Back in the innocent days of December 2015, some critics of The Force Awakens believed the movie to be a “remake” of the original 1977 Star Wars.
These people were wrong — one desert planet orphan does not a remake make — and we obsessives at Mashable took the time to prove this with a shot-by-shot comparison.
Still, as is often the case with reductive reasoning, the “remake” label stuck in the mind of many moviegoers. So you’d think when it came to the Force Awakens sequel The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson might take care to avoid all comparisons between his film and that best-loved Star Wars sequel, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back.
Johnson, who is just ramping up his Last Jedi press tour, didn’t exactly knock that criticism out of the park, if this interview with French outlet Numerama (via Slashfilm) is to be believed. Here’s what he had to say on the question of TLJ vs. ESB:
Look, we’re starting this movie with our protagonist going off to a desert island to meet a Jedi master, just like Luke and Yoda. And our characters are split up, some are back with the Resistance, some are off, and then you have a kind of training dynamic seemingly set up.
There are big structural things that are going to be very similar to The Empire Strikes Back. But I don’t think, after watching the movie, many people will have the feeling of a copy of The Empire Strikes Back. I don’t see how they could, but maybe they will. I don’t know, you never know!
We don’t see how they could either! Well, except perhaps for the giant battle on a
snow-covered dust-covered planet called Hoth Crait with Rebel Resistance pilots facing off against AT-ATs AT-M6 walkers.
Surely that’s at least a homage, no?
No. For starters, it isn’t in the same position in the film — Johnson confirmed once again that we start exactly where we left off, with the Luke Skywalker-Rey meeting.
Secondly, it just isn’t where he started with this whole story. Like a latter-day Yoda, it appears Johnson has cleared his mind and unlearned all that he had learned from the 1980 movie:
I think that it would be a mistake to try to copy The Empire Strikes Back, but that it would be just as much as mistake to make creatives decisions based on saying ‘We’re going to be nothing like The Empire Strikes Back!’
These two approaches lead, in my opinion, to two forced versions, which have the same weaknesses.
For me, I try just to take a starting point of what I knew about these characters, and say: ‘Where do I want them to go? How did they get there? What are the hard things I’m going to throw at them?’
Here’s the problem, as well as the chief weapon of this world-beating franchise. Star Wars is the most idealized representation of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, a.k.a the story common to all myths.
The beats of this story are always going to feel the same, whether the hero’s journey is Luke’s (in the original trilogy) or Rey’s and Finn’s (in the sequel trilogy). No manner of interesting new characters with no antecedents (Vice-Admiral Holdo; the hacker known as DJ) will prevent that.
Visually and aurally are always going to perceive comparisons with other Star Wars films — because everything set in this film universe shares a common aesthetic, a certain tone, as much as any entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Star Wars thrives on opposites: light and dark, good and evil, humor and tragedy, apprentice and teacher, the tyranny that keeps returning throughout history and the resistance that rises against it.
This common tone is precisely what Johnson noted in another recent interview:
Regardless, moviegoers are primed to see Empire Strikes Back references — and as with just about any notion in Star Wars fandom, patterns and theories will abound.
If Johnson doesn’t want us to see that, he may have to start priming the pump with a more robust answer to the comparison question.
Remake, or do not. There is no try.