Perhaps you remember the wave of Star Wars hype that capped off in 1999 with the release of The Phantom Menace. It had been 16 years since Return of The Jedi, and 22 years since George Lucas directed a Star Wars film himself. Still, people wanted more. The possibilities were endless: with new technology Lucas would be able to show us grand scenes of intergalactic war; thousands of troopers on screen; force powers realized in ways we’ve never seen and space combat with more detail and depth. You could feel the cinematic boil; everyone wanted to watch this film. Older folks told their children about that time in ‘77 when they sat in the front rows of the cinema to experience Star Wars: A New Hope, a film that went on to gross over $1.4 billion domestically, and is still the second highest grossing movie of all time in North America when adjusted for ticket price inflation.
Now, with the release of J.J Abram’s The Force Awakens, we are feeling it all over again: the lightsabers; Jedi; the force; new faces and old. It’s all coming back and promising to leave another gigantic cultural footprint on the history of film. The Force Awakens has already earned $517 million worldwide, and it’s only been out for a few days. If the new chapter keeps up this pace, it’ll continue to break records and become the biggest film of the century. Disney’s decision to buy Lucasfilm for $4 billion is beginning to look like a very smart move. Another smart play was ripping it out of the hands of George Lucas and handing over this beloved franchise to Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan — the acclaimed writer of The Empire Strikes Back, arguably the best Star Wars film — who have brought back the movie-going magic and wonder in The Force Awakens.
So, with this kind of intense popularity and fandom, we’re considering, is it even possible for a Star Wars movie to fail?
Unfortunately, Lucas’ vision for the prequel trilogy was not met with critical praise. The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones hold a 51 and 54 Metascore, respectively, and are seen as a dark period for the franchise – one that had its heart in the right place but obviously lost its way somewhere during the creative process. Things seemed too cartoonish, with oddities like Jar Jar Binks, pod-racing and underwater cities ruled by goofy amphibian-looking creatures. But the prequels did have glimmers of greatness, mainly during their lightsaber battles. Seeing a younger, stronger Obi-Wan Kenobi execute a storming attack on Darth Maul after watching his mentor die was a treat. Witnessing Anakin’s gradual descent to the Dark Side made for great drama and tied the old and new films together well.
For all their flaws, the dreaded prequels made an absolute killing at the box office. Episode I went on earned $983.6 million worldwide (unadjusted for inflation), despite being poorly received. And that’s not counting the billions made from action figures, comic books, videogames and other merchandise.
Star Wars is “The Movies”, a wildcard that pops up once every generation and takes over the world. Even Quentin Tarantino has been sidelined, and he’s pissed. Why are we so obsessed? Is it the sense of adventure? The deep, seemingly endless amount of world-building? As soon as you hear the triumphant score and see the Millennium Falcon roaring through the skies, it’s just a matter of time before the hype swallows you up.
The Force Awakens is the best reviewed Star Wars movie since A New Hope. Iconic heroes like Han Solo, Luke Skywalker and Leia are back to hand the series to a new cast of characters, allowing younger audiences to have heroes of their own. Star Wars is not going anywhere, and it’s clear the force is as strong as its ever been.