Much talk has been going around here lately about the Inheritance Cycle and whether or not arguments can be made in defense of the series. I’m not going to spend much time on that, however; instead, I’d like to return to an old, much-used argument about why Eragon is terrible: it’s a rip-off of Star Wars.
In discussions of Eragon’s (de)merits, this argument comes up again and again. “Paolini just copied the story.” “Just change the names and it’s the same thing.” Or even “It’s flat-out plagiarism!” Our beloved II even has an article on this very subject, supporting the argument. I think it’s high time to revisit this argument, however, and see if it truly applies.
Before we begin, I’d like to make a couple of disclaimers. First, I’m only looking at the first book, Eragon, which is the most heavily criticized for this. Later books show such divergence from the plot and characters of Star Wars that attempts to show parallels don’t just strain credulity, they flat-out shatter it. There is therefore little need to defend them against this argument.
Second, a little about me. I am a (more or less) reformed Eragon fan. Six or seven years ago, I was an enormous fan and loved them to no end. I ended up joining an Inheritance Cycle fanfiction site, where I began to realize that the books were not quite as amazing as I’d previously believed. I remained a part of the fandom, however, and still admit to a fondness for the books today, although I recognize their flaws. This means that I genuinely know what I’m talking about when I mention the books, having read the earlier ones many times over. It also means that I’m not just writing this because I think they’re perfect; I fully recognize they have issues.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the discussion!
The reasons people make the Eragon-is-Star-Wars claim are based on parallels in plot and characters. The article I linked above is all about this. I agree there are a number of parallel plot events and characters. However, I strongly disagree that the two works are as close as assumed. In fact, I believe that to make the argument, you have to carefully pick and choose plot elements or character traits, as any very close comparison will break down pretty quickly. The two stories match in broad strokes and some minor details, but there are differences of such significance that it’s clear Eragon was not copied from Star Wars at all.
After a prologue involving a princess carrying something significant, a farmboy living under an evil Empire ends up discovers he has enormous power with the help of an old mentor. His family ends up killed by the evil Empire and the farmboy goes on the run with the mentor. The mentor teaches the farmboy to fight and use his newly-discovered special powers. Along the way, they meet up with a mysterious rogue type. Unfortunately, the old mentor is killed by one of the evil Empire’s most evil minions. The farmboy and rogue end up rescuing a pretty princess and they all travel off to the secret base of rebels fighting against the evil Empire. The secret base has been found out, however, and the evil Empire attacks, only to be stopped by brave actions of the main characters, including the farmboy.
I’m not starting this off too well, am I? Already you’re convinced the two are the same thing. Just look at that summary, after all—there’s not a thing in it that doesn’t apply to both works.
The problem is, however, that this summary is desperately incomplete. While it does describe both Star Wars and Eragon, it doesn’t describe either very well. Where’s the Death Star, for example? Where’s Brom and Eragon’s lengthy journey on their own before they met Murtagh? Where’s Alderaan’s destruction or Brom and Eragon visiting Teirm and Dras-Leona? It’s obvious that it was made by putting up a summary of each and trying to find tenuous parallels.1
Then there’s the sequence of events. With Eragon, Brom, Eragon, and Saphira spend a significant amount of time traveling alone. They travel to a number of places (a few towns are mentioned in addition to the large cities of Teirm and Dras-Leona), covering quite a bit of time and accomplishing a lot.2 It’s only after all of this, when Brom is fatally wounded, that they meet the supposed Han Solo analogue, Murtagh, and Brom dies shortly thereafter. By contrast, in Star Wars, Obi-Wan and Luke travel directly to Mos Eisley and find Han and Chewie quite quickly. It’s only later, when they’re captured by the Death Star, that Obi-Wan dies.
Consider as well the final battle. Even ignoring the fact that there’s no Death Star in Eragon (the closest parallel is Durza, but the two have very different roles in the plot), the final battle plays out differently. In Star Wars, the plan, as formed with the assistance of Leia and Death Star plans she was carrying in the beginning, is to have an assault team attack the Death Star’s weakness while their other fighters distract the Empire’s pilots and the Death Star’s defenses. Luke, as part of the assault team, nearly dies, but Han and Chewie save him by destroying the TIE fighters on his tail and forcing Darth Vader to abandon pursuit, allowing him to hit the weak spot, destroy the Death Star, and save the day.
There are some parallels to Eragon, of course (especially the enemy defeated by hitting a weak spot), but it plays out in a very different manner. There, the Varden’s arrayed armies hold defensive positions against the Empire’s mind-controlled Urgals. In the middle of the battle, Eragon is called away by the traitorous Twins, is lured into a trap without Saphira or Arya where he must face Durza one-on-one. The Shade nearly kills Eragon, but Arya and Saphira burst in through the ceiling (literally), creating enough of a diversion for Eragon to kill Durza.
Okay, so both have the hero defeating the enemy only because of a distraction, but they’re still quite different. Characters hold different roles, and the way the battle actually works is different (Varden defending against mind-controlled Urgals as opposed to rebels going on the offense against the Stormtrooper-crewed Death Star).
My point is that while yes, there are clear parallels here, there are also important differences, differences so large that it’s hard to say the plots agree in more than broad strokes and drawing from the same clichés found in a thousand other stories. To really say something was copied, it’s not enough that you have a handful of parallel scenes and characters. You’ve got to have an overwhelming amount of them, and they’ve got to be very close parallels. Otherwise, the worst you can say was a person was inspired by a previous work or built their own story out of someone else’s—and honestly, that’s not all that bad of a thing.
Turning away from plot for a bit, let’s look at the characters of each work, another piece of evidence put forth for the Eragon-is-Star-Wars theory. Those who claim this theory say that the main characters of Eragon are clear analogues of those in Star Wars and were obviously copied. I say that’s nonsense.
Well, all right, mostly nonsense. I’ll concede that Eragon and Luke are pretty similar, unless we go into specifics about family members. I’ll even go so far as to say Brom and Obi-Wan are similar, although Obi-Wan never tried to hide that he was a Jedi like Brom hid that he was a Dragon Rider. But as for everybody else, though…
Murtagh is often said to be Han Solo. Both are mysterious, both are good-looking with enormous numbers of fangirls, both have a more fluid concept of morality than the hero does… and both are completely different in every other way. Murtagh is a little ball of angst, the son of the (deceased) righthand man of the Big Bad. He’s impressed and interested in magic, the Riders, and elves, and he ends up angry at the Varden for not trusting him. Han Solo, on the other hand, has little to no angst, has no connection with Darth Vader or any other of Palpatine’s high-up minions, doesn’t believe in or doesn’t care about Jedi or the Force, and has no interest whatsoever in helping the rebels, even though they are completely fine with accepting his assistance.
Arya’s parallel is said to be Leia. Again, however, I think that’s mostly because the hero shows romantic interest in her, she’s a princess, and she’s rescued from the enemy by the hero (and dashing rogue). They’ve got very different personalities and roles other than that, though. The most obvious is that Leia is Luke’s sister while Arya is certainly not closely related to Eragon. But there’s also how Arya spends most of the book dying, Leia’s role as a senator (as compared with Arya’s ambassador/glorified courier status), Leia having to deal with Alderaan being destroyed, and Arya’s much more significant role in the final battle.
Beyond that, we start to have problems. Galbatorix is obviously Emperor Palpatine, but so little is seen of either in Eragon and Star Wars that they’re impossible to compare. Darth Vader is of particular concern; while his most obvious parallel is Morzan (both are of an earlier order they helped overthrow, both were the father of a significant character, both were the Dragon to the Big Bad), Morzan is dead by the time of the book, killed by Brom years before. His next closest parallel would be Durza, but Durza dies at the end of Eragon. Finally, he could be the Ra’zac, but they’re alien3 and are significant for being immune to magic, not users of it like Darth Vader more or less is. One could argue he’s split over all three of these, maybe with some Grand Moff Tarkin mixed in, but that would mean he was at worst remixing pre-existing material in a new way, not just copying it wholesale.
And that’s not even getting into the real problems… someone like Chewbacca doesn’t exist at all in Eragon; Murtagh is a complete loner when he meets Brom and Eragon (although he does have a sweet horse). R2D2 and C3PO also don’t exist in Eragon. The closest you could get is saying Saphira is R2D2, but I don’t think that parallel works very well. Conversely, there’s no Roran, Angela, Solembum, Jeod, Ajihad, or Nasuada in Star Wars4, or even Saphira,5 as mentioned above.
Finally, primary character motivations are drastically different, even when they lead to similar events. Luke and Obi-wan are trying to take the Death Star plans to Alderaan. Eragon and Brom are seeking the Ra’zac to kill them. The Urgals were mind-controlled; the Stormtroopers… weren’t.6 Han Solo was after money to pay off his debts and doesn’t much care who wins the war, Murtagh simply wants to escape the Empire and prefers the Varden to Galbatorix.
The list goes on, but I think I’ve covered the major points here. To sum everything up, Eragon and Star Wars do have superficial similarities. Despite this, the two also have important differences that the “they’re the same” argument completely overlooks. In my opinion, the two are no closer than any other cliché-influenced works, as they show clear differences both in plot and character. Therefore, Eragon is the best book ever.
I kid, I kid. But it’s at least OK.
1 Convenient, seeing as that’s exactly what I did.
2 Specifically, staying a lengthy period of time at Jeod’s, infiltrating Dras-Leona and spying on the Ra’zac, fighting Urgals in Yazuac, etc. The point is that it wasn’t a day or two, it was half the book.
3 Strange and different from everyone else, not from another planet. Darth Vader was at least human and occasionally acted like it.
4 You could argue Ajihad is Mon Mothma, which I guess would make Jörmundur Admiral Ackbar. (Unless King Hrothgar was Admiral Ackbar… hmm.) And Nasuada could be Wedge Antilles, but now I’m just being silly.
5 No, she’s not the Millenium Falcon. The Millenium Falcon is inextricably linked with Han Solo and is primarily used as a means of transportation. Nobody ever considers her to be sentient. On the other hand, Saphira is undeniably intelligent, inextricably linked to Eragon, and rarely used for transportation, especially at the beginning, when Eragon is afraid to ride her. Luke was never afraid of the Falcon, nobody ever called Saphira a bucket of bolts (or equivalent), and the Falcon is a very commonplace ship while Saphira is literally one-of-a-kind (the only female dragon known to be in existence).
6 Clone troopers sorta were, in that they were indoctrinated to be completely loyal, but by the time of the Battle of Yavin, the majority of stormtroopers weren’t clone troopers anymore, and I believe ordinary stormtroopers weren’t indoctrinated in the same fashion. Greater Star Wars fans than I, correct me if I’m wrong.