Star Wars The Book of Henry

Colin Trevorrow broke out with the low-budget Sundance dramedy Safety Not Guaranteed, catching the attention of megaproducer Steven Spielberg, who hired him to direct Jurassic World. That film broke box office records, becoming the largest grossing non-James Cameron film ever released (at the time). Trevorrow was in line to direct Star Wars: Episode 9 before leaving that sequel over creative differences. His third directorial effort, The Book of Henry, was met with a lot of hate from both critics and audiences alike.

I still haven’t seen The Book of Henry, but while talking to Trevorrow about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, a film he co-wrote and produced, I did have to ask him about a claim I saw him make on social media – that The Book of Henry is a “carbon copy of Star Wars: A New Hope.” His explanation was actually pretty interesting.

Here is the initial tweet that caused me to ask the question:

At the end of my sit-down interview with the filmmaker, I asked him about the tweet. Here is the what he had to say.

***

I have one last question about Book of Henry.

Oh, boy.

You said on Twitter that the story is a carbon copy of A New Hope.

Oh, no.  Now I have to…

Do you wanna explain that?

I will.  I mean, it is, it’s a foundational myth.  It’s a noble ghost story.  Where a character lives on after death in order to guide a hero to find their strength and defeat ultimate evil.  And structurally, I can’t…but you’re gonna print this, unfortunately.  I’m saying this now.  But the way that I look at movies, I do see Avatar and Titanic and Jurassic World [as] very similar movies.  Henry was Obi-Wan Kenobi.  And he died in the middle.  And he left a set of instructions on how to take out the Death Star where Darth Vader was holding a Princess captive.  And at the very end, when he had the target in his sights, he had to remember his training.  Guided by this ghostly voice.  And then Han Solo comes in with the Rube Goldberg machine and gives him the moment.  And ultimately the Princess saves herself.

I think that’s a good explanation.

To me, Star Wars is a foundational myth.  And I think that in the same way that we use Joseph Campbell as a foundational myth for so long, we’re now gonna start using Star Wars as a foundational myth to tell other stories.  I know I’m gonna get a lot of shit for this on Twitter and I regret that you asked me, but it’s just the way that I saw it.

I’m sure you will, but…

Yeah.  I hope people can understand how earnestly I look at my, at these stories, almost from like a hyper-earnest, childlike perspective.  But someday I’ll grow up.  I promise.

***

Now, I know that most people will probably see this headline on social media and mock it without getting this far, so I thank you for actually reading the quote itself. Again, I haven’t seen The Book of Henry yet, so I’m not sure how well the story structure he mentions applies, but I do think his explanation is interesting. Particularly the ending bit where he talks about foundational myths.

This stuff is fascinating to me as I grew up wanting to be a filmmaker and spent a lot of time as an aspiring screenwriter. Anyone who has touched this path has most likely read the work of Joseph Campbell. Hell, most Star Wars fans will recognize his Hero’s Journey as inseparable from those original films. The core of Campbell’s philosophy is that our great stories are all based on the same story beats founded in legends and mythology, that as storytellers, we still return to those archetypes and structures from many centuries ago to tell our modern, CG-filled stories projected on the big screen with lasers.

I think it’s a fascinating thought that we are now looking more to the mythic structures of the stories we grew up with, that Star Wars is now a story foundation for a whole new generation. Now, of course, some would argue that Star Wars itself is based on the mythic beats of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and if a new generation is basing their stories on Star Wars, it’s essentially like making a copy of a copy. But I think to say that is to assume that George Lucas didn’t bring more to the table of mythic storytelling beyond Campbell’s template.

Even Campbell admitted that following the path of the Hero’s Journey was not a method for guaranteed story success. The Book of Henry did not connect with audiences or critics and that’s not the fault of the structure. But maybe it will be interesting to view The Book of Henry with this comparison in mind.

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