At the time I publish this, I– and likely some of you as well– am a day away from seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and that’s almost too much to believe. I mean, it feels like we as a movie watching public have been talking about this movie forever at this point, and in a sense we kind of have. Since the release of it’s first trailer on Thanksgiving 2014 (and the alarmingly lengthy discussion of the practicality laser-hilts that followed) The Force Awakens has been a source of fierce debate, wild fan speculation, and more clickbait articles than one would care to count. In the past month, we’ve hit peak Star Wars saturation, as hype has reached a fever pitch. And yet, the all-encompassing frenzy of Star Wars hype hasn’t burned me out on the franchise quite yet. This Star Wars hype, I’d argue, is a good thing, and maybe not something long for this world. At least not in a way as nice as it is right now.
One of the things that resonates with me in the semi-obscure 2009 Star Wars-geek comedy Fanboys is the palpable excitement into which it taps. Set months from the 1999 release of The Phantom Menace, it channels the untarnished enthusiasm its main characters have at the prospect of a new Star Wars movie. Part of this is a joke given the ensuing crappiness of Episode I, but in the scheme of the film, that point is sort of irrelevant; the journey to Star Wars matters more than the thing itself. Defying prequel-induced cynicism, we’re impossibly in a similar place right now. From what I can tell, my own arc with The Force Awakens mirrors those of my friends and internet folks: outright revulsion to the concept, to skepticism , to cautious curiosity, to outright, bouncing-off-the-walls enthusiasm. There’s been a tremendous shift in the conversation surrounding The Force Awakens, made more interesting given the relatively short period of time over which this took place. People are unabashedly excited about The Force Awakens in ways fan communities in the internet age typically aren’t. For the most part*, there’s a lack of animosity in discussions of Force Awakens that greet any other franchise that’s refreshing and all too rare. Typically, J.J. Abrams’ “mystery box” technique of locking down the details of his movies feels like a cheap, inauthentic way to drum up speculation and anticipation for his projects, but in the case of Star Wars, it’s served to level the playing field, leaving fan, critic, and general audience alike on equal footing.
In 2015, Star Wars is for everyone. The long-held image of the Star Wars nerd (and, really, the typical image of what a the nerd in general) is on its ways out, as The Force Awakens markets itself to every conceivable audience and seems to be embraced by each. While at the end of the day this means a profitable holiday season for Disney and its partnered brands, it also means Star Wars has become an important piece of shared culture. Smarter and savvier writers than I have written about the fracturing of a shared pop culture landscape into quadrants and demographics as media consumption moves away from living rooms and onto portable screens and a la carte entertainment packages, making truly unifying pop culture properties all the more interesting. In the past year, I’ve had conversations with a wide array of people both inside and outside of fan communities, and found that excitement for The Force Awakens was consistent across the board. There are precious few movies that most of my family can be equally excited about, and this is one of them. The hype for The Force Awakens has the opportunity to be a shared experience that the thing itself may not be. The anticipation is frequently better having the thing, and I have a suspicion the same will be true of Star Wars.
By this time Friday, the conversations around Star Wars will be different. Opinions will likely run hot and cold on the film and debate (polite and otherwise) will rear up across the vast and dusty plains of the internet. Between the new trilogy and anthology films, Star Wars will be in theaters more frequently than ever before and on a schedule similar to Marvel movies, and likely the same thinkpieces about over-saturation that pop up during the release of each Marvel movie will be applied to Star Wars. It may be the same cultural force it was before (and producer Kathleen Kennedy’s edict to get more people of color and women working in creative capacities on the franchise seems to suggest they’re trying), or may drift back to less general audiences. Either way, the hype isn’t likely to remain as wide-spread or as deeply felt as it is right now.
I don’t know what The Force Awakens will be like, and in a way it doesn’t matter. In the past several months I’ve had a great time sharing in joy, debate, and glowing nostalgia with others as we anticipated a sci fi movie together, and maybe that’s the best gift one could get from Star Wars.
*Racists and misogynists angry about diversity in The Force Awakens need not apply.