How did Force Awakens have the biggest opening weekend in history? Part of it comes down to J.J. Abrams fulfilling fans' biggest hope for the film: that it would avoid the pitfalls of the prequel trilogy and simply provide the sort of Star Wars experience that fans have come to expect. Even its harshest critics would agree that Force Awakens certainly feels like a Star Wars film — in fact, it often feels like every Star Wars film. As our own David Edelstein put it, "Abrams is so intuitively unoriginal that he’s almost mystical," and his film is a skillful remix of all the most beloved elements of the original trilogy.
Here's a beat-by-beat guide to the ways the new film borrows from the old, keeping in mind that some characters draw inspiration from multiple places in the original trilogy. (Finn is mostly Han Solo, but like Luke, he's also a little short for a Stormtrooper.)
Warning: Major Force Awakens spoilers to follow!
BB-8 is the new R2-D2
Putting aside the innovative (and adorable) character design, BB-8 follows almost the exact narrative in Force Awakens as R2-D2 did in A New Hope: The little droid gets a secret piece of information in the opening scene, wanders about the desert for a bit, makes new friends, then evades the Stormtroopers on its tail by blasting off into space. It then spends two hours conveying a surprising amount of emotion using just subtle gestures and bleeps.
The scavenger Teedo is the new Jawas
Not only does BB-8 spend the film's opening act wandering around the dunes looking for his owner — he, too, gets captured by a pint-size alien that's only slightly less cute than the droid itself. Bazzuk kaba huhna!
Jakku is the new Tattooine
When the first Force Awakens trailer came out, Lucasfilm was very adamant that the desert planet seen in the previews was not the same desert planet we knew from the first six Star Wars films. And thennnnnnn, Jakku turned out to be basically a replica Tattooine — right down to the vaporators — as if it were drawn up by Slartibartfast himself.
Kylo Ren is the new Darth Vader
The rare similarity called out by the movie itself, Kylo Ren's affinity for the Sith trappings of his grandfather is foregrounded throughout Force Awakens. He's picked up the red lightsaber, the black cloak, and he even wears a mask that makes it sound like he's talking through an asthma inhaler, even though his face is totally fine. But, in one of the movie's best twists, his character also owes a considerable debt to the Anakin Skywalker of the prequels: He's a bit of a moaner; just a tantrum-throwing, machinery-destroying brat.
Rey is the new Luke Skywalker
Abandoned by her family on a forgotten planet? Check. A supernaturally intuitive pilot? Check. Has a secret Jedi destiny that's symbolized by Anakin Skywalker's lightsaber? Check. Wears flowing desert robes even in an environment that might not be suitable for them? Check. Only changes outfits for the film's final scene? Check. Could this be foreshadowing for some future reveal?
Finn is the new Han Solo
Their mouths are saying that they want no part in the Rebellion/Resistance, but their hearts are saying, Yes, I really am made of gold. They both also manage to sport some sweet-ass leather jackets.
Poe Dameron is the new Wedge Antilles
A crack pilot who's maybe not quite as prominent in the movies as his reputation would suggest.
Maz Kanata's castle is the new Mos Eisley Cantina
Amid a head-bopping reggae beat composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, we meet a motley crew of characters that bring to mind the scum and villainy who once enjoyed a drink on Tattooine, including ...
That one gross dude is the new Jabba the Hutt
A gross, sluglike dude who clearly enjoyed having an attractive female companion on his lap. But instead of strangling him with chains, this lady had another plan in mind: informing the First Order of our heroes' location.
General Hux is the new Grand Moff Tarkin
Should the foreign policy of an evil empire be based on the ever-changing whims of a mystical death cult? Or should it be run by a ruthlessly efficient bureaucracy controlled by men in tiny hats?
Supreme Leader Snoke is the new Emperor Palpatine
Depending on what we see in later installments, that comparison may turn out to be a literal one; the old E.U. was full of reborn, cloned, or otherwise revived Palpatines, and the head of the First Order certainly shares his predecessor's habit of issuing nefarious commands via hologram.
Starkiller Base is the new Death Star
That's no moon — it's a planet-size superweapon that fires giant lasers that can destroy planets. The movie lampshades the First Order's lack of creativity on this front a bit — they kept Death Star's same exact weakness, down to the trench, and even seemed to hire the same interior designers — but at least there's been one major innovation: This thing is solar-powered! Good for you, evil band of space fascists. Way to go green.
The destruction of the Republic is the new destruction of Alderaan
Remember how Star Wars treated the destruction of Alderaan, the cold-blooded genocide of millions of innocent people, with the appropriate solemnity and gravitas? The death of the New Republic is kind of like that, only with all moral weight removed. (It doesn't help that the difference between "The Resistance" and "The New Republic" is one of those thing you'll have to delve into the film's ancillary properties to understand.) Half the galaxy is destroyed in a single instant — and five minutes later, nobody on either side seems to care or remember.
The confrontation on Starkiller Base is the new confrontation at the Death Star (combined with the Bespin lightsaber duel)
Here we see Abrams's skill as a remixer really come to the fore. Like Obi-Wan and Darth Vader's duel at the Death Star, Han and Kylo Ren's confrontation on that catwalk is the moment our villain reveals the depth of his evils, slaughtering our heroes' mentor as they watch helplessly from a distance. But in the lighting, the staging, and the Freudian moment where a son angrily refuses to follow his father's path, this moment also owes a considerable debt to Empire.
Captain Phasma is the new Boba Fett
It isn't just because of the lack of screen time: Both Phasma and Fett are set up as supreme badasses, then spend their most pivotal moments doing a total 180 from their previous characterization. Boba Fett goes from dogged bounty-hunter to bumbling nincompoop in Jedi, while Phasma, who's been set up as an inflexible martinet, decides to sell out the First Order the second someone points a blaster at her. In both cases, the problem isn't sidelining cool characters so much as it's inconsistent sketching. Episode VIII may turn things around — as long as it doesn't feature a lengthy flashback to Phasma's childhood.