Today is THE day. The day I have been awaiting for several months. The day that has been on my calendar longer than anything else, except possibly that dentist appointment I can’t figure out how to delete. It is, in fact, the release day for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
With all of the hype and noise that is surrounding this latest release, it’s easy to forget that before Star Wars, movies weren’t like this at all. Star Wars, as a franchise, matters, if for no other reason than its effect on the film industry. While there were movie releases that were a big deal, they were never the international hoopla that the world is witnessing right now. Even the A New Hope wasn’t greeted like this. Most theatres had absolutely no intention of showing it. Fox resorted to requiring any theatre that wanted to show The Other Side of Midnight (a film based on a best-selling novel) also show Star Wars. It’s almost unfathomable to think that people were so uninterested in Star Wars that the only way they would show it was by tying it to another film. The most amusing part about the whole situation is that the Star Wars box office returns completely blew the other film out of the water.
Beyond just the box office and theatre based insanity, Star Wars has completely changed the way movies are marketed. In retrospect, George Lucas made an amazing decision by sacrificing additional percentage points on the film’s profits in exchange for retaining all of the other rights. Lucas figured he could make a few deals for t-shirts and a modest line of toys and make a few bucks, even if the movie bombed. When the movie became a smash hit, the demand for toys was through the roof. Kenner, the company that was making the action figures, was totally unprepared for the demand and rolled out their infamous “empty box” campaign. While not exactly ideal, it all worked out in the end and it makes for a great part of the story. Almost forty years later, Disney will not be caught off guard. Everywhere I look there is Star Wars merchandise. I mean, it’s been more than twenty years since Spaceballs made fun of all the Star Wars merchandise, and things have only gotten more intense since then.
Although the popularity of Star Wars was not planned for, it had a profound impact on the entire film industry. Studios that never cared about science fiction, except maybe as cheap thrill B movies, now scrambled to get films of their own off the ground, giving audiences some of the best sci-fi films ever made. Alien and Star Trek: The Motion Picture both owe a debt of gratitude to Star Wars, because without its success they probably would never have been made. In the years since that first film premiered, the movie itself has progressively become just one aspect of a much larger franchise that incorporates all of the elements of a geek fandom and then some. (For instance, back in 1977 who knew that video games would be a big deal?)
Sure, Star Wars was a game changer. But in the end, I don’t really care about all of that. I mean it’s awesome that there is all this really cool stuff out there that I can spend my hard earned cash on, but that’s more of the icing than the cake. Star Wars is filled with swashbuckling adventure and characters that are fun and cool. I honestly love these movies for the story they tell and the universe they have created. It’s a world that has driven many an afternoon daydream. They appealed to me as a kid and they’ve had enough staying power to stick with me ever since. Maybe they aren’t the actual best movies, but you know what, they are good enough for me!