As C3PO said in Return of the Jedi, “Here we go again.”
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (TFA) hits theaters this Friday and I’ll be at the AMC theater at Assembly Row for a 1230 AM showing. (Please no photos.) It’s become a phenomenon, again. Presale tickets have broken records all across the globe. When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (TPM) there was no presale in terms of weeks ahead of time and so people formed lines in anticipation, which broke records. See the pattern?
In 1977 Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope (ANH) began the phenomenon rather unexpectedly and completely by word of mouth. Now a days movie franchises are a continuum of evolution, always with an eye toward the future, yes. (So much so they made 2 extra Hobbit movies that just weren’t necessary.) In 1977 it wasn’t this way and we have arrived here, 38 years later, because of Star Wars and the billions of dollars it has made since it’s debut.
For me Star Wars started at some point in 1980 shortly after my first birthday when my dad brought me, his newly minted 1 year old, to the theater to see Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (ESB) and found out that Darth Vader was in fact Luke Skywalker’s father. (Spoiler Alert.) Shortly after this I bought my Dad a VCR for his birthday in October. (I’ve always been a generous gift giver.) Within the year I would learn how to operate this VCR well enough that I could watch my taped off tv version of ANH. And I would do so, mostly after my Mom went to bed. I would get out of bed, go to the TV put on ANH and watch in the dark. My Dad would come home from his 3-11pm shift, tell me to make sure I turned everything off and then went to bed himself. Yes, leaving his under 3 year old child awake and out of bed. I would indeed turn everything off and my mother never knew about this until about 25 years later.
It was a brand new world because I was 1, little did everyone know how much of a brand new world it would become and how a galaxy far, far away would alter the entertainment industry, forever.
All the stats in this next part are from this chart courtesy of the folks at IMDB.
As of December 13, 2015 there are 632 movies that have made over 100 million dollars. I’m taking these stats from the top 200 of those.
- 2 (1%) of those movies were made before 1970, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Gone with the Wind (1939).
- 4 (2%) were made in the 70’s, including our first pivot point ANH in 1977.
- 9 (4.5%) were made in the 80’s including the 2 Star Wars sequels.
- 26 (13%) were made in the 90’s, including our second pivot point, the first of the Star Wars prequels.
- 85 (42.5%) were made in the 00’s, including 2 more Star Wars prequels.
- 74 (37%) have been made in the 2010’s AND WE ARE ONLY HALF WAY THROUGH THE DECADE!
Between the 1930’s when movies came to prominence with features like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Gone with the Wind and the 1970’s box office numbers had peaked in the mid 1940’s and started to grow again just before ANH came out, but took a significant jump in 1977/1978 with ANH in theaters. (Look for yourself here.) After 1977 look at the way the numbers steadily climb with a spike in 1984, with Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (RotJ) in theaters. The two next biggest spike come in 1997 and 1999. In 1997 the Star Wars Special Editions were released and then in 1999 our second pivot point Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace hit theaters.
The Star Wars Special Editions are the movies George Lucas intended to make and in reality make the movies not only look better visually, but also in a lot of ways in terms of crafting a proper story. Budget overruns and special effects limitations (and failures) hindered ANH the most, but also caused serious issues with ESB and RotJ. In 1997 Lucas was able to finish many of the scenes he had had to abandon in the 70s and 80s. It was fun to see these Special Editions in theaters and I loved 99% of it, until the very end of RotJ where they changed the final song of the movie. They went from the amazing Ewok tune, officially titled Ewok Celebration, but most commonly referred to as ‘Yub Nub’ to some more classic John Williams composition. I was in the theater with a group of friends, but the only one I remember being there was Kristin because I distinctly remember her asking if I was ok because she said I looked like I was going to cry. I didn’t cry, but I refused to move from my seat stating that, “I wasn’t moving until they played ‘Yub Nub’”. They never did and I eventually left after the last credit rolled. It didn’t overwhelmingly sour the movie for me as many people believe the all the Special Editions did as a whole, but it sure did leave a small scar on my Star Wars expereince.
1999. Y2K was the fear, Family Guy debuted on Fox, I turned 20 years old and 14 days later TPM debuted. I’d never lost my love for Star Wars, but in 1995 the world received the gift of the expanded universe in the form of novelizations of events that happened after RotJ. No one knew that Lucas was going to make the prequel trilogy, (not even Lucas) so when new Star Wars content hit the market eager fans, like myself, soaked it up. I think the fervor with which this content was not only purchased, but also absorbed into Star Wars culture that became the tipping point in convincing Lucas to make the prequel trilogy.
I was at home watching the original trilogy the night of May 18th when the phone rang. Some friends were going bowling and then to the best theater of the area to check out the Star Wars phenomena, did I want to go with. I agreed because I’d seen the movies enough. When we got the theater the parking lot was awash with folks in costumes of all ages. The excitement was palpable, no not Palpatine, and a local toy store had employees asking Star Wars Trivial Pursuit questions and giving away prizes for correct answers. (In the interest of full disclosure of both my level of Star Wars trivia acumen and geekery, in high school I had run a small group of kids who took increasingly difficult Star Wars quizzes that I had developed, but this was before the Star Wars edition of trivial Pursuit had been released.) I walked up to one group seeing on of my former padawans standing in the circle answering questions. He insisted to the guy asking the questions that I be next. I answered the entire card of 6 questions correctly and it wasn’t hard. And I hadn’t studied the trivial pursuit questions before challenging me to a game (Jay *cough* @miscastmusic *cough cough*). I got some posters and some t-shirts, handed them to my buddy, and proceeded directly to the next group, where I answered the first 5 questions flawlessly. They gave me a pass on the 6th question before even asking it. They told me it was too hard. I insisted they ask. They complied, “who directed The Empire Strikes Back?”. I said, “Irvin K something.” The answer is Irvin Kershner, they gave me full credit, I only give myself half credit. The store manager gave me some more t-shirts and posters and thanked me for playing, but told me I couldn’t play for anymore prizes. It really didn’t matter, I’d won at least one of each item they had anyway.
People hate the prequel trilogy. There are people that claim it ruined their childhood. While I am not here to defend the prequels (although I can and will at the drop of a hat) I will call bull shit on their hate. And most of those people have already bought tickets to TFA and will be there opening night like me. Doesn’t matter that they hated it, they still went to the degree that TPM is the highest grossing Star Wars movie and Episodes II and III are the 3rd and 4th highest grossing Star Wars movies.
The point is this, continuity sells. People have known that for years. Books and comics have been serialized since the printing press was invented, and stories were serialized even in the days of the epic poets. Radio drama’s often ended with the phrase “join us next week for the continuing adventures of….”, movies and television have perfected the model for storytelling continuity as a business model. Stan Lee saw the potential in the 50’s and 60’s and Marvel comics has perfected it, but the continuing adventures of Luke Skywalker is what started it all in 1977. The timeline in the late 70’s early 80’s was simple, release a movie, 3 years later release the next one, 3 years later finish the trilogy. That’s how Star Wars worked. It was the only way it could work financially because technical achievement in film wasn’t even a thing when they started ANH. By the time the late 90’s came around and digital cinema was starting to become a real thing Lucas finally felt he could do the prequel trilogy and much in the same way that the original trilogy pushed the envelop of special effects the prequel trilogy did the same.
People with serialized characters had started to make movies in the wake of the rebirth of Star Wars, seeing the potential, and following the model Lucas had set up. Of course the best business model isn’t the one you copy, it’s the one you make better and Peter Jackson came along and made the Lord of the Rings Trilogy releasing them in back to back to back years. It was a huge risk financially to film the films together not knowing if the first would pay for the second, which was what the space in Lucas’s model almost guaranteed, but it worked as the movies were lauded as masterpieces in craft and made the corresponding money.
As a result of those top 200 films 107 are a part of a series and that was being picky, making sure each series consisted of 3 films already released, which left out at least 11 films that have a third announced. As much as Jackson made a new model work with LotR, Disney has perfected the model with the Harry Potter franchise and now with the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
- All 8 of the Harry Potter films, released over a 10 year span, are in the top 200 domestic grossing films of all time.
- Of the 12 films released in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far 9 are in the top 200 domestic grossing films of all time, with Antman being 201 and Captain America The First Avenger being 215, and The Incredible Hulk being 362.
With Disney and JJ Abrams in charge I confident Star Wars has fallen into the proper hands.
I avoid trailers with the same ferocity I avoid sleeves, so I’ve got no idea what’s going to happen in TFA. Just like I have no idea what is going to happen in Marvel’s Civil War or DC’s Batman vs. Superman or JJ’s other rebooted baby Star Trek 3 all due out next year. This is totally by design, I want to completely suspend my disbelief and to do that I don’t want to see pictures, or trailers or hear lines or know plot points ahead of time.
College began after TPM but before Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and as good geek collegians we showed the proper deference. We had a stairway in our townhouse apartment dorm. And along the stairs we put in chronological order of the universe the Drew Struzan posters, and because when we started this tradition AofC and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith hadn’t been released, but had been announced we wanted something to hold their place. As such we got pieces of black cloth, sized them to poster size and hung them where the movie posters would eventually hang. (We graduated before the RotS poster was released, but as long as we lived there the placeholder hung next to the 5 other posters.
So very early Friday morning I’ll go in blind and I’m 99% sure I’ll love it. Watching JJ’s first Star Trek movie I was struck with an amazing amount of similarities in shot composition and storytelling to the original Star Wars trilogy, especially ANH. If he is able to do that sort of thing again I know I’ll love it.
Remember Star Wars doesn’t have to be your favorite film franchise to appreciate how Star Wars has contributed over the last 38 years because without Star Wars you wouldn’t have your film franchise, or at least you wouldn’t have it as it is today. Do check out the originals, do check out the prequels and be sure and check out the dawn of a new age in Star Wars, be sure, sleeves, you don’t wear.
And now a handful of pictures of people wearing the costume formerly known as the Slave Leia.