It sounds like J.J. Abrams was prepared for at least some fans to have such concerns, and when he recently chatted with The Hollywood Reporter, he elaborated on why he, Lucasfilm, and the other members of the creative team, opted to go this route. He said:
I knew that, whatever we did, there would be a group of people — and I was just hoping and praying that it would be smaller than not — that would take issue with any number of things. But I knew we weren't making the movie for any other reason than we believed that it could be something meaningful and special and entertaining and worthy of people's time…I can understand that someone might say, 'Oh, it's a complete rip-off!' What was important for me was introducing brand new characters using relationships that were embracing the history that we know to tell a story that is new — to go backwards to go forwards.
The moment that we learned that original cast members like Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Mark Hamill, among others, were coming back, it became apparent thatStar Wars: The Force Awakens was going to lean on nostalgia for the original trilogy. J.J. Abrams and company definitely used what came before to build up the new additions—orphan on a desert planet, Death Star #3, and more. Maybe they went a little overboard, but I understand the impulse, and some of the calls of rip off may be a bit harsh.
Now that they’ve got that out of the way, however, it’s going to be interesting to see how the saga moves forward and develops with Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII and beyond. With Luke Skywalker and General Leia still alive and kicking, as well as Chewbacca, R2-D2, C-3P0, and more (not to mention Kylo Ren’s familial connections), there will obviously still be links to the past and callbacks. There’s no getting around that, but hopefully the brain trust at Lucasfilm will use this as a springboard into something new and innovative and take the story in new directions.
We’ll see how this all turns out for ourselves when Star Wars: Episode VIII hits theaters on May 26, 2017, and after that with the Colin Trevorrow-directed Star Wars: Episode IX in 2019.