Editorial: Why 'The Force Awakens' Won't Be What Every Fan Wants
by Dan Marcus
December 17, 2015
This Friday (and in some places, Thursday or even Wednesday night) moviegoers across the nation and even the world will be plopping down in their theater seats as they anxiously wait for the first frames of the first Star Wars movie in ten years, The Force Awakens, to unspool on their screens. The anticipation for this next chapter – directed by J.J. Abrams - in the Star Wars legacy is literally through the roof of the Millennium Falcon, with many lucky journalists and fans having seen the film at the extravagant World Premiere in Los Angeles on Monday. Early word of mouth has been generally positive so far, but let's take a look at why it will be okay if The Force Awakens doesn't meet your expectations.
For fans of Star Wars, everyone has a different but equally strong story of how they first came across the franchise. The series literally spans almost 40 years and there is quite the generational gap between fans who were first introduced to the original movie in 1977 and its sequels in the early 80s; and to fans that were introduced to Star Wars with The Phantom Menace in 1999 – and as the story continues, so do the legion of newcomers that will be experiencing Star Wars for the very first time with The Force Awakens. For fans that have been around since the inception of the series – and even for later day fans – anticipation and expectations for The Force Awakens are probably immeasurable.
While every fan has a different but similarly strong connection to the franchise, as a result their response to the new film will vary. While The Force Awakens is a sequel to Return of the Jedi, taking place 30 years after the events of the Battle of Endor, many fans will have grown up on the Prequel Trilogy, with The Clone Wars TV show as their supplement while the film series has been on hiatus for the last ten years. For some, it might be an adjustment to see old characters like Han, Leia and Luke – when they were more familiar with Obi-Wan, Anakin and Padme. For older fans, it will be something quite special – a reunion of sorts that many (myself included) probably thought was never going to happen but here we are.
With that said, everyone will experience The Force Awakens differently when the lights go down and the familiar opening text comes across the screen. For the newcomers, it will be a totally new experience. I envy those who will be seeing a Star Wars movie on the big screen for the very first time with The Force Awakens. I remember when I first saw the Special Edition versions of the Original Trilogy on the big screen when they were re-released in early 1997. I was fortunate enough to get exposed to Star Wars first with the Special Editions before seeing The Phantom Menace two years later. It was an experience I'll never forget. So while I grew up with the Prequel Trilogy, they never felt like they were my Star Wars – but for many, the prequels were Star Wars for many fans in the late 90's/early 00's.
It goes without saying that the expectations for The Force Awakens are astronomical. This is an event movie that we haven't had in quite some time. I think the last time I experienced this kind of fervor and excitement for a movie was probably The Dark Knight and before that, most likely The Phantom Menace. I was ten years-old when that film came out and as a child I thought it was the best film of all time. It wasn't until many years later that I realized it wasn't as good as I initially remembered it to be. I'll never forget walking out of that theater in May 1999 on cloud nine, twirling around my toy lightsaber and high on the energy and excitement of the film. As I was walking out of the theater, I remember asking my step-dad why some of the adults weren't as excited as I was. "I guess they didn't like it as much as you", he said. I totally dismissed the notion that someone couldn't possibly like the film and went on my merry way of fighting an imaginary Darth Maul on our way to the car.
There will be those that will watch The Force Awakens – younger kids, I am sure – that will probably have similar reactions. There might be some older fans – fans perhaps that were kids when the Original Trilogy came out – that might view the film a bit less favorably (or more favorably). As we get older, sometimes we get less idealistic and what we expect and demand from our entertainment evolves just like we do. It will be interesting to see the reactions from the different generations of fans this weekend – from the kids that will surely love it, to the more laid back fans that will probably enjoy it, to the inevitable die-hard fans that will find things to nitpick and the disenfranchised curmudgeons that might be harder to sway.
Either way, it'll be okay if The Force Awakens doesn't meet or surpass our expectations because let's face it – our expectations are out of this world, anyhow. We live in a weird internet age where if something doesn't do exactly what we want it to do, it's considered a disappointment. For Disney, this will be especially true for the film's box office. According to insiders, The Force Awakens must earn $1.5 billion in order to be considered a success financially. Earlier this year, Avengers: Age of Ultron made $1.4 billion at the box office but was still short of the worldwide gross of the first film – so by Disney's standards, it was considered a disappointment. We live in a world where $1.4 billion can be considered a disappointment. If The Force Awakens doesn't shatter records and do exactly what people think it needs to do, it could very well be thought of as a failure or disappointment – and thus the conundrum of the cultural climate we live in.
Unfortunately, there's a certain amount of cynicism that has spread through the public consciousness these days almost like a virus. It becomes almost trendy to hate on something that becomes too popular (like, say, Mad Max: Fury Road). There'll always be people that will want to separate themselves from the crowd and not like something just because. That doesn't mean you have to like everything, but our expectations seem to have gotten a bit higher, perhaps a bit more stratospheric. Fortunately – both for Disney, J.J. Abrams and the filmmakers behind The Force Awakens – if the movie is even better than the prequels, it will probably be considered a success by many. For that reason, the bar isn't set very high – however, for the next film (to be directed by Rian Johnson), he might be facing an even more uphill battle than J.J. Abrams did (imagine that). Or perhaps they've got it all planned out and we're all just along for the ride.
It's going to be impossible for The Force Awakens to satisfy everyone. You'll have the fans of the Original Trilogy who will find things to be disappointed about. You'll have fans of the Prequel Trilogy who might not be satisfied – although, that's probably less likely. You might even have new fans or casual moviegoers who just don't get the appeal of Star Wars – and that's okay. Right now, we should check our expectations and anticipation so we aren't disappointed if the movie doesn't do exactly what we want it to do – because it very well won't. When asked about it, George Lucas said, "it's the film [fans] have been looking for" and while that may be true, The Force Awakens won't be the movie every fan is looking for – and you know what, that's okay.
There will be some of you that might enjoy the movie for its characters or visuals – but have fundamental problems with the film's story, or vice versa. Just because a movie isn't perfect, doesn't mean it's necessarily bad, either. J.J. Abrams and the filmmakers behind The Force Awakens had a massive challenge – to not only make a new Star Wars movie for older fans and new, but to continue the legacy of the franchise in a fresh and new way. It would be a herculean task for any filmmaker – and fortunately, there will be more Star Wars after this film. We have two more sequels and a ton of spin-offs coming our way. So if The Force Awakens isn't your Star Wars, there's a good chance you'll find satisfaction in one of the many new Star Wars movies coming soon to a galaxy not that far away and a time closer than you think. Do you think expectations for The Force Awakens are too high?