... what do the cruel “Rite” and the lofty Ninth have in common? Both have cast enormous shadows. “We live in the valley of the Ninth,” wrote Joseph Kerman, the musicologist and critic. “That we cannot help.”
I've written similar things about The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and all of the other shadow-casters that make writing original SF&F (or some hybrid of them, which is really what Star Wars is) that much more difficult. The authors, audiences, and publishers all see such titans as models to follow in every sense. It's a fantasy story, so it has to be a trilogy; it has to have these elements because that story also had them; and that story sold faster than the iPhone 5, so they must be doing something right; and so on.
We can't help but live in the shadow of such work. I don't want to give the impression being so overshadowed is wholly a bad thing, because the works in question are by and large not bad on their own. What's bad is how we let their shadow encompass and blot out so many other things. The LotR model for fantasy — the Eurocentric, Campbellian-quest, Tolkien-flavored story — has become the default mode, with everything else (I mention Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast often) shoved into the backseat, if not the glove compartment.
Any creator who finds himself working in a field that has such a shadow cast over it has a couple of responsibilities: to know the field, to know the shadow, and to know as much as possible about what lies outside of the shadow. The more work you do to get out from under that shadow, the more you stand a chance of showing others what else is possible as well. It's easy to simply read whatever else would be adjacent to your books on the shelf and call it a day, but that has to be treated as a starting point and not an endpoint.
I'm not sure we provide our creators with enough of the tools to do this. We teach them how to follow role models, but not always how to transcend them. It's not that we lack examples to follow, but that we follow them in the wrong ways and learn from them all the wrong lessons. The big lesson of Star Wars was not that you needed two cute robots (as all of its imitators were wont to do), but that you could take the swashbuckling adventures of the past and charge them with modern filmmaking technology. (We seem to have gotten stuck on that stage longer than we really needed, though.)