The Force Awakens finally arrives

By Thomas Simpson

The hour is almost upon us. The release of the next chapter in the Star Wars series is imminent. It’s a franchise that has transcended generations, appealing to middle-aged fans old enough to remember when Greedo shot first to a younger audience who may be witnessing Star Wars on the big screen for the first time.

The hype surrounding The Force Awakens has been off the charts. Just over a year ago Disney released the first look at Episode VII and it didn’t disappoint. Gone was the cartoonish CGI that plagued the prequels with an emphasis on practical effects where possible. Giving little away, the trailer gave us a new hope as John Williams’ classic and timeless score erupted over a shot of the Millennium Falcon in flight. If you weren’t smiling by that point then Star Wars was probably never for you.

Star Wars fans are incredibly passionate and with such a huge fan base there was always going to be dissenters. When Disney purchased Lucasfilm, which included the rights to the franchise, there were more than a few murmurs on social media. Some expressed their concerns that Disney would water down or ruin any upcoming projects. Such short memories.

Like most cases of fandom, devotees can be more precious than the casual observer. A section of the support complained that Disney would be ignoring the Expanded Universe to streamline the canonical story. This made perfect sense when you consider how much extra literature has been produced over the decades from books, comics and video games. Although George Lucas held the EU in high regard, the new owners were looking to put their own stamp on things.

There were also gripes that Disney would make it too child-friendly. In the post-Nolan world of superhero movies, an emphasis is put on our heroes needing a darker and grittier edge. Director J.J. Abrams did it when he rebooted Star Trek but it’s arguably not something Star Wars needs or merits. The original trilogy is for kids. There’s a reason you loved it as a kid and there’s a reason kids love it now. The EU may have created a vast and complex depth to the saga but there’s a beautiful simplicity to the first film in particular that allows it to endure.

Nevertheless, you can’t please everyone but as more footage was released the skeptical voices quietened. It could very well turn out to be awful, it’s possible but there isn’t much to suggest it will be. Along with a proven director The Force Awakens has Lawrence Kasdan on script writing duties. For those that may not know, Kasdan co-wrote the Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not a bad resume.

There’s also the fact that the film looks amazing. The footage has been nothing short of spectacular even if there have been too many trailers released in the last month. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are back as Han and Leia and although his absence is noticeable from marketing material, Mark Hamil will also return.

What’s essential for the series going forward is that The Force Awakens isn’t merely a nostalgia trip. While it’s important for the series to connect with the original trilogy, Disney will be looking to add to the legacy by creating new characters that are both memorable and marketable. Even though much of the plot is still under wraps, John Boyega’s Finn and Daisy Ridley’s Rey promise to play important roles while excitement surrounds Gwendoline Christie’s portrayal of the villainous Captain Phasma. Then there’s Kylo Ren and the potential possibilities this mysterious master of the Dark Side represents.

As much as audiences want to enjoy The Force Awakens, there are those behind the scenes with high expectations for their return investment. With a budget of $200 million (more than doubled when additional costs like marketing are taken into consideration) there is pressure on the film to smash the record for the biggest worldwide and US openings, achievements currently held by Jurassic World. Back in April of this year reports from The Hollywood Reporter and Amboee Brand Intelligence predicted The Force Awakens would earn up to $540 million worldwide for its opening; earlier this month capital analyst Barton Crocket suggested that it could be the first film to gross over $3 billion worldwide at the box office. That estimate would mean Disney would almost rake back the $4 billion it cost them to buy Lucasfilm with just one project.

It’s likely that The Force Awakens will smash box office records but even if it doesn’t, there’s no doubt that it’ll make enough to warrant the sequels already in development. With regards to Episode VIII, second-unit filming has already begun with principal photography beginning in March 2016. Like the original trilogy, a new director will take the helm for each installment with Rian Johnson and Colin Treverrow taking charge of Episodes VIII and IX respectively. There’s also the small matter of as yet untitled Han Solo spinoff film. While $4 billion may sound extreme, it seems like a shrewd investment.

Star Wars The Force Awakens hits area screens this Thursday, however some other countries are getting it before then so be careful to avoid spoilers.

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