Voltaire once said: “If Star Wars did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it.” Of course, these were not Voltaire’s actual words, but the sentiment still rings true: In a hyper-mediated society, citizens believe they need a cultural entity larger than themselves for the purpose of uniting around vacuous communal ties, like debating “Who shot first: Han or Greedo?” or why stormtroopers, supposedly skilled marksman, can never hit a damn thing?
Accompanying the premiere of the third trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which aired during Monday Night Football this week because Disney owns ABC and needed a ratings boost, is the news that, as the New York Times put it, the film is “a Hit at the Presale Box Office.” “Hit” suggests the film has kept pace with other blockbusters of its ilk, but the data reveals that anticipation for the film is reaching something closer to outright hysteria.
AMC has already sold out at least 1,000 shows nationwide, and IMAX screenings have already banked $6.5 million in ticket sales (the previous record, for the first 24 hours of advance sales, comes in at just under $1 million). As CNBC reports, Fandango and Alamo Drafthouse experienced sporadic network outages; the latter even “apologized for the ’frustration and disappointment’ on Twitter” after consumers were unable ensure their seats on opening night (or pre-opening night, as it were). AMC further stated that some of its theaters will stay open for 24 hours to satisfy customers who weren’t able to score tickets on the first go ’round, though surely the chain realizes there will be nothing more shameful than cramming into an auditorium at five in the morning on December 19 among a slew of fellow patrons who also have a slow Internet connection.
Or perhaps not. Shame doesn’t really seem to factor into cultural investment any longer—rather, it’s gone in the opposite direction, with “fan cultures” dominating every discourse regarding Hollywood marketing and distribution decisions. Not only is it okay to be an unthinking consumer, but it’s to be celebrated, with “Star Wars Day” now an annual occurrence, because if any cultural phenomenon needed a day to raise awareness, it’s the highest grossing global franchise of all time.
As I write this, my computer tells me it’s “Back to the Future Day,” and that USA Today is wrapping their Thursday edition in a poster that recreates the front page featured in Back to the Future Part II. In the ’80s, the film’s release was the only event. Then came the event toy, the event trailer, and finally the early, presale showing event. Now, with movies having their own annual celebrations and receiving endorsements from supposedly unbiased news publications, you’re invited to become a lifelong stormtrooper for the brand: You get to have your DeLorean and stroke the flux capacitor too.
Furthermore, you’re invited to bitch and moan when the brand lets you down, but only as a way to try and get the brand to shape up their act. On “Force Friday” back in early September, Twitter was overrun with adult fans expressing intense anger over Toys “R” Us neglecting to adequately stock their shelves for the impending stampede of neckbeards. In an article from Io9.com entitled “Force Friday Was a Disaster for Many Star Wars Fans,” the author explains that, “while others certainly got what they wanted…it still sucks for even a few to be left with such a bad taste after such buildup.”
The description sounds much like the fan response after the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999. Film super-geek Eli Roth reviewed the film for LeisureSuit.net shortly after its release; a few choice snippets of his write-up include “there are so many glaring problems with this movie that I don’t know how to begin,” “I was so angry after the film I wanted to punch someone in the face,” and “Natalie Portman’s like totally hot.” One wonders if Roth awaits this film with as much pent-up angst; we already know Kevin Smith cried while visiting the set. All of this should entail an immediate reckoning with cultural priorities, but newspapers and magazines seem content to simply pile onto the bandwagon.
A Los Angeles Times article titled “Ava DuVernay creates #CelebrateStarWarsVII hashtag, silences racist trolls” explains how the filmmaker devised the hashtag in response to a #BoycottStarWarsIIV, which levied claims of “anti-white” casting against the new installment. Nevermind the L.A. Times seriously using the term “trolls.” What’s more alarming is that DuVernay spreads the message that even the most tyrannical conglomerates should be supported so long as they’re casting people of color.
Unfortunately, to even “celebrate” The Force Awakens in this seemingly positive manner is to throw your loose change into the pop-cultural offering plate, from which no one but the top-line profit takers will see any of your hard-earned dime. Racism among fans against black actors landing traditionally white roles, from Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm in this past summer’s Fantastic Four, to John Boyega in The Force Awakens, is unquestionably a real issue. But the bigger problem, if you care about filmmaking beyond the mega-budgeted, is a now ’roided-out franchise mania which has fans of all ages behaving like the brainwashed soldiers they are. Lucas help the poor soul accused of “spoiling” any of the film’s preciously guarded details, like what color lightsaber one of the characters uses in a climactic battle or whether Luke and Leia will finally have that long-awaited session of incest sex. If that happens and you’re in the theater on opening night and you happen to notice you’re surrounded by uncuffed man-children, I’ve just one piece of advice: duck and cover.