I just saw Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. This in no way noteworthy, as the movie made $57 million last night alone. My review of the movie is in no way noteworthy, either, so this post is not that. Rather, it’s basically my stream of consciousness ramblings after seeing the movie this morning. As far as a review goes…all I will say is that, if for some reason you are on the fence about seeing The Force Awakens, I recommend going to see it. The sooner, the better, so it isn’t spoiled for you. (No, this post won’t spoil it for you.)
If that doesn’t convince you, think of it this way. Everyone is going to be talking about The Force Awakens at every Christmas gathering next week, so unless you want to sit in the corner getting drunk on eggnog by yourself, see it for the sake of avoiding awkward conversation.
Seriously, literally everyone you know is going to see it, besides the crazy reclusive types who live in underground bunkers and filter their own urine to avoid Soviet surveillance (hopefully you don’t know too many people like that, and one is too many). I suspect when the dust settles, this will be the top opening weekend ever. Given the limited amount of time remaining in December, topping Jurassic World in terms of 2015 releases will be more difficult, but I’ll go a bit bolder and also predict that.
Even bolder yet, when it’s still playing in theaters next February, I think that The Force Awakens will shatter the all-time record held by Avatar. I know that a lot of people are predicting it topples Avatar, but it seems a lot of that is premised on the basic belief that Star Wars > Avatar.
This overlooks that, historically, Avatar came along at the perfect time when 3D movies were the hot new thing, and many people went to see it multiple times in 3D because of the way it exploited this new technology. The Force Awakens is no doubt a superior film to Avatar in most regards, but the key required to topple Avatar is re-watchability with the general public–not just serious Star Wars fans–to garner enough second and third viewings. It does. I want to see it again for the sheer sake of the experience.
Anyway, enough talk of numbers before I lose all of you (after all, not like any of us see residuals on those B.O. receipts!). While my review of this film isn’t particularly noteworthy, What I think is noteworthy is my perspective when it comes to Star Wars. The last film of the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi, was released two years before I was born. My parents weren’t particularly big fans of the films, so there was no grand introduction to the original trilogy for me.
Although I watched all three movies growing up, I don’t have any particularly indelible or even fond memories of seeing them. I saw them, I enjoyed them, and that was about all there is to say. If there was any “defining” moment with regard to Star Wars I remember, it was the build up to The Phantom Menace, and my pre-release excitement for that film.
By that point, I was a bit of a fledgling film buff, starting to work my way through the AFI Top 100 list and each new Criterion Collection DVD. I think we all know how The Phantom Menace turned out, and that film essentially killed any percolating Star Wars fandom in me. In fact, up until this week, the last time I had seen any of the Star Wars films (aside from A New Hope) was before the release of The Phantom Menace. I didn’t even bother with Episodes II & III when they were released.
The point is not to belabor the fact that I am not a Star Wars fanboy to try to give my gushing more credibility as being from someone with no bias. Rather, it’s to demonstrate the power that this new film has, something that I think will be a significant discussion point in the coming weeks and months as Star Wars attracts a whole new generation of young fans.
While I’m not exactly the “new generation” to which I’m referring, I do want to share more of an anecdotal, personal bit about how The Force Awakens impacted me as an adult. We went to see The Force Awakens this morning at 7:45 a.m. at the Downtown Disney AMC. Despite the early hour, the theater was about 75% full, and the audience was enthusiastic. At key moments and reveals, there was a near unanimous, audible reaction from the crowd. I’ve been in packed theaters with audiences that have been into films before, but I can’t remember anything to this degree–and I can only imagine that this was compounded for last night’s showings and will be likewise for tonight’s.
Unlike with The Phantom Menace, I felt like I was part of something. (Well, I felt like I was part of something then, but not the good kind of something…) Not just the opening weekend of a popular film, but something bigger, like riding a wave as a new pop culture phenomenon crests. I don’t know how to quite do it justice with words, but the experience made me more enthusiastic about Star Wars. It was a shared cultural experience that made me feel like a giddy fan, and I know I can’t be the only one who felt that.
In short, I felt a new sense of fandom for Star Wars. I want to be abundantly clear: there’s no way my experience even comes close to comparing with lining up opening weekend for the 1977 original–from the novel special effects to the social experience, it just can’t–but it was special in its own right. I also don’t want to act like I’ve instantly been transformed into a huge, lifelong Star Wars fan. I’m definitely “into” Star Wars a lot more than I was last week, but I’m still not even close to a superfan. I want to work my way there, but I know that will take serious training (cue “Montage”). I’m not particularly keen on fairweather fans, so I don’t want to act like that. (Someday when my Detroit Lions win back-to-back championships, I’m sure I’ll have to call out all of you bandwagoners!) I suspect Star Wars will see plenty of that this week as its popularity explodes even further.
However, for some people, especially kids around ages 6-14, this newfound fandom will be legit, and will become lifelong. Seeing The Force Awakens with their parents or friends will be their first exposure to the franchise, and it will be such a memorable experience that it makes fans out of them like it made out of many of their parents. Suffice to say, The Force Awakens will go down as a cultural touchstone and be the film that makes a lot of young people lifelong Star Wars fans.
This is significant across the entirety of The Walt Disney Company. Once again, Disney has the “it”intellectual property. Lifelong Star Wars fans are going to think this is a non-story–that Star Wars has been the “it” property since the 1970s. Since it often ranks near the top of “most valuable franchises” lists this makes sense.
It’s unquestionable that Star Wars has a huge global following, and has for decades, but without something new and relevant in pop culture, its I think its hardcore fans might overestimate its long-term, cross-generational appeal. There’s the propensity to do this when you’re incredibly close to a topic and associate with likeminded individuals. In fact, Disney fans have done this, albeit in a different manner, with Frozen–growing fatigued of the property as the general public that is generally less exposed to it remains enthusiastic.
With a new film that is going to do gangbusters at the box office and in merchandise sales, there should soon be no question that Star Wars is the #1 franchise in the world. Sorry Harry Potter, James Bond, and yes, even Avengers fans. With plenty of additional movies in the pipelines and the world’s leading ‘brand management’ company (criticize Disney about synergy and franchises all you want, the company is undoubtedly skilled at managing the properties in its portfolio), this will show no signs of slowing anytime in the near future.
More importantly, if predictions about The Force Awakens‘ box office totals prove correct, what are the implications for the recently-announced Star Wars Land? Namely, I’m wondering if a single land is sufficient to satiate what is sure to be intense demand. It’s certainly going to be tough to do creative justice to the many worlds of Star Wars with a single land, but here I’m talking pure logistics. Especially in a park like Disneyland that already is bursting at the seams, will this intense demand be too much?
While Florida’s Universal parks haven’t had this problem, Universal Studios Japan (and likely Universal Studios Hollywood) had to institute a windowed entry system (think FastPass, except just to get in the land) for Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Will the same be necessary for Star Wars Land? This is definitely a good problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
Could a huge box office mean the current plans are expanded in scale and scope? (This could prove challenging at Disneyland due to space constraints.) Could it mean Disney itself announces further additions as “counter-programming” to ease the burden on Star Wars Land when it opens?
I can tell I’m rambling, so I’ll stop. These are just a few of the many questions that are running through my head right now as I’m still riding a bit of a Star Wars “high.” While this isn’t the best film of the year (in my opinion), it is the year’s best movie-going experience. As my giddiness subsides and I have more time to reflect, I’m sure my thoughts will better congeal. For now, I just wanted to share some of the thoughts racing through my mind while they’re still fresh.
Hope you all have a chance to enjoy The Force Awakens this weekend.
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Have you seen The Force Awakens yet? What did you think (NO SPOILERS)? What was your movie-going experience like? Are you a lifelong, or new, Star Wars fan? I’d love to hear from you, so if you have any opinions to share, please post in the comments below!