Let me start by saying I have not read the novel of The Hunger Games. I have only seen the movie, but I will be comparing it to A New Hope, so it’s a movie to movie comparison and I think that’s fair.
The reason I say that The Hunger Games is Star Wars in drag is because both follow the standard Hero’s Journey. If you’re unfamiliar, the Hero’s Journey, also known as the Monomyth, is a standard story pattern found in tales the world over. It was most famously identified by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, and Campbell even interviewed George Lucas where they discussed Star Wars and how it fits within the monomyth.
The Hunger Games also fits the mold. You have the reluctant hero who received the Call to Adventure (the reaping), receives supernatural aid (the mentor, the fire dress, etc.), the challenges and temptations (the time training in the city leading up to the initial rush for the supplies in the arena), the death and rebirth (nearly dying from the fire, the wasp sting, etc.), transformation (Katniss begins to play the game), atonement (her time with Peeta), and finally the return (when they return to District 12). The story could almost be storyboarded with Luke Skywalker in the place of Katniss. I suppose that makes Peeta a version of Princess Leia, doesn’t it? And there you go, Star Wars in drag.
Now I’ll admit that there are differences. This is what allows the monomyth to continue and never grow old. Consider that the hero’s journey also applies to The Lord of the Rings, Ender’s Game, Harry Potter, and even Avatar: The Last Airbender! All of these stories and many, many more encapsulate the reason the monomyth remains vital and important: it is the very basic human story. Want to write a really great sci-fi story? Have some aliens who hold a different myth structure as the basis for their culture, and have them discover the human monomyth.
There are some other similarities between Star Wars and The Hunger Games. First, you have the heroes, Luke and Katniss. Both wield “archaic” but highly effective weapons. Both come from extremely bucolic locales and are thrust into complicated lives. Neither really wants to be a hero at first, and both are betrayed by friends along the way. They both have small, very helpful companions, though R2 doesn’t take a spear to the chest like Rue does (though Vader does shoot him in the trench). You could, with little difficulty, put Katniss in Star Wars and the character would work as an almost exact copy of Luke. The only difference is the Force, which Luke has implicitly while Katniss only exhibits indirectly; Katniss has skills no one else has which allow her to survive. It may not be metaphysical like the Force, but it’s the same basic principle.
The ending of the two stories (or perhaps I should say the end for the first installments) are very similar, though they do end on different notes. A New Hope ends with the medal ceremony, a very upbeat and happy ending. The Hunger Games ends with the return to District 12, which is both happy and bittersweet as Katniss is living a lie. Still, she has returned triumphant.
The parallels between the two are hidden well enough that the series doesn’t earn the name “the next generation’s Star Wars”, a mantle saddled on Harry Potter which I believe brought the story down some and kept Rowling from fully completing Harry’s journey. The Hunger Games and its sequels (and surely there will be sequels) has the possibility of becoming the spiritual heir of Star Wars without becoming too childlike and juvenile.
If you’ve read this far in my little essay, I think you deserve to hear my thoughts on what The Hunger Games movie did wrong. The main thing is that Katniss sounds like “cat piss”, she holds her bow completely wrong, and there are some logical points to the story that don’t hold up so well. Also, while I know the character of Katniss is 16, but Jennifer Lawrence is not, and she’s hot, and her outfits were not, at least in general. I get putting her in “combat gear”, but there were opportunities to show her off and they failed. So much for the T&A vote. I mean, even Star Wars had Leia in a metal bikini.