Star Wars fans waited in anticipation. The trailer for the new Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace, was going to premiere in theaters. First, rumors spread that the trailer would be attached to Wing Commander, also a 20th Century Fox film. Then, the rumors, and later confirmed reports, placed it in front of Meet Joe Black.
The anticipation for this new trailer in November of 1998 was huge. I went to see Wing Commander hoping to see the trailer. Instead, I saw a bunch of trailers to movies I didn’t care about. And I had to watch Wing Commander.
As a New York Times article reported at the time, people bought tickets to Meet Joe Black, watched The Phantom Menace trailer, and left before Brad Pitt ever walked on screen. Also, the response to the trailer was incredibly positive.
Now, of course, everyone says they knew The Phantom Menace would stink – a sentiment I still don’t exactly agree with. The Phantom Menace is a weak film, but still has a lot to offer. Roger Ebert wrote a very positive review of the film, stating:
What [George Lucas] does have, in abundance, is exhilaration. There is a sense of discovery in scene after scene of “The Phantom Menace,” as he tries out new effects and ideas, and seamlessly integrates real characters and digital ones, real landscapes and imaginary places. We are standing at the threshold of a new age of epic cinema, I think, in which digital techniques mean that budgets will no longer limit the scope of scenes; filmmakers will be able to show us just about anything they can imagine.
And while it’s easy to look at Rotten Tomatoes and see all the negative reviews, most of them are in hindsight. A review written a decade after The Phantom Menace has its value, but it fails to represent the zeitgeist of the era in which The Phantom Menace was released. Looking back at the reviews featured on Rotten Tomatoes, a pattern emerges, especially in reviews from the time the film was released, the mixed reviews included some that hated the film and others that loved the film.
Yet, here we are again, 16 years after The Phantom Menace. The Force Awakens, the first Star Wars film made without the input of George Lucas, is being released in a few weeks. Fans on YouTube and on online forums have praised the trailers. The anticipation grows. Many fans have said this will finally wash the bad taste of the prequels out humanity’s collective consciousness. However, I believe fan reaction will be similar to the prequels. At first, there will be excitement. Then, derision.
I worry that fan expectation will ruin the new Star Wars films.
Star Wars has become something bigger than a series of movies, with books, comics, toys, video games, and pajamas attached. It has become a religion for many. Fans have built an expectation of what they individually believe Star Wars should be. If Jesus came back today, would he be accepted by the gun-worshiping conservatives, who out of one side of their mouth worship him as the Prince of Peace, yet walk around fanning the flames of violence? Or would Jesus, who taught that the Jewish law would last forever, be accepted by liberal Christians who believe in multiple paths to God? The point is this – Star Wars cannot please all fans. Many, nearly all, fans I read on the Internet, say the new movies need to be more adult because Star Wars needs to mature with them as they get older.
Bullshit! Are fans who discovered Star Wars in the late 80s or early 90s really saying that Star Wars needs to mature at the rate they mature? I was there, May 1977, at my local theater. I was eight and wanted to see this new movie. It was like a born again experience when that little ship was chased by that gigantic triangular star ship. For me to say that Star Wars needs to be in line with my near-50 mentality and exclude everyone else is a sign of religious zeal and not a love of the films.
And for those who somehow think Rogue One is going to be the adult Star Wars film, I have one word: Disney.
I appreciate the anticipation for The Force Awakens. I’m not writing this to say that I think it will be bad. I like a lot of what I’ve seen in the trailers. I want it to be an amazing experience. However, it is being made by Disney, which is mainly in the business of branding. And the signs are there that this is a film made to meet “fan” expectation. Nearly every scene in the trailers mirrors something from the original trailer. Hell, the poster shows that we are getting a new, improved Death Star. It was good enough for two movies, why not three? Screw originality!
And I like J.J. Abrams, but his theatrical films have been derivative at best. Mission Impossible III was good, but it was a sequel. His Star Trek films run from the very entertaining, but stupid, first film and the atrocity that is Star Trek into Darkness. Neither film had much respect for the 40-plus years fans had invested in the characters. Elements like Khan and tribbles were thrown in, not to please fans, but because the general population knows those things, and not much else. As a matter of fact, both of Abrams’ Star Trek films demonstrate a clear disrespect for fans, who don’t represent enough money to cater to, and the general public, which the films seems to believe are too shallow to want any real emotions in their movies.
But, in his defense, Abrams had little to do with the writing on those films. In the special features for Star Trek into Darkness, he seems professional about the process of making the film, yet never shows a real enthusiasm toward the series. With the Star Wars series, he seems more involved, not just as a filmmaker, but as someone who loves the galaxy far, far away.
I sympathize with the anticipation fans are showing toward the new Star Wars films. As fans, we have been told almost nothing about the new film. I hope everyone involved knocks it out of the park, pleasing critics, fans, and kids.
And by the way, if you are not watching Star Wars Rebels, why not? The animated series is pure Star Wars, yet introduces new concepts and ideas. It’s geared toward a young audience, pre-teens and early teens, yet has compelling stories, great action, and wonderful characters. At 47, should I be embarrassed that I’m watching something on Disney XD? I don’t think so. It sucks me into the adventure every time. Hopefully The Force Awakens will do the same.