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 No one will be drinking light beer anymore as it will have long since been replaced by SPACE LIGHT BEER!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.
Star Trek Couldn’t Have Been More Star Wars — or Star Trek
Fans might have expected a prequel, but Abrams and Lindelof opted for an alternate timeline instead. Following Spock (Leonard Nimoy) back in time after his two-part Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Unification”, a group of Romulans (the people Spock was trying to help) alter the past, causing Captain Kirk’s history to closely resemble that of Luke Skywalker.
Let’s follow the story. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Luke (still Hamill) both grow up on farms they don’t like and are raised by people who don’t understand them. They’re both mourning the death of the fathers they never knew. Both fathers were ace pilots (of SPACE planes) and space explorers who fell far too young, just as their son was being born. Their lives seem aimless and pointless until they run into an older mentor who was also a war hero and friend of the character’s father. Each elder mentor pushes our hero to step into a brave new world of space battles and adventures in space.
The bad guys (both led by tortured men who are depressed and obsessed over their lost families) develop a device that can destroy peaceful planets… in both films. Tragedy is averted in both films due to intercepted transmissions that contain secret plans. Things go horribly wrong when the planet killing device (drumroll) destroys a planet. In both cases that planet is the home to a major character (Leia in Star Wars, Spock in Star Trek) who is emotionally compromised by the loss. Things get worse when the elder mentor is put out of commission by the bad guys while on the planet-killing ship forcing the hero (Kirk/ Luke) to crash land on an all-but-deserted planet where they meet yet another elder mentor who can continue the mission. Note that both Kirk’s second elder mentor and Luke’s second elder mentor are mystical psychic war veterans with pointy ears in the form of Spock for Kirk and Yoda for Luke.
In the end, both Luke and Kirk are thrust into a world they are not ready for (Luke is a Jedi with incomplete training, Kirk goes from flunking cadet to captain of the Federation’s flagship without working his way up through a single rank), but it’s okay because both use their incredible luck and talent to outsmart the bad guys and destroy the planet killing spaceship before it can destroy the planet they really, really don’t want them to destroy. Just before the credits roll both Kirk and Luke get rewarded at a well-attended ceremony.
Even if Kirk had reached his arm out and caused a lightsaber to fly into his hand so he could chop off someone else’s hand with it, it could not possibly have been more Star Wars.
Perhaps it all worked out for Abrams because Lucas soon sold Lucasfilm and thus, Star Wars went to Disney, which immediately announced Episode VII and asked Abrams if he felt like making the same film again, but this time with authorization.
It all worked out for Star Trek also because… well…
Star Trek rips itself off all the time!
Before he could take on the job of awakening the Force, Abrams directed a sequel called Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) which is yet another remake/ rip-off, this time of the Harve Bennett-produced Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982). Of course having dispensed with that pesky thing called “continuity” by setting things in an alternate universe, Abrams and company were free to reimagine Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, albeit slightly. Most of the same things happen but often to other people. Kirk dies and is resurrected instead of Spock. Spock, not Kirk, is the one who yells “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!” Khan is now a white guy.
But at least Star Trek: Into Darkness was open and honest about what it was doing. Of course, this is a retelling of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. What did you expect? Well, we might have expected something like that seeing as how this wasn’t the first time that particular Star Trek film was ripped off… by other Star Trek films.
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan itself is a sequel, but not to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Instead, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan follows the 1967 episode of the original Star Trek called “Space Seed”, in which Khan (Ricardo Montalban) takes over the Enterprise and is marooned on a hostile remote planet as punishment by Kirk. In the 1982 film, Khan’s obsession over taking revenge against Captain Kirk (William Shatner) mirrors that of Captain Ahab, making Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan something of a SPACE Moby-Dick!
Moby Dick was later used as an inspiration for Star Trek: First Contact (1996), essentially a film about SPACE zombies, which is considered by many critics to be the best Star Trek film since Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. If only that quality had continued.
In 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis we are introduced to Shinzon (Tom Hardy), a clone of Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) in spite of the fact that Hardy looks absolutely nothing like Stewart. Shinzon feels left behind as he was forgotten on a harsh remote planet and grows up to have Ahab-like thoughts of revenge. As Khan begins his revenge he and his ragtag crew of criminals first seize control of a powerful warship called the Reliant and then lay waste to a science station. As Shinzon begins his revenge, he and his ragtag crew of criminals first seize control of a powerful warship called the Scimitar and then lay waste to the Romulan Senate.
In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan the Enterprise embarks on a peaceful mission when it receives a distress call due to the attack on the science station, is called away to investigate and soon comes face to face with the Reliant and its new crew of villains. In Star Trek: Nemesis the Enterprise embarks on a peaceful mission when it receives orders to investigate after the destruction of the Romulan Senate and soon comes face to face with the Scimitar and its new crew of villains.
In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan the captain is shocked to learn that the bad guys are being led by Khan, an unbeatable nemesis that can outthink Kirk and is inexorably linked to the captain’s past. In Star Trek: Nemesis the captain is shocked to learn that the bad guys are being led by Shinzon, an unbeatable nemesis that can think just like Picard and is inexorably linked to the captain’s past.
Things go from bad to worse in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when Khan proves to have control of the Genesis device, a torpedo that can eradicate all life in order to recreate a new livable planet. Things go from bad to worse in Star Trek: Nemesis when Shinzon proves to have control of the thalaron-radiation generator, a weapon that can eradicate all life in order to make Earth completely unlivable. To attempt to defeat Khan, Kirk leads his enemy into the Mutara Nebula, which renders shields useless and levels the playing field between the two ships. To attempt to defeat Picard, Shinzon ambushes his enemy in the Bassen Rift which renders subspace communication useless and levels the playing field between the two ships.
As Khan finds himself outsmarted, beaten and near death he decides to set off the Genesis device which will destroy everything in the area including both ships, himself and especially his nemesis James T. Kirk. As Shinzon finds himself outsmarted, beaten and near death, he decides to set off the thalaron-radiation device which will destroy everything in the area including both ships, himself, and especially his nemesis, Jean-Luc Picard. Luckily the captain has a very skilled best friend, a super strong, highly logical yet emotionally challenged non-human (Spock in 1982 and Data in 2002) who sacrifices himself to save the crew of the Enterprise. However, due to some clever linking of minds between that amazing, dearly departed best friend and a surviving character the door is open for Spock/ Data to return in a future sequel.
Yes, folks, it’s practically a note-for-note space remake disguised as a new space film. But while Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan was immensely popular, successful and acclaimed to this day, Star Trek: Nemesis was ridiculed, poorly reviewed and a financial disappointment. Spoiler warning, Spock did indeed return for more sequels but Data (Brent Spiner) did not, as Star Trek: Nemesis pretty much tanked the series until Abrams decided to remake Star Wars in 2009.
The writer, if you can call him that in this case, was a man named John Logan who seems to have just about zero original thoughts in that head of his. Want another example? Data is surprised in Star Trek: Nemesis to discover he has a brother (another android built by Data’s creator) in the form of B-4 (also Spiner) whom he finds on a remote world. John Logan clearly saw (or had an intern read him an online synopsis of) the 13th episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Datalore” (1988) in which Data is surprised to discover he has a brother (another android built by Data’s creator) in the form of Lore (also Spiner) whom he finds on a remote world.
I would say that John Logan almost literally phoned in Nemesis except for the fact that even with the biggest titles to his credit Logan essentially used preexisting ideas reformatted into a new script with his name on it. Logan’s best-known works are either adaptations of existing scripts (2002’s The Time Machine, 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) or adaptations of historical events (2000’s Gladiator, 2004’s The Aviator) which do require a lot of copyediting, but not much (if any) originality. This is what Logan is best at, taking existing plots changing a few names, making slight edits and putting his name on them.
The Logan-penned Spectre (2015) gives us revisions on the history we knew of James Bond and reenacts everything from Casino Royale forward but now indicates a new secret (and repetitive) villain was behind it all. The Last Samurai (2003), also written by Logan, is essentially a remake of Dances with Wolves (1990) with Native Americans traded out for Native Japanese. The pattern is all over Logan’s resume, but nowhere is this better exemplified than in Star Trek: Nemesis, seemingly written entirely with SPACE CLIFF’S NOTES!
And speaking of Dances with Wolves…
Avatar Is Not Dances with Wolves but…
Avatar is FernGully… IN SPACE!
James Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox have been in the news lately for committing a billion dollars to a series of sequels to Avatar (2009), the movie that everyone has seen but nobody seems to really care much about.
I’m not quite sure who the audience for the quartet of sequels is (yes, he’s making four more), but I know just about every man, woman and child on this Earth and beyond has seen the first one, considering it beat out Titanic (1997) as the highest grossing film of all time. Don’t feel too bad for Titanic however, as that film was also made by James Cameron for Twentieth Century Fox. For the record, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is now number three on that list.
And, like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Avatar is yet another remake masquerading as an original film. Of course, everybody recognizes Avatar’s similarities to Dances with Wolves as I hinted above. Before the film was even released South Park spoofed the blue-skinned aliens of Avatar in a 2009 episode called “Dances with Smurfs”.
But, no, Avatar is not Dances with Wolves. Instead, Avatar rips off a completely different movie virtually scene for scene. Nor is this prior film a cutting-edge sci-fi extravaganza of CGI animation, although it is animated. I’m talking about FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992), a kids’ movie about forest fairies. And, once again, this rip-off isn’t even subtle.
In Avatar we meet a man named Jake hired by an environmental disaster of a company that wants to use him to help them rape the resources of a mysterious and magical forest far away from the rest of humanity. In FernGully we meet a man named Zak hired by an environmental disaster of a company that wants to use him to help them rape the resources of a mysterious and magical forest far away from the rest of humanity.
In Avatar Jake experiences a physical transformation to change his size and form so that he can better interact with the gigantic forest creatures called the Na’vi, guardians of the forest who worship a mother goddess of nature and have a tree filled with souls. In FernGully Zak experiences a physical transformation to change his size and form so that he can better interact with the tiny forest fairies who guard the forest and follow a mystical mother figure fairy who has imprisoned an evil soul inside a tree.
Both companies plan to take the unobtainable resources from the forest at the expense of the wellbeing of the forest people who live there. Both operations will be an environmental disaster that’s already impacting the livelihood of the tree dwellers. Both companies are soon thwarted when Jake falls deeply in love with the Na’vi girl named Neytiri and becomes more deeply ingrained in the Na’vi culture (though he still has his secrets) and when Zak falls deeply in love with the fairy girl named Crysta and becomes more deeply ingrained in the fairy culture (though he still has his secrets).
Not to be thwarted, the company sends in a giant, polluting, tree-destroying machine to help in the harvest of the precious commodities there. Which movie am I describing with that sentence? Both of them. The same thing happens in both films and in both films the hero (Jake/ Zak) endangers himself by jumping up on that bulldozer-like machine and attacking it physically until it is disabled. That’s an oddly specific similarity, wouldn’t you say? In both cases, this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and ultimately causes the hero (Jake/ Zak) to officially change sides and fight on behalf of the forest.
In both films the sacred tree is destroyed by the company, causing all kinds of damage to the forest and its denizens. In FernGully Crysta’s mentor Magi sacrifices herself to save the tribe. In Avatar Jake’s mentor Grace sacrifices herself to save the tribe. In both films, an epic battle takes place with the hero joining the forest creatures to fight against the polluting bad guys. In FernGully Crysta almost dies to save the tribe but ultimately initiates a physical transformation that saves the day. In Avatar Jake almost dies while fighting for the tribe but ultimately initiates a physical transformation to save the day. In FernGully Zak sends the invading humans away with a strong message of environmentalism. In Avatar Jake sends the invading humans away with a strong message of environmentalism.
Although Avatar was obviously more successful than FernGully (and every single other movie ever made to date), it’s clear to just about anyone who pays attention where James Cameron got his ideas from. These are far too similar to be coincidences. So why didn’t the studio behind FernGully sue for infringement? Elementary, my dear readers, because FernGully was also made by Twentieth Century Fox. Thus it’s the same reason Lucasfilm didn’t sue Lucasfilm over Star Wars.
But this is James Cameron we’re talking about here, right? Surely this must be a coincidence. Cameron wouldn’t steal ideas or plots for his movies, would he?
Ladies and gentlemen, I point you to The Terminator (1984), the film that made Cameron a big star. Many fans have noted similarities between The Terminator and “Demon with a Glass Hand”, a 1964 episode of The Outer Limits. This Harlan Ellison-penned episode features a robot in the form of a man sent to the past to help prevent an apocalyptic future and save the life of an innocent woman. While that does sound oddly specific in its similarity to Terminator, Harlan Ellison himself denied that episode inspired Cameron’s film, his exact words being “it was a ripoff of my OTHER Outer Limits script, ‘Soldier.’” “Soldier” (1964) was based on Ellison’s short story “Soldier of Tomorrow”, which features two warriors in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. When an energy blast hits both men, they travel back in time to the then-present. One soldier seeks to protect a family of humans while the other tracks him down and seeks to kill them.
Naturally, Ellison sued and was given an undisclosed amount of money and a credit on The Terminator. Cameron was furious about this and vehemently denies that he was inspired by Ellison. At least… that’s what he says now. Apparently Cameron told Starlog magazine during the making of Terminator that he did indeed get his ideas from a handful of (unspecified) Outer Limits episodes and Cameron is said to have boasted that he “ripped off a couple of Harlan Ellison stories” as he wrote Terminator.
So, would Cameron steal the plots of existing stories? Apparently only when he thought he couldn’t possibly get caught. The verdict? Yes, based on the evidence, Avatar is not only plagiarism… it’s SPACE PLAGIARISM!
The sad thing is that this is clearly not an isolated incident and space plagiarism is clearly a Hollywood norm.
On another note, my third novel publishes in January. I’m already working on my fourth book which will be all about a young orphaned farmer with mysterious powers who follows an elder mentor into space and joins with some plucky mystical natives to take Ahab-like revenge on the corporate space knights who ruined the ecology of his home planet. The catch is that he has to take his revenge quickly because the bad guys now have an intergalactic space station that can destroy planets. Luckily he falls in love with one of the sexy tree people and saves the day just after learning the main villain was actually his father, a time-traveling cyborg, the whole time.
Yes, apparently all of that is fair game now. And I shall call my astonishing Nobel bait: “SPACE NOVEL!”
See you in the Next SPACE Reel!