10 Ways 'Star Wars' Has Influenced J. J. Abrams


Ever since we got the official, Jabba-sized news that J.J. Abrams will be directing Episode VII of Star Wars, we’ve all been wondering how the director will approach the new film. The Internet being what it is, needless to say there’s already been a good deal of speculation, predictions, expectations, and way too many lazy lens flare jokes. It’s the nature of the movie fan beast to wonder what a prominent director like Abrams will inevitably impose on the Star Wars franchise through his involvement. Most importantly, will it be for the better or the worse? The key to determining Abrams’ suitability and what his venture into a galaxy far, far away might be like isn’t to ask how he’ll influence Star Wars. It’s to ask how Star Wars has influenced him.

Thanks to his Amblin Entertainment photocopy of a movie, Super 8, Abrams has ensured he’s widely perceived as a devoted Spielberg disciple. What many have never considered is whether the director might also be similarly influenced by George Lucas. Especially since he took on that other widely popular space franchise. Yet look closer at the room of Joe – Abrams’ auto-biographical surrogate in Super 8 – and you’ll see Star Wars posters and a model TIE Bomber hanging from the ceiling. Then there’s Abrams openly professing that Star Wars is one of his favorite movies of all time. Most telling is a conversation with Bryan Curtis of Grantland that reveals he’s very much a “Lucasite” who admits that “[the] lessons I’ve learned from George, as a filmgoer, that have informed how I approach movies, as a filmmaker, are legion.” If you start to explore Abrams’ work with that in mind, you realize he is as much influenced by Lucas’ Star Wars as he is Spielberg’s canon.

We’ve gathered together ten examples that sample how Lucas’ original trilogy echoes throughout J.J. Abrams’ career. It should be noted that our intent here isn’t to maliciously find parallels to expose derivativeness. It’s to highlight Abrams’ affection for the series and how much he has been impacted by it. We do so in order to suggest that we don’t have to worry about whether Abrams knows how to make a good Star Wars movie. He does. Because he’s been making Star Wars movies in increments for years.

The Strong Female Protagonist Who Still Has to Appear Half Naked

One of Star Wars’ greatest legacies is Leia Organa, who remains one of science fiction’s most empowered, admirable female characters. She’s an intelligent warrior who is as courageous as she is caring, and more than comfortable asserting her authority (and superiority) over the men around her – frequently with a sharp tongue. The bun-haired rebel is also a somewhat problematic feminist figure, given that she’s a princess prone to needing to be saved by men, is saddled with being narratively defined by who she loves, and is famously sexualized and objectified in that slave girl metal bikini. J.J. Abrams’ female characters all very much evoke the range of Leia’s characteristics and portrayal. Abrams’ work is frequently defined by bad-ass women like Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly) in Lost, Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) in Alias, Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in Star Trek, and Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) in Fringe, who are all inevitably required to strip down to their underwear and be ogled.

A Character Forced To Watch Their Home Planet Be Destroyed

A core element of Abrams’ Star Trek reboot is Romulan Nero’s intent on making the Spock from his timeline/reality suffer. Nero – with typical irrational villain logic – holds Spock accountable for the destruction of his home planet. As his revenge, the Romulan miner obliterates the Vulcan planet in minutes and makes Spock watch helplessly. It’s a moment straight out of A New Hope when Grand Moff Tarkin orders the Death Star to destroy Leia’s home planet, Alderaan, in front of her as punishment for aiding the Rebel Alliance.

The Cocky, Smarmy Rogue Who Softens Up

There’s a reason people continue to rage over the “Han shot first” debacle. People care so much about the sanctity of Han Solo’s character because he’s the kind of excessively self-assured bad boy we all love. There’s no doubt that Abrams shares the same affection as he’s installed the Solo archetype into Star Trek and Lost with Kirk and Sawyer. Both men directly mirror the Millennium Falcon captain, as well as his narrative journey from cocky self-serving rogue to humbled heroic team player. Chris Pine has even said he drew direct inspiration from Harrison Ford’s character. No doubt Josh Holloway was nudged a copy of the Star Wars trilogy as well.

The Absentee Father

If you strip away all the space opera and battles, one of the core elements of the original Star Wars trilogy is Luke Skywalker’s relationship with his father. That’s why the true denouement of the series isn’t the victorious Battle of Endor, but the poignant moment when Luke removes Darth Vader’s mask and looks upon Anakin Skywalker for the first time. Of all the influences Star Wars may have had on J. J. Abrams, this is the one that has found its way most into his work. Super 8, Alias, Lost, Fringe, and Star Trek all have central characters who struggle or have struggled with absentee fathers.

The Dangerous Ice Planet

Of all the kinds of planets Star Trek could have chosen for Kirk’s banishment interlude, it chooses one that evokes the planet Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back. Sure, it could just be creative coincidence that both are ice planets, but consider this: on Hoth, Luke is attacked by a native creature, winds up in a cave, escapes, is stranded in the cold, and is eventually saved by his romantic rival. Kirk is exiled into the cold, chased by two native creatures, is saved by his rival (an older, alternate reality versions of his actual rival, but still), and winds up in a cave. Even structurally the two sequences serve similar purposes in their respective films. In The Empire Strikes Back it serves as a calmer interlude between the dramatic end of A New Hope and the Battle of Hoth. In Star Trek it serves as a breather between the destruction of Vulcan and the action-packed pursuit of Nero. The only thing missing to complete the allusion would have been Spock splitting open that monster and cuddling inside it with Kirk to stay warm (inspiring a whole new wave of fan fiction).

The Rural “Farm Boy” Destined For More

At the core of Joseph Campbell’s hero myth is the archetype of “the young man, called to adventure, the hero going out facing the trials and ordeals, and coming back after victory with a boon for the community.” George Lucas built Star Wars and Luke Skywalker upon this idea. Abrams built Star Trek and Kirk upon Luke Skywalker’s hero myth. Kirk and Luke start in the exact same place. They live mundane, aimless existences as farm boys (Luke is one, Kirk is called one) in a rural landscape (Tatooine and Iowa). They’re both restless young men longing for something more in their lives — which they’re both prone to symbolically giving away by staring longingly at double moons and half-built Federation starships. From there they both go on to fulfill the hero’s journey by meeting their greater destines through their respective trials and ordeals. Abrams has said how much he identified with Luke and his journey as a youth. If there’s any doubt how much this storyline means to him, look no further than Super 8 where the director gives Joe — his autobiographical avatar — the same journey.

The Dead Parent Who Is Revealed to Be Alive … and Evil

The paternal reveal of The Empire Strikes Back remains one of cinema’s greatest twists, even if it’s now so famous it’s hard to imagine it shocking anyone anymore (though the Internet proves that presumption wrong). Abrams faithfully recreated the “guess they ain’t dead!” revelation in Alias. Like Luke and his father, Sydney Bristow was told her mother had tragically died only to find out her mom — Irina Derevko — was a nefarious Russian agent and very much alive to cause all sorts of headaches for the Bristow family.

A Fleet of Starships That Fly Into a Trap

Admiral Ackbar’s “It’s a trap!” declaration has become one of the Star Wars franchise’s most quoted lines. It’s largely thanks to his overly dramatic exasperation — but can you really blame him? His entire fleet did just hyperdrive near a planet-destroying space station hovering over Endor and near a gigantic Imperial Fleet waiting to overwhelm them. In Star Trek an entire fleet of Federation starships similarly warps into a trap where they are hopelessly outmatched by — in this case — a planet-destroying spaceship hovering over Vulcan. Kirk may not have the same flair for the dramatic as Ackbar, but he makes a pretty solid effort while yelling “We’re flying into a trap!”

The Unexpected Sibling

Star Wars is full of familial surprises, but the ickiness of the twist that Leia and Luke are twins might very well surpass the shock of Darth Vader’s “I’m your father” moment. The revelation and arrival of a previously unknown sibling isn’t anything new. Television soap operas are full of them. So it’s no surprise that soap operatic shows like Lost and Alias have half-siblings turn up (Jack and Claire in the former, Sydney and Nadia in the latter). Still, you consider the fact that — like Luke and Leia — the Alias and Lost siblings are also the children of absentee parents, and it’s not a stretch to count this as one more plot element that stuck with Abrams.

A Motley Crew of People Who Come Together to Win the Day

It’s been repeatedly noted how much George Lucas was influenced by Akira Kurosawa films and a healthy dose of Seven Samurai. Which is exactly why so much of Star Wars is about a whole slew of different kinds of people (and giant fuzzballs) coming together to work with each other and beat seemingly impossible odds. J.J. Abrams loves people coming together. He loves teams. Everything he has done — Lost, Alias, Armageddon, Fringe, Super 8, Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek­ — follows the model laid out by Star Wars demonstrating the power of camaraderie to blow stuff up good. And, you know, save the day.