WASHINGTON, January 3, 2015 – “Star Wars: the Force Awakens” was destined to be a success, if not critically, at least financially. True, there was handwringing early on. Some worried that the new film would fail to meet audience expectations, particularly if this latest installment remained mired at the dismal level charted by the “prequel” trilogy, even though it booked close to $3 billion anyway.
Most of those concerns about “Star Wars’” most recent chapters began to slowly wash away as early as last fall once Disney’s PR machine kicked its marketing campaign kicked into full gear. It quickly got to the point where “The Force Awakens,” as yet unseen, seemed to be beating major films that were already in theatrical release.
The campaign quickly revealed that the majority of people intending to see this film – especially those who bought tickets the day they went on sale – were willing to shell out for anything with a Star Wars name on so long as it wasn’t associated with that prequel trilogy.
That’s hardly surprising. For a large percentage of the moviegoing public, the “Star Wars” franchise is such a massive cultural heavyweight, that it’s nearly impossible to accurate describe the depths of their fervor. “Star Wars” is something that people expect to and demand to love in all its iterations. However badly the prequel trilogy was received, these die-hard fans keep coming back no matter how many times people profess to scorn the franchise. You could call it a “New Hope.”
That kind of fervor makes it difficult to discuss any Star Wars film rationally. Even the prequels have been defended despite the near-universal disdain for them. Fortunately, for both the fans and the franchise, “The Force Awakens” for the most part embraces this fervor in every way. Director/writer JJ Abrams heard what the people wanted and crafted a film to address it all, whether bad or good.
First and foremost, Abrams’ “Force Awakens” doesn’t really draw from any sources other than the previous “Star Wars” films. That notion didn’t originate here—it’s been stated and re-stated many times before and since the film opened in late December, 2015. What makes this somewhat curious is
- The original “Star Wars” trilogy itself was deeply indebted to old action/adventure sci-fi serials, Akira Kurosawa samurai films, and John Ford westerns.
- “The Empire Strikes Back” and “The Return of the Jedi” were instrumental in creating the modern action blockbuster.
“The Force Awakens” itself feels very much like a descendent of those original three blockbusters, even though the most recent of the trio is now over 30 years old. The new film, however, is doing more than using the originals as a mere template, mirroring their high points with new characters in repurposed roles. “The Force Awakens” is no mere reboot.
On the other hand, on a structural level at least, this latest “Star Wars” installment seems quite sparse on a structural level. When you break it down, there isn’t much to hang the plot on, yet paradoxically, there’s a lot in the film to build on. For that reason, how each audience member or fan reacts to the film depends entirely on hoq easily they they can fill in the blanks from their own mental templates, manufacturing their own film as it were.
This would seem to fall right in line with the desires of the fanbase – i.e., those people who showed up in droves to make “The Force Awakens” the largest grossing opening weekend ever.
All the new characters in this film fit into the mindset that continues to encourage the ever winding stories, films, games and products that have all sprung from that singular, initially scorned (by some critics) 2 hour film released back in 1977. For both the filmmakers and the franchise’s die-hard fans, who could ask for anything more?
Our next installment examines the new Star Wars film itself? A winner or a loser? Stay tuned.