The 12 Days of Star Wars: Day Three

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Well, I have to concede that my pal Don Lewis is probably right.

This may very well be the Last Big Movie of Our Time. Oh sure, there will be more Transformers movies, and at some point, something will come along and tap the zeitgeist in a way that makes billions of dollars. It could be Avatar 2 or 3 … or Jurassic World 2. Wait, wouldn’t that be Jurassic Park 5? Let’s face it, it probably won’t be any of those.

I believe Kevin Smith said it best when he said the best way to guarantee a hit is to make films for dads who want to bring their kids. What are the movies with the most rabid fanbases in 2015? Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed (Rocky VII) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

This is not a coincidence. Nor is it another instance of cynical studios cashing in on the established brand name. The fact that these improbable projects have all inspired rabid fan bases, is because somebody cared enough about them to make sure they got done right.

As part of a generation raised with the memory of seeing that Imperial Star Destroyer pass over the lens of the camera in 1977, the arrival of a new Star Wars film – a sequel at that – is a fairly profound moment.

Yes, this movie is nostalgia bait. But it’s the best and last of it’s kind – it’s hard to imagine many people getting this excited about Rogue One, or even Episode VIII for that matter.

The Force Awakens is a perfect cultural bookend to that first film nearly 40 years ago in a way that the prequels never could be.

How could they? The prequels never had Luke Skywalker, Princess (ahem, General) Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca, not to mention TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers, and the Millennium Falcon.

Starlog-07_Page_01When I think back of what made me interested in cinema, it was the Star Wars trading card that showed Luke Skywalker and Threepio on a lone Hill quietly spying on a herd of Tusken Raiders … but the behind-the-scenes photo shows Mark Hamill surrounded by a crew of 30. I must have stared at that card harder than any other card in the collection, and believe me I had them all.

The original Star Wars was not just a seminal moment, it was the moment everything came together. After years of being raised watching Star Trek on TV, old Flash Gordon movie serials, rickety Harryhausen epics and ponderous early 70s sci-fi fare like Damnation Alley on TV, Star Wars (later dubbed Episode IV: A New Hope) was everything a Starlog Magazine-lovin’ kid could have hoped for.

People also don’t realize that the reason Star Wars became so iconic was that it stuck around for so long. It was released in 1977, closed for a couple of weeks after a year-long run, re-opened in 1978 and saw releases in 1979, 1981 and 1982 – all prior to its release on home video in 1984, or its appearance on TV in 1985. That’s seven long years in which the only way to see your favorite movie was on the big screen. Perhaps that’s why the images became so seared in our minds.

Think about going to see your favorite band. You buy the tickets, wait in line, and experience the event. It’s exactly the same, and yet, you make discoveries – tiny pieces here and there that enhance your overall experience, and actually make the thing expand in your brain. You become one with it as it grows inside you.

It’s hardly the same anymore. In about three weeks, some kid is going to watch a bootleg version of The Force Awakens on his phone, and I guarantee it will not inspire him to make movies.

But it’s important to remember that Episode VII, once all is said and done, is just a film, and that when expectations are through the roof, there’s nowhere to go but down. And that part of it is all on us … not the “hype” we blame when we are let down.

It’s also entirely possible the movie makes some bold narrative choices that the Star Wars audience may not appreciate. Let’s not forget, J.J. Abrams is the guy who blew up the planet Vulcan and reset the Star Trek timeline. Is entirely possible his Star Wars movie will do or say something disruptive to rile the fans.

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But assuming the story doesn’t alienate viewers, and nostalgia and plain old fashioned good film-making keeps audience is coming back for more, The Force Awakens has a fighting shot at becoming the biggest movie ever. And when you think about the fact that Avatar made all the money in the world, and then disappeared overnight without so much as a cultural footprint, meme, or any interest in returning to that world whatsoever (despite 27 sequels in the queue), all I have to say is that it had better be!

So get to your ships … and May the Force be with You!

Author: Dennis Willis

Dennis Willis is an award-winning producer, TV host, producer, director, editor (he preferred Avid until a torrid affair with Adobe Premiere, and the rest is history), author and film critic (print and radio). Dennis produced and hosted the TV programs Reel Life, FilmTrip, Soundwaves (1983-2008) and produces the annual Soundwaves Xmas program. He is currently the film critic on KGO Radio in San Francisco, and a member of both the San Francisco Film Critics Circle and the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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