Is New Star Wars Movie (or Anything Else) So New?

Captain Phasma in the Star Wars Universe
Captain Phasma in his distinctive metallic armor. (Image credit:

A recent twitter feud pitting William Shatner against Star Wars' fans over the upcoming J.J. Abrams film "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" raises questions about the originality of popular culture. As Hollywood continues to mine the past for new on-screen material, some ask if anything we watch is really new anymore?

The former "Star Trek" actor tweeted that the look of new characters Captain Phasma and Poe Dameron were borrowed from 1970s sci-fi TV shows "Battlestar Galactica" and "Space: 1999."

In several tweets, Shatner suggests Phasma's shiny carapace looks like the original cylon robots, while Dameron's X-Wing fighter uniform looks similar to the design in the British sci-fi show "Space: 1999," as first reported in the UK Guardian.

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Shatner, 84, played Captain James T. Kirk in the original "Star Trek" from 1966 to 1969 and later returned for seven "Star Trek" films.

After the first "Force Awakens" trailer came out in November 2014, Shatner tweeted that Kylo Ren's new crossed lightsaber was a "bad design" and that Jar Jar Binks might have a rival for worst Star Wars character ever in the form of new "ballrunner" droid BB-8.

Some culture scholars say Shatner's comments might be a tad hypocritical. After all, late "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry admitted that he was influenced by early 1960s sci-fi movies "The Forbidden Planet" and "Robinson Crusoe on Mars" when he conceived of his series. Roddenberry actually sold his show to NBC network executives in 1964 as "'Wagon Train' goes to the stars," referring to a Western series that followed the adventures of frontier travelers.

"When you look at all forms of entertainment, they are influenced by their predecessors," said Mika Elovaara, a culture critic who edited the 2013 book of essays "Fan Phenomena: Star Wars." "What is originality? Hardly anything appears in a vacuum, doesn’t mean they copied it."

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To Elovaara, originality comes in storytelling rather than costumes or helmets.

"What matters is how original the story line is, and how relatable the characters are," he said. "One of the strengths of Star Wars is that it’s a character driven saga. That has a lot to do with writing."

Unlike works of scholarship, "you can't have citations in a movie," he notes.

Today, Hollywood has become dominated by blockbusters that continuously recycle past stories, comics and previous films, notes Katherine Larson, professor of writing at George Washington University who teaches courses on media fandom and film.

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"Does originality exist?" Larsen asks. "It exists as the Holy Grail. Whether it exists in reality, I'm not so sure."

Moviegoers appear to be voting with their wallets by rewarding derivative films that provide a familiar experience.

"We might be at a moment to consider how much we want originality," Larsen said.

A better explanation for Shatner's tweets on the derivation of the new Star Wars film may be to display his fanboy savvy.

"It's a way for him to show off his pop culture knowledge chops by being able to pull these images up," Larsen noted. "I don't know how much was being hypocritical, or just saying 'hey I know this genre really well.'"

This article was provided by Discovery News.

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