Underestimating the power of The Force: The bond between “Star Wars” and its audience

Courtesy of Lucasfilm.
Courtesy of Lucasfilm.

Exterior shot. The sandy barren wasteland of the planet Tatooine. Sunset. A hopeful, haunting theme begins playing in the background. From a desert house comes a young farmer boy wearing a dirty white robe, beige pants and sand colored boots. The boy walks out frustrated and upset, kicking the sand. He comes toward a small hill facing the sunset and leans on top of it. Close-up to the face of desperation on the young boy, Luke Skywalker. Cut to a shot of twin suns setting in the vast desolate distance. The gradual rising score of John Williams’ iconic theme sweeps in to make a thunderous, majestic entrance as we see a desperate Skywalker longing for adventure beyond the dry, empty lands of Tatooine.

In that moment, not only did audiences in 1977 capture the first glimpse of Skywalker’s daring journey ahead, but they saw the beginning of a worldwide pop culture phenomenon that would grow into a landmark billion-dollar franchise. Now fast forward six films, millions of fans and billions of dollars later, we are now here in 2015 on the eve of the franchise’s first film in 10 years and the seventh official entry in its saga, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” How in the hell did we get here?

Well it’s simple. It’s the audience, the fans, that have made what Star Wars has become today. After all, how important is something without an audience? The growth of the franchise is increasing every day and there’s no doubt that such a saga has touched and changed people’s lives. That’s the everlasting power of the Force, and it should not be underestimated, because not only will the juggernaut “The Force Awakens” break sales records, but it will also be a cinematic event that will usher in a new era for the franchise. And its audience is the key because it will target an entirely different crowd than films before it. It’s something that can only be amassed by years of relevance in popular culture.

Included in this audience would be the millions of fans the series has gained in the span of a decade since the release of the final film in the prequel trilogy, “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.” Since then, television shows, books, video games and other sorts of merchandise have helped the series grow to unreachable heights. New people have had the time to get into the franchise. Even children born after “Episode III” would have the opportunity to be one with the Force just in time for “The Force Awakens.” Right then and there you have a brand new surge of its overall audience: the post-Episode III audience.

The essence that drives Star Wars is nostalgia. Whether it’s how amazing it was seeing the film for the first time, or the outpouring of emotions from some of the iconic themes composed by the legendary John Williams. That’s where the success of the new film will come from. It’s the lust the audience has for nostalgia. “The Force Awakens” is big on this factor. And that’s its secret weapon.

The most obvious reason why “The Force Awakens” is so nostalgic to those with a love affair with the original trilogy is because it is a continuation of that story. Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa Skywalker and Han Solo are back for the first time since 1983, when “Return of the Jedi” marked the end of the original trilogy. Those fans will surely want to see where their favorite characters have gone off to in all of that time. All of the trailers released up to this point have been amazing for sure, but the latest “The Force Awakens” trailer contained the gut punch that had fanboys and fangirls everywhere crying came at the end, where we catch our first glimpse of Chewbacca and Han Solo in years as he proclaims “Chewie, we’re home.” This isn’t just for the trailer; it’s a nod to every fan that Star Wars is officially back. And then it’s as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in excitement and were suddenly ecstatic. Cue Star Wars theme!

Lastly, the film is indicative of a modern and progressive direction that is important to the new audience the film is targeting. Unlike previous films in the saga, “The Force Awakens” will have a duo of a female lead and a black lead. The character of Rey (Daisy Ridley) is the most prominent character in the film’s promotional material. This is really noteworthy to have in a new Star Wars film because the original trilogy was notorious for having little to no female characters, with Princess Leia being the only main female character throughout the three films. And then you have the whole debacle of how Leia was immediately turned into a sex symbol in “Return of the Jedi” with her now iconic scantily clad slave bikini. It doesn’t paint a good picture to be the only major sexualized female character in all of the original trilogy. And yet now we have Rey, who looks pretty kick-ass and not overtly sexualized.

It also introduces Finn, portrayed by John Boyega, the other lead for the film. What’s special about his role is the fact that he’s the first black lead for any of the Star Wars films. The original trilogy introduced Lando Calrissian as the central black figure, but even then he was only just a supportive character that appeared in “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” All previous Star Wars films have had a White male lead so it’s game changing to have a African-American male lead added to the film. It’s certainly a welcome sight for a franchise capable of much more positive change.

Ultimately, it’s another factor of why the film brings a different audience. Some of us just really want to see a female lead and a black lead for once in a Star Wars film. Representation is important for a new audience: the children. Take for example a 10-year-old boy of African-American descent. It’s no doubt they will think someone swinging a lightsaber on screen would be pretty cool. But what if that someone has the same skin color as him? He will relate more to the character than ever before and be inspired that someone like him can hold a lightsaber and learn the true ways of the Force. And for little girls who will see Ridley’s character on screen as well, showing that not all girls have to be overly feminized and be some sort of a Disney Princess.

“The Force Awakens” is the Star Wars film for a brand new generation that will unquestionably span decades. It’s this generation’s “A New Hope” because it will ignite the Star Wars phenomenon again and will inspire a new audience to learn the ways of the Force, just like how the original did in 1977. And with a brand new trilogy of films, new spin-off films, Disney Park plans and more movies planned for the future, the legacy of Star Wars will continue to live on.

And that’s the thing about Star Wars. It’s universal. Its long lasting audience has learned lessons about overcoming fear and not letting “the dark side” take over. It has taught us that in order to overcome obstacles we just have to stop, think and concentrate and “use the Force.” And as the little green Jedi Master known as Yoda says, we must “Do or do not. There is no try.” Family, friends, relationships and trust all strike at the franchise’s thematic heart. And that’s something that drives the human in us. These themes and lessons are universal and that’s what makes Star Wars so appealing to its audience.

Just like how Luke gazed out to the binary sunset on his dusty home planet of Tatooine, knowing that there is something else out there for him of infinite potential, know that we as humans have that power too. Wherever we find ourselves in life, it’s important to know that no matter what we are capable of so much more. This is what Luke felt gazing at the beautiful sunset, and it’s undoubtedly something everyone has felt. That’s the message Star Wars carries with its audience. There is hope. There is potential. There is excitement for the future. You just have to get there. But no matter the destination, know that the Force will be with you, always.

 

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