Every single time I see a blurb on television that compares any new movie to Star Wars, my first reaction is always, "Wow, that person hasn't watched Star Wars recently." Yes, I'm here to compare The Hunger Games to Star Wars. But before you accuse me of blasphemy, please know that I do not throw around these words lightly.
The Hunger Games doesn't have the wide-eyed optimism of Star Wars, that's for sure. But, it's got something so much more important: The characters. I've never seen a series so embrace what made Star Wars successful -- without being a parody or a direct rip-off. Now, keep in mind, this comparison does not go any further than the first film of each series. So whatever you may know about Catching Fire or The Empire Strikes Back is irrelevant here. But, to a generation living 35 years after the premiere of the original Star Wars (and, yes, for the record: the original Star Wars is still the better movie), this is as close as it's going to get.
So, read on (if you dare) to find out why each major character in The Hunger Games is pretty much the same character that we met in the original Star Wars.
Katniss Everdeen is Luke Skywalker
Katniss Everdeen makes a very good Luke Skywalker. Here's a problem I see with a lot of films: We're constantly being force-fed the charming rogue as the protagonist of the story. This is the biggest problem that I had with John Carter -- Taylor Kitsch's John Carter "ain't in it for your revolution and he isn't in it for you, Princess." That's a problem. If John Carter himself doesn't want to be part of the story, well, why would I want to watch this story?
Luke Skywalker was earnest -- almost to the point of being a bore (almost). But he cared. I mean, he actually says the words, "I care." Sure, as opposed to Katniss, he kinda, sorta craved adventure, but it wasn't until he saw his aunt and uncle burnt to a crisp that he decided that he was "all-in" on Ben Kenobi's journey to Alderaan.
Katniss, like Luke, has an earnestness that makes viewers care about her quest. She wants to protect her sister and she hates the evil government that is forcing these games on the people of Panem -- just as Luke hates the Empire.
Look, we're going to naturally gravitate to the cynical Han Solo type characters when that earnest character is present because, well, that's the fun thing to do. But if Han Solo was the main protagonist of Star Wars, without Luke Skywalker around, we would have thought he was a jerk. Oh, but what about Indiana Jones? you may be thinking. Though both characters were played by Harrison Ford -- and both had the tendency to shoot first and ask questions later (as Greedo and a swordsman both found out) -- Jones was as earnest as they come. Lines like "This belongs in a museum!" do not come from character who doesn't care.
Peeta Mellark is Princess Leia Organa
Peeta is far from a weakling, but without Katniss, he's doomed. And though Leia pretty much takes charge of the whole operation once rescued, the fact remains that, without the interference of Luke, Han and Chewbacca, she would have been executed. And without Katniss, Peeta would have perished, too. (Thankfully, Katniss and Peeta do not turn out to be brother and sister.) Also: Peeta, like Leia, is the first one to seriously push back against the jerk with a heart of gold (Haymitch/Han). As with Han and Leia, Haymitch probably doesn't come around to becoming a worthwhile human being without Peeta's influence.
Haymitch Abernathy is Han Solo
No, Haymitch is not Ben Kenobi. Kenobi was way too earnest (there's that word again) to ever be compared to Haymitch. "But, wait, Kenobi trained Luke and Haymitch trained Katniss." Kenobi actually did very little training with Luke. Sure, he let a remote zap Luke a few times on the Millennium Falcon, but it's not like the two were sparring. Han Solo did much more to train Luke in combat than Kenobi. After the escape from the Death Star, it was Solo who put Luke behind a cannon to shoot TIE Fighters. And it was Solo who barked at Luke to not "get cocky." Kenobi was there to offer advice and be a spiritual adviser -- we'll get to that.
Haymitch, on the other hand, is a man who's in it for himself. He openly admits, at first, that the only joy he gets out of training the Tributes is that he gets free access to booze. Like Solo, he's selfish. And, like Solo, he has the habit of referring to women as "sweetheart."
But ... there's something we like about Haymitch. And we like it that Katniss' passion turns him around. We like it that he sobers up enough during the Hunger Games to not only care, but show that he's very skilled at what he does when he wants to be. We don't like "the rogue." We like it when "the rogue" starts giving a shit. And just as we love it when Han Solo saves Luke at the last second during the battle of the Death Star, we love it when Haymitch comes through and saves Katniss' ass.
President Snow and Seneca Crane are Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader
For starters, get out of your head anything that Darth Vader or Anakin Skywalker did in the other Star Wars movies. In Episode IV, before Lucas decided to make Vader Luke's father in the sequel (in early drafts of Empire, it's the ghost of Anakin Skywalker who tells Luke to find Yoda), he was nothing more than a hired thug. Watch Star Wars again -- it's Tarkin who has all of the power. It's Tarkin who is pulling the stings. So, sure, even still, Vader is much more menacing than Seneca Cane -- but they both follow the orders of, respectively, Tarkin and President Snow. Both are nothing more than henchmen following (and sometimes questioning) the orders of a man sickened by power.
Cinna is Ben Kenobi
Kenobi was Luke's inner monologue. Kenobi was the mentor who let Luke know, "If you trust in yourself, it's going to be OK." While Katniss is in the Games, Cinna doesn't have the ability to speak to her through the Force -- but his words are the last words that she remembers. There isn't a huge difference between "I'm not allowed to bet, but, if I could, I'd bet on you," and the words that Kenobi used to convince Luke to turn off his X-Wing's targeting system. As stated, this isn't about the physical training -- Kenobi and Cinna reached a deeper connection with Luke and Katniss that Han and Haymitch would (A) not understand and (B) wouldn't want to understand.
Rue is R2-D2
Always underestimated and always more capable than believed. Not to mention that, just like Luke and Artoo, Katniss and Rue make quite the team. When Luke was making his final assault on the Death Star, Artoo was all that he had left. For a large portion of the Hunger Games, Rue is the only person that Katniss can trust. Unfortunately, Luke loses Artoo during that final trench run (of course, Artoo is later repaired). As for Rue -- well, we don't want to get into too many spoilers.
Effie Trinket is C-3PO
Threepio has a habit of rambling on and on and on about subjects that absolutely no one cares about. Threepio likes to brag about his accolades. Threepio is also the first one to object to any activity that may, at all, be considered a risk. Threepio is also the least self-aware character in the Star Wars universe.
I'm going to cheat and bring in one example from The Empire Strikes Back. As Han Solo is being, horrifically, frozen in carbonite, Threepio is the one that seems almost excited about the proceedings. "Turn around, Chewbacca, I can't see ... Oh, they've encased him in carbonite! He should be well protected, if he survived the freezing process."
Effie is the only person in District 12 who looks at the horrifying Hunger Games with excitement, as if it's some sort of fascinating spectacle. In both cases, it's not malicious -- it's just the way they're programmed.
Gale Hawthorne is Biggs Darklighter
Hear me out on this one. Again, let's cheat a little bit and admit that Gale has a lot more to do in future installments of Hunger Games than Biggs does in any sequel of the Star Wars saga. But what both Biggs and Gale represent is "home." (For those who have never watched the Star Wars deleted scenes, Biggs and Luke both hail from Tatooine.) They both represent the influence of what both Luke and Katniss would eventually become. Neither Luke nor Katniss would have ever achieved what either did without Biggs and Gale. Biggs and Gale were the inspiration for Luke and Katniss.
If we're talking about the first installment of the series only, then, yes, Biggs was right there with Luke during the assault on the Death Star -- as opposed to Gale just kind of haning out back in District 12. In a way, it's irrelevant because, given a fair choice, Gale would have fought alongside Katniss. (And don't question why Gale didn't volunteer for Peeta. Sure, Gale's going to volunteer so that he either has to (A) kill Katniss himself or (B) be killed by Katniss? The only way Gale and Katniss can ever be together, at that moment, was for him to not volunteer.)
The Tributes are Stormtroopers
Oh, I can just hear you now: How dare you! Look, Stormtroopers are humans, too. And, yes, we see many of them perish during the first Star Wars movie. I'd bet you good money that the Career Tributes have far better training than your typical Stormtrooper. To us, Stormtroopers are nameless -- but there are thousands of Stormtroopers. There are only 23 other Tributes and Katniss doesn't even bother to learn the name of pretty much half of them. And, just like a Stormtrooper being killed by blaster fire (who could very well have a wife and family at home) most of the Tribute deaths either happen off camera, or we never got a chance to know them anyway. I get it that these are kids -- but most of them are just as nameless and faceless an menacing as the average Stormtrooper. And, perhaps, that's the most disturbing thing about The Hunger Games.
Mike Ryan is the senior writer for Moviefone. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter