As The Force Awakens continues to break records and delight fans and critics alike there has been one constant criticism; Its too much like A New Hope. And yes it certainly hits some of the same notes and leaves in a similar place as the end of A New Hope(with some key differences) but is that a bad thing?
What is the same
Before we can determine whether or not this is a good or bad thing we have to look into what is the same. I think JJ Abrams hits what are the main similarities succinctly:
…the structure of meeting a character who comes from a nowhere desert and discovers that she has a power within her, where the bad guys have a weapon that is destructive but that ends up being destroyed- J.J. Abrams via The Hollywood Reporter
However there are a few more details that need to pointed out. In the first act we have a droid with a secret message is taken in by our nowhere desert character and who then use the Millennium Falcon to escape the desert planet and the bad guys. The second act is completely different except that it ends in the same place, Bad guys destroyed a planet and the Good guys have a plan to destroy the super weapon. The third act is again different but it does have the weapon being destroyed and our desert character who has shown only brief moments of ability fully embracing the force to overcome the odds. We also end in a similar place, the good guys have won a battle but have not won the war. The bad guys have lost a space station but you feel as though they aren’t as bad off as the Good guys.
Why is it bad?
One word: Predictability. The structure is so familiar it was easy to see what was going to happen next. While there were a may be a few surprises, Rey using mind tricks, Han Solo’s death, they did not prevent the viewer from knowing what comes next. The fact that is it predictable seems lazy. It also smacks of corporate greed being more important than the story itself. AKA the Disneyfication of Star Wars that results in more concern for butts in seats than stories that engage us.
But is that actually bad?
No! Star Wars has always followed a certain structure that makes the movies predictable. While ESB and RotJ had surprises, the overall beats of the story were still easily predicted while you watched them. A New Hope is the Hero’s Journey in space as is The Force Awakens. Harry Potter is the Hero’s Journey in the Wizarding world, The first Spiderman, Ironman, The Matrix, Shrek, The Lion King, etc etc to ad nauseam. Are any of these bad movies because they follow a similar structure? I’d say no, as would most movie goers. So the great sin that The Force Awakens commits is it tells us the Hero Journey again in a universe we have seen before and didn’t try something new.
We’ve had a trilogy where the Hero’s Journey was not the focus and the film maker tried something new and the negative reaction to this eventually drove George Lucas to step away from his universe. Some people blame the dialog, acting or editing in the prequels but in the end it was no worse than anything in A New Hope. But the story structure was quite different and risky and that lead to the complaint of PT Star Wars isn’t Star Warsy. Even with the structure being different they were fairly predictable stories.
Star Wars is a popcorn movie. It has never tried to be anything but a popcorn movie. The simple themes and motives are what make it so universally understood and loved. J.J. and Kasdan were very conzigent of that fact when they wrote The Force Awakens and quite intentionally went for the feel, look and themes of A New Hope.
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]’s — 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 [Akira] Kurosawa references, to Westerns — I mean, all of these elements were part of what made Star Wars. -JJ Abrams via The Hollywood Reporter