“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” finally opens this week amid unprecedented fanfare – and while devotees of the space-based saga may be drooling with anticipation, the average “Star Wars” layman may be curious what all the fuss is about, or even downright hostile.
“Star Wars” movies are all about pop entertainment, pure and simple; they don’t aim to address a significant sociopolitical issue. Still, the films have undeniable staying power, particularly the original trilogy. Besides ranking among the most financially successful films of all time, they have also influenced hundreds of films in the wake, inspired artists and performers in a number of mediums and permanently permeated our cultural identity. Even if you’ve never seen a “Star Wars” film, you’ve likely heard of some of its characters or lore.
If it wasn’t for “Star Wars,” Hollywood icon Harrison Ford might just be the world’s most handsome carpenter.
Here are five reasons why you should consider seeing the blockbuster when it opens Thursday evening, if you don’t already have your tickets. May the force be with you.
1) It’s uniquely American
Although largely shot overseas, make no mistake about it the “Star Wars” films are as American as apple pie. The first in the canon, 1977’s “Star Wars” (a.k.a. “A New Hope”) was the ideal salve for the national wounds of Watergate. It was a feel-good epic with clearly delineated villains and heroes, that the country rallied behind enthusiastically. While “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings” are fantasies with legions of fans, their origins were always elsewhere and therefore they never appealed to quite the same broad-section of the American public. The first “Star Wars” film was a classic story of American can-do ingenuity behind the camera. George Lucas was a shy, awkward California upstart with just one hit film under his belt (the nostalgic “American Graffiti”). When he pitched “Star Wars” to studios, he was largely laughed out of the room. His perseverance and business savvy (he saw the value in merchandising and sequels) have only contributed to Americans’ respect for “Star Wars” – and why virtually every American male in their thirties owns at least one T-shirt tied to the films.
2) It will make cinematic history
One could make the argument that the entire history of American cinema (for better or worse) could be divided into pre- and post-“Star Wars” eras. The “Star Wars” films changed everything about how films are marketed, anticipated and even edited. Although some credit 1975’s “Jaws” with being Hollywood’s first modern event picture, “Star Wars” took that baton and ran with it. Each subsequent film became a product with sequel potential than could be spun off again and again. Every superhero film and big budget spectacle currently dominating the marketplace owes a debt to the initial success of the first three “Star Wars” films. The new movie, “The Force Awakens,” has already broken pre-sale ticket records and is widely believed to be a legitimate threat to become the highest grossing film of all time (without taking inflation into account). Should it be the hit it’s anticipated to be, we should see a plethora of new “Star Wars” prequels and sequels which could span decades. With the first “Star Wars” film arriving nearly 40 years ago, a life span like this would be remarkable.
3) It’s got real diversity and generational appeal
Although the original films (and even the more modern prequels) presented a largely lily white universe, director J.J. Abrams has gone out of his way to diversify “The Force Awakens.” Besides bringing back fan favorites Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, he has cast both a woman and a black man (Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, respectively) in the lead roles. While the casting of Boyega sparked a widely ridiculed racial backlash, his decision to present a wider array of backgrounds and generations could significantly add to his film’s appeal. “Star Wars” is one of the only movie phenomenons that isn’t too niche for any age. For younger viewers, the ubiquitous presence of “Star Wars” on television and in various other incarnations over the years has likely kept the saga of the dark and light sides of “the force” fresh in their minds.
4) It will drive the cultural conversation
Whether it’s actually a good film or not is beside the point right now. There could be a case made for “The Force Awakens” being the most anticipated film of all time. The movie is essentially a sequel 32 years in the making. It takes place roughly 30 years after the events of 1983’s “Return of the Jedi” the final installment of the original, more beloved “Star Wars” trilogy. Although the prequels (1999-2005) made billions, they left a bad taste in the mouth of many long-time fans. How this film is received and performs will certainly dominate the cultural conversation throughout the end of this year and this will have an impact on Hollywood in general as they seek to stake their claim on audiences amid competition from streaming services and television with top-notch production values. In other words, there’s a lot at stake with this film, even if you could care less about spaceships hurtling through the sky.
5) It may actually be good
Six years ago, J.J. Abrams took a series that was deemed dead in the water – “Star Trek” – breathed new life into it, and turned it into a critical and commercial favorite again. Fans have reason to believe he can do the same with “Star Wars.” He recruited Lawrence Kasdan, the screenwriter behind two of best loved entries in the series and assembled a formidable cast which includes Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. His preference from more practical effects in the place of CGI has already endeared him to fans and the early trailers suggest a return to the gravitas and grit of the original three films, which are held up today by most critics as masterpieces of their genre. While “The Force Awakens” remains shrouded in mystery and could easily not live up to sky-high expectations, it certainly has the pedigree to be an above average epic, which for paying audiences might be enough cause of celebration.