When you saw “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” this past weekend, did you experience déjà vu with Johnny Depp? Did Orlando Bloom’s familial revelations feel too familiar? Were you tempted to ask that hammerhead pirate if you’d met him somewhere before?
Last week marked two massive pop-culture events: the 30th anniversary of the “Star Wars” series and the box-office debut of the third (and probably final) “Pirates” flick (see “Everything I Need To Know In Life I Learned From Watching ‘Star Wars’ “ and “Orlando Bloom Says He’s All Done With ‘Pirates,’ ‘Lord Of The Rings’ “ ). And, depending on your tolerance for the art of the homage, you may have been either pleasantly surprised or outraged to discover that the trilogies have more in common than well-funded fantasy.
“What I do think is cool about [the 'Pirates' movies] is that the audience and the fans really seem to have taken ownership of them, much like the way they did with the ‘Star Wars’ movies,” Orlando Bloom said recently of the striking similarities. “There’s a real sense that these movies aren’t dumbed-down for the audience.”
While the most obvious similarities might lie within those complex, other-worldly realities created by George Lucas and Gore Verbinski, even the most casual observer can’t help but notice the commonalities between Han Solo and Jack Sparrow, Luke and Will, and Leia and Liz. Both trilogies focus on a working-class pretty boy in love with a spunky damsel who refuses to be in distress complicated by a love triangle involving a charismatic scoundrel.
Looking at the marquee for a moment, you have two young actors paired alongside a scene-stealer roughly 10 years their senior. Harrison Ford and Depp balanced their blockbusters with smartly selected side-projects (Ford’s “Blade Runner” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Depp’s “Finding Neverland”) that established their overall clout, while the younger stars discovered that their fans won’t necessarily follow them elsewhere (Mark Hamill’s “Corvette Summer,” Carrie Fisher’s “Under the Rainbow,” Bloom’s “Elizabethtown,” Keira Knightley’s “Domino”).
According to “Pirates” producer Jerry Bruckheimer, however, Bloom and Knightley are better positioned than their “Star Wars” counterparts. “Absolutely,” he insisted. “Orlando was still in a couple ‘Lord of the Rings,’ so he had started his career, and Keira had been in some smaller movies but has done some excellent stuff since the first ‘Pirates’ came out. So I think they’re well-established.”
Both franchises center on the battle between a soulless new world order (the Empire, the East India Trading Company) and a small band of dissimilar heroes refusing to conform (the Rebels, the Pirates). Both stories feature action scenes powered by highly personalized ships (the Millennium Falcon, the Black Pearl), fencing-style battles (with lightsabers or swords) and a pair of comic-relief pals caught in the middle of it all.
“I’m definitely a C-3PO,” admitted Lee Arenberg, the Pintel to Mackenzie Crook’s glass-eyed Ragetti. “Or am I the R2-D2? I’m not sure.
“Those guys in ‘Star Wars’ are more intelligent than Pintel and Ragetti,” Arenberg added of the droids. “We share only half a brain. [But both groups] have comic responsibility, knowing that in this major epic they’ll need a laugh every once in a while, and that tends to be on our back.”
Both trilogies feature kisses between all three leads, a trip to the swamp to recruit a mystical character (Yoda, Tia Dalma) and settings involving sand, snow and the jungle. “Star Wars” and “Pirates” both feature charismatic guest stars (Billy Dee Williams, Chow Yun-Fat) who run their own city, betray our heroes, and then redeem themselves. Also, both series feature a darker second installment (“Dead Man’s Chest,” “Empire Strikes Back”) that makes us think we’ve lost our scoundrel — either to carbonite or a squid.
“I definitely think there are [similarities] in terms of the hero’s journey, the basic characters,” Arenberg said. “You can find parallels.”
In both “Return of the Jedi” and “At World’s End,” our spunky leading lady goes undercover to gain entrance to a man’s den of inequity — whether it’s dressing like Boushh to infiltrate Jabba’s palace or putting on men’s clothes to sneak into Sao Feng’s Singapore bathhouse. In the midst of all the action, both Luke and Will discover that their enemy (Darth Vader, Bootstrap Bill Turner) is actually their father.
“What is the monkey?” laughed Geoffrey Rush when told of the similarities. “An Ewok?
“I suppose there are [similarities],” he confessed. “One to me is very much in the science-fiction genre, and this is in the pirate genre. … But I don’t know the ‘Star Wars’ plotting, by memory, intricately enough to know how much is emulating it.”
Well then, please allow us to geek out on Rush’s behalf. “Star Wars” had the Mos Eisley Cantina, a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” that housed such repulsive beasts as Momaw Nadon — a creature resembling a hammerhead shark (and nicknamed “Hammerhead”). “Caribbean” has the Flying Dutchman, a ship filled with similar creepy testimonials to the wizardry of makeup and home to Maccus — a pirate with the face of a hammerhead shark.
Solo and Sparrow both act out of obligation to unmerciful monsters (Jabba the Hut, Davy Jones), abandoning their friends only to return at the last second. They wear the term “Pirate” with pride and are loyal only to their attentive co-pilot (Chewbacca, Gibbs).
Both groups of good guys encounter a primitive race (the Ewoks, the cannibals of Pelegosto) that mistakes one of them for a god and tries to sacrifice them. In both Hoth and Davy Jones’ locker, a hero has a hallucinatory moment that rewards him with clarity and resolve at his lowest point.
Let’s face it: Whether it’s Liar’s Dice or Dejarick, both trilogies seem to be playing the same game.
So is an epic battle about to be waged between fans of the trilogies, mirroring the “Star Wars” vs. “Star Trek” smackdowns of the past few decades? Perhaps. But in order to keep the peace, it’s only responsible to point out that everything from “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” to Shakespeare and the Bible set the blueprint for such epic themes generations ago.
Then again, Jesus didn’t break bread with a Hammerhead apostle.
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