Film

Ripoffs from Space: When Big Movies Are Cannibalized by Even Bigger Movies

Hollywood screenwriters know that if you don't have an original idea you can always steal an existing plot... and then set it in SPACE!


Let’s play a little game. Take any mundane object and then put the word “space” (or preferably “SPACE”, because you should yell it) in front of that word and that item immediately becomes a nifty futuristic concept. In the future we won’t just drive cars, we will drive SPACE CARS! People won’t lounge around in pajama pants anymore, you silly little man. No, lazy people will be lounging in SPACE PAJAMA PANTS! Uncle Leo won’t have to worry about his triple bypass surgery because he’ll be having SPACE TRIPLE BYPASS SURGERY. No one will be drinking light beer anymore as it will have long since been replaced by SPACE LIGHT BEER! Art critics will debate the nature of NEGATIVE SPACE SPACE while being warmed by SPACE SPACE HEATERS in SPACE SPACE STATIONS while eating SPACE CHIMICHANGAS in SPACE.

Yeah, it gets old after a while, no matter how loudly (or in which funny voice) you yell “SPACE”, but writers have been using this very ploy to borrow existing plots and revamp them into SPACE EXISTING PLOTS for generations. Gene Roddenberry himself pitched Star Trek as “Wagon Train to the Stars”. Alien played upon our fear of dangerous animals by introducing a “Star Beast”… in space. George Lucas wowed Fox executives by offering up realistic World War II style dogfights “BUT IN SPACE”. Hell, you can do it yourself if you have halfway decent writing talent. Look back in history at any political strife (preferably if it resulted in war), copy every single event, change the names and then set all of the events… IN SPACE with SPACE ALIENS and SPACE KNIGHTS and SPACE FENG SHUI to maximize each character’s SPACE SPACE.

Unfortunately setting a borrowed plot in space does not make the resulting film any less of a complete and total rip-off… yet both screenwriters and SPACE SCREENWRITERS have been getting away with this repeating trope virtually since the advent of film.

Case in point, most every film buff can tell you that the acclaimed Akira Kurosawa film Seven Samurai (1954) was remade in 1960 as The Magnificent Seven. However, extremely nerdy film buffs can also point out that in the wake of all the Star Wars cash-ins came a film called Battle Beyond the Stars which producer Roger Corman billed as “Magnificent Seven in Outer Space”. You might also be interested in the fact that Star Wars itself had a plot largely borrowed from The Hidden Fortress (1958) as also directed by Akira Kurosawa.

And speaking of Star Wars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a shameless rip off of Star Wars.

As opposed to simply taking an earthbound story and setting it in space as George Lucas did, Star Wars successor JJ Abrams took Lucas’ “The Hidden Fortress… In Outer Space” idea and remade the whole thing again… in a slightly different part of outer space.

I was head-over-heels about Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it debuted in 2015 as most fans were -- I watched the film about five times in the theater alone. A friend asked me when the last time was I paid to see a film five times in the theater and I responded “Uh, you remember that movie Revenge of the Sith?"

Much of this fan jubilation cited the illogical praise “At least George Lucas wasn’t involved with this one.” Regardless of what you think of the prequels, at least those were all original stories. Star Wars: The Force Awakens reads like it was constructed with the help of Star Wars Mad Libs. Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes off as a Mockbuster version of the original Star Wars using the same plots and themes to put butts in those seats.

Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope focuses on young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), a mechanical genius and Force-sensitive who really knows how to fly space planes and grew up on a desert planet never knowing his parents. Star Wars: Episode VII -- The Force Awakens focuses on young Rey (Daisy Ridley), a mechanical genius and Force-sensitive who really knows how to fly space planes and grew up on a desert planet never knowing her parents.

In Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope Luke’s life is turned upside down due to the arrival of a cute space robot who holds secret plans stolen from an evil military of space knights known as the Empire led by a Dark Side master named Palpatine (who usually gives commands via hologram) and his armored Sith Lord apprentice named Darth Vader, a fallen Jedi. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens Rey’s life is turned upside down due to the arrival of a cute space robot who holds secret plans stolen from an evil military of space knights known as the First Order led by a Dark Side master named Snoke (who usually gives commands via hologram) and his armored Ren Knight apprentice named Kylo Ren, a fallen Jedi.

In Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope Luke is helped on his quest by Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), an elder warrior from a bygone age who tells Luke about the mysterious energy field known as The Force and helps him to bring the plan-carrying space robot (via an old spaceship called the Millennium Falcon) to a hidden military space base where the ragtag group called The Rebels (led by Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia) can use said space plans to save the galaxy. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens Rey is helped on her quest by Han Solo (Harrison Ford), an elder warrior from a bygone age who tells Rey about the mysterious energy field known as The Force and helps her to bring the plan-carrying space robot (via an old spaceship called the Millennium Falcon) to a hidden military space base where the ragtag group called The Resistance (led by Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia) can use said space plans to save the galaxy.

Unfortunately for the characters of Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope, the Empire has a planet destroying weapon called the Death Star and the Empire uses it to destroy the very planet that is central to opposing the Empire. Luke and his friends are soon forced to secretly explore this planet-killing space station. Unfortunately for the characters of Star Wars: The Force Awakens the First Order has a planet-destroying weapon called the Starkiller and members of the Order use it to destroy the very planet that is central to opposing the First Order. Rey and her friends are soon forced to secretly explore the planet-killing space planet.

Obi-Wan/ Han leads Luke/ Rey to a strange locker where Luke/ Rey finds a mysterious weapon called a lightsaber (note: it’s the same lightsaber in both films) which seems to have been intended for Luke/ Rey all along. It’s good that Obi-Wan/ Han got that out of the way when he did, though, because before Obi-Wan/ Han can complete his adventure Obi-Wan/ Han is killed by the lightsaber of Darth Vader/ Kylo Ren of the dark side, who is inexorably linked to the past of Obi-Wan/ Han.

Luckily some secret plans help the Rebels/ Resistance find a tragic flaw in the makeup of the Death Star / Starkiller and at the very last second good luck (and the Force) prevails, Han Solo/ still Han Solo intervenes and the planet-destroying weapon is blown to smithereens in the sky while the good guys fly home and Darth Vader/ Kylo Ren escapes, damaged but dangerous, with a new motive of vengeance. In both films, Luke Skywalker gets a little gift in the end.

Folks, this isn’t even subtle. Star Wars: The Force Awakens would be considered plagiarism of Star Wars: Episode IV -- A New Hope if both films weren’t called Star Wars.

So why is that such a problem? Is it really so bad to borrow from your own work? Well, in this case, yes because in order to reset everything so that we could have this remake, the very victories of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi have been completely negated and not in ways that make a heck of a lot of sense. After the jubilation of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, everything basically resets to the old galactic crapola making everything the same as it was before all of that space sacrifice. They should have called the film Star Wars: Episode VII: Life Still Sucks! JJ Abrams was either too unoriginal or too much of a fanboy to do anything but tell the same story again.

The worst part is this was not the first time JJ Abrams has done this. And, no, I don’t mean “something like this”. I mean exactly this.

Star Trek (2009) is also a shameless rip off of Star Wars.

Remember when JJ Abrams was great? Alias, Lost, episode 46 of The Office? Throughout all of these Abrams made no secret of his Star Wars fandom. He even credits this shared fandom for his decision to hire Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof. So when both Abrams and Lindelof were brought aboard as producers (with the former directing) of a rebooted and recast Star Trek flick, fans were exuberant.

The bad thing was that both Lindelof and Abrams were open about the fact that they were not Star Trek fans and never cared much about the saga. I would say that no one who isn’t familiar with a saga should be given the reigns to that saga, but Harve Bennettt was not originally a Star Trek fan when he was given control and he ended up creating some of the most beloved films in the saga due to having studied the original series so hard.

Abrams went back and studied Star Trek also, but was open about the fact that he would rather be directing a Star Wars film, in spite of the fact that this would be impossible. At that time George Lucas was adamant that no more Star Wars films would be made. Therefore Abrams simply took his new Star Trek movie… and turned it into Star Wars. He might as well have called it Star Wars… IN SPACE… Trek.

Next Page

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image