The seemingly endless hype cycle for the latest “Star Wars” movie reached its highest pitch yet when Disney released a new trailer for “Episode VII: The Force Awakens” last week, followed by record-breaking ticket sales in advance of the film’s Dec. 18 premiere.
The intense, nostalgia-driven fandom and marketing muscle behind “Star Wars” makes it easy to believe everyone has some stake in the 38-year-old sci-fi brand. At one point during last week’s premiere, the trailer averaged just under a million views per hour and 17,000 tweets per minute.
But for some, fatigue from the oppressive, omnipresent “Star Wars” hype has turned from fear to anger, hate and suffering.
“It didn’t occur to me until I was an adult that it was strange I had never seen the movies,” said Dana Carlson, 33, over the phone from McMurdo Station in Antarctica. “And at that point it seemed like I would never feel about it the way everybody wanted me to feel about it.”
Carlson, a contractor at the U.S.-run South Pole research station, said some of the people she works with have started a petition to bring “The Force Awakens” to Antarctica.
Despite the isolation of her months-long gig there, she will not see it.
“It’s so pervasive,” she said of “Star Wars” fandom, after this reporter suggested she works in an environment that resembles the ice planet Hoth from 1980’s “The Empire Strikes Back.”
“I get it. I get that Darth Vader is Luke’s dad and all that. I don’t feel like I’m missing any cultural references. I just don’t care.”
That attitude is unthinkable to many “Star Wars” fans â€” particularly those in their late 30s and older, some of whose lives were changed by watching all or part of the original trilogy in movie theaters. For them, “Star Wars” is hardwired into their personalities.
A fully operational money-maker
Corporate shareholders are counting on that nostalgia in the run-up to “The Force Awakens.”
Target, for example, launched a website called Share the Force that asks fans to enter memories of the films, which are then recorded in a 3-D “galaxy” others can access.
Why create an online community around a big-box retailer? To what end are these memories being collected?
To sell more “Star Wars” merchandise, of course. That’s been the game all along.
Fond memories that were made during the theatrical release of the original trilogy have been leveraged to sell toys, cartoons and all manner of ancillary products. Those profits formerly funneled to creator George Lucas, thanks to his foresight in retaining the merchandising and sequel rights to the original 1977 film.
They now go to Disney, which purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 for $4 billion.
“If this is a moment of triumph for people who grew up being treated like they were weird for loving stories about aliens, it ought to be a bittersweet one,” wrote Alyssa Rosenberg in a recent Washington Post article. “Rather than occupying the position of scrappy rebels against a dull, majority culture, our enthusiasms have become a massive business and the plaything of gigantic corporations.”
“Star Wars” fans are a loyal but frequently disappointed lot, owing to their Stockholm Syndrome-like relationship with the series and its creator.
It began with Lucas’ late ’90s Special Editions (which angered but hardly culled fans with Lucas’s digitally-driven “tweaks”) and has continued with the vastly inferior, tone-deaf prequel films (same deal) as well as animated TV shows, video games, and countless novels and comic books in the “Expanded Universe,” which Disney recently rebooted to de-tangle plotlines and sell more products.
That’s why so many are excited about the J.J. Abrams-directed “The Force Awakens,” which seemingly has the potential to restore the glory and integrity of the original “Star Wars” trilogy.
Big deal, say non-fans. It was never there to begin with.
Sad devotion to that ancient franchise
“I don’t understand the intense worship and obsession over the (originals),” said Matt Byers, 47, a Baltimore-based teacher and musician in the band The Caribbean. He theorizes that “Star Wars” originally appealed to so many because the films found an ideal balance of narrative and subject matter that has since been attempted ad nauseam.
“The movies actually do follow the formula of an ‘epic’ in the classical sense, which has existed for hundreds of years because people are hardwired for it, or because they’ve become hardwired for it because of continued exposure,” he said. “But I think (fans) love the movies, so I can’t really say they’re being manipulated.”
“It still feels overhyped to me,” said Leah Charney, 32, a Denver resident who has only seen one “Star Wars” film and isn’t sure which one it is. “Much to the chagrin of my partner, I have no desire to see the other films, original or new, or next.”
Charney was born in 1983, the same year “Episode VI: Return of the Jedi” came out, and her experiences growing up did not endear her to the movies.
“No one can pronounce or spell my name,” she said, blaming Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia character. “My nickname is not ‘princess,’ no matter how many times someone tries to make it seem like a cute, clever or original idea. When you’re a young, ambitious little girl, you don’t want anybody calling you that because it’s demeaning.”
It’s not that Charney doesn’t “get it.” She holds a degree in critical film theory from CU-Denver and appreciates the cultural influence and position of the “Star Wars” universe. She helped launch Denver’s semi-regular “Nerd Nite” live events and loves superhero movies and all things “Star Trek.”
Just not “Star Wars.”
“At this point, the films are so overhyped there is no way they could be as enjoyable as they are for others,” she said, noting that her “Star Wars”-loving boyfriend used to make watching the films a condition of losing a bet. (He has since relented.)
Instead of converting non-fans, the incessant ads and social media discussions of the “Star Wars” hype cycle is pushing them further away, Byers said.
“I didn’t care before, but the hype is annoying and does harden me a bit,” he said. “Although there’s no chance I would’ve ever seen it, no matter how much hype preceded it.”
John Wenzel: 303-954-1642, firstname.lastname@example.org or @johnwenzel