant part of the story is ripped straight from the pages of “Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope,” right down to an even bigger Death Star that’s blown up by pretty much the exact same method. It’s a quibble that many fans have been fine with looking past, and it’s a credit to Abrams’ skill that the movie is so enjoyable that those story beats don’t distract. But speaking at the Tribeca Film Festival with Chris Rock, he admits to borrowing from ‘A New Hope’ and explains why it needed to be done.

“[‘The Force Awakens’] was a bridge and a kind of reminder; the audience needed to be reminded what ‘Star Wars’ is, but it needed to be established with something familiar, with a sense of where we are going to new lands, which is very much what 8 and 9 do,” Abrams said (via IGN). “The weird thing about that movie is that it had been so long since the last one. Obviously the prequels had existed in between and we wanted to, sort of, reclaim the story. So we very consciously — and I know it is derided for this — we very consciously tried to borrow familiar beats so the rest of the movie could hang on something that we knew was ‘Star Wars.’ ”

Essentially, Abrams wanted to introduce new characters into a “Star Wars” world that felt familiar, rather than launching into a completely fresh, new chapter. From a franchise perspective, it’s a smart move, even if narratively it leaves something to be desired. But trying to figure out the balance of managing the old and the new was a core problem as the script was coming together. Michael Arndt (“Inside Out,” “Toy Story 3“) was first hired to write the script before Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan took over (he retains a credit) and last year, he revealed his approach to the story was quite different. Luke Skywalker was much more of a lead character alongside Rey, while Han Solo and Leia were essentially supporting players.

“Early on I tried to write versions of the story where [Rey] is at home, her home is destroyed, and then she goes on the road and meets Luke. And then she goes and kicks the bad guy’s ass. It just never worked and I struggled with this. This was back in 2012,” he said in December. “It just felt like every time Luke came in and entered the movie, he just took it over. Suddenly you didn’t care about your main character anymore because, ‘Oh f–k, Luke Skywalker’s here. I want to see what he’s going to do.’ “

With those comments in mind, Abrams’ idea of using ‘The Force Awakens’ as connective tissue, with the previous characters passing the torch narratively to the newcomers, makes a lot of sense. Certainly, the impact of Rey’s arrival, not to mention the terrific ending of ‘The Force Awakens’ with Luke’s reveal, would be much different if they were riding together side-by-side in a new adventure right from the start. However, with Luke’s role diminished in ‘The Force Awakens,’ Abrams admitted at Tribeca that Mark Hamill was reluctant to return.

“We knew that getting to Luke was the whole story, and I was desperate to do the next chunk that we knew would not fit into this one movie. But, we knew that we had that ending, but it was a frightening and tricky thing to do, but at first and in all honesty, Mark Hamill was a little resistant,” Abrams said. “Imagine reading ‘Star Wars,’ imagine being Mark Hamill and you get the script for the new Star Wars. ‘Oh the opening is good, page two, oh, three and so on – what the f**k is the going on, I’m three pages before the end, the last page, what?’ He was so kind to do it, and at first he was like, ‘Will it seem silly, will it be a joke that he is standing there?’ I said to him, ‘I don’t think it will.’ I said because the whole movie is about that, it could be a great fun drum roll, up to seeing this guy.”

Abrams’ instinct was certainly correct, and while one can debate whether or not we needed another Death Star (among other elements borrowed from ‘A New Hope’), in the overall scope of establishing the new characters, and addressing the franchise icons, his approach was pretty sharp.

Thoughts? Could Abrams have done it another way? Let us know in the comments section below.

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