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Charting the Similarities Between Star Wars: A New Hope and The Force Awakens

Star-Wars-Luke-Skywalker-Tatooine

The structural similarities between Star Wars: A New Hope and The Force Awakens have been cited frequently among Star Wars fans. But how many similarities are there, really? Let’s look at these character diagrams created by McGill’s Network Dynamics Lab, which chart the number of interactions each character had with one another in A New Hope and in The Force Awakens.

The algorithm ignores the characters’ personality traits, instead focusing just on who interacts with whom, as well as the number of interactions each character has. First, here’s the chart for A New Hope:

SWChart1-932x596

And now, let’s look at the character interactions in The Force Awakens:

SWChart2-932x596

Some of the characters stay in very similar positions both times, like C-3PO and Chewbacca and Leia. Other comparisons are more obvious; for example, R2-D2’s role has been taken over by BB-8. But there are definitely some surprises on this graph.

For example, Poe is the character gets Luke’s old position — not Rey, as one might suspect. Rey, meanwhile, most closely parallels Darth Vader — and Kylo Ren parallels Obi-Wan! Whaaaat. Meanwhile, Finn bears the most similarity to Luke’s aunt Beru (!?), while Han takes on the Uncle Owen role.

The main difference between the maps is that there are so many more interactions in The Force Awakens than in A New Hope, which I think speaks to TFA‘s comparatively fast-paced feel. I think A New Hope still feels exciting to watch, but that’s probably because I remember watching it as a kid — and in comparison to The Force Awakens, it doesn’t have nearly as many quick cuts. Also, TFA straight-up has more characters, some of whom end up taking on positions that didn’t exist at all in A New Hope (Snoke and Luke both create new data points on the map).

As an anecdotal example, here’s Allegra Ringo describing her experience seeing A New Hope for the first time as an adult, then seeing The Force Awakens right afterward (that’s a link to a podcast, by the way — the discussion about Star Wars starts about 25 minutes in). Her comparisons between the two films, from the perspective of a total outsider, serve as a great example of how much storytelling structures in movies have changed over the decades. Even if these two movies might seem very similar to us, they don’t necessarily feel the same to watch, especially for someone who isn’t deeply familiar with every single plot beat in A New Hope.

What do you all think about the differences and similarities between these movies? Do these character maps make sense to you in a structural sense? What about from an emotional vantage point? How would you map out the characters?

(via Wired, images via McGill University)

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