For many fans, the release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens was something they’d been waiting their entire lives for. After the divisive, and mostly disappointing reactions to George Lucas’ prequel trilogy, fans of the franchise were still itching to return to the Star Wars universe on the big screen again. So when it was announced that Disney and Lucasfilm would be releasing a brand new Star Wars film, set 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, it was the kind of long-awaited news that Star Wars fans weren’t ever sure they’d actually hear. After spending years theorizing about what happened to Luke, Leia, and Han after the Empire was defeated, Star Wars fans everywhere were finally going to learn the truth.
But, as many Star Wars fans know, not everyone was going to be able to see the film when it hit theaters in December 2015, and thus some terminally ill, lifelong Star Wars fans began reaching out to Disney, Lucasfilm, and co-writer/director J.J. Abrams in the hopes of getting to see the film early. It was a movement that gained the support of the entire Star Wars fandom, resulting in many of those fans getting early, private screenings of The Force Awakens before the film was even finished.
During the Oscar Wilde awards this past Thursday night — which were held at Bad Robot Studios — Abrams talked to LAGoss about why it was so important to him to make sure those fans got to see the film before they passed away. Asked specifically about Daniel Fleetwood – who passed away five days after Disney and Lucasfilm screened the film privately for him – Abrams, teary-eyed, replied with the following:
“He was one of a number of people who were tragically not going to live to see the release of the movie. It was very important to us that those who were reaching out to us, as much as we could – and we couldn’t get everyone of course – got a chance to see the movie even though it was unfinished. So there were a couple of people from the editorial department that we sent throughout the country to go to the homes of the people who were ill to show them the movie.
Some were children, and some were adults, and I spoke with almost all of them before and after they saw the movie. And it was incredibly meaningful to all of us working on the movie that it meant so much to other people at a point where they were literally in their last weeks and even days, that that’s what the cared about. So it was a great reminder, and very humbling, and of course I hated that they passed away, but it was meaningful to all of us that we could do something to help them.”
It was this kind of dedication to the fans from Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, and everyone else at Disney and Lucasfilm that has helped define this era in the Star Wars universe. From the very beginning, the studio and filmmakers behind each of the new movies have tried to maintain a fairly communicative relationship with fans. It was a clear strategy in the studio’s marketing and promotional campaign for The Force Awakens, leading up to the film’s release, and it’s fair to say that so far, that plan has paid off in some major ways for both the studio and the fans themselves.
While The Force Awakens may not have been loved by all, it accomplished what it set out to do, which is kickstart the Star Wars universe again. The excitement surrounding the franchise is as high and intense as its ever been, continuing through the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story last year, and leading up to the release of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi later this year. And it’s because of decisions like this, that the relationship between the Star Wars films and their fans is arguably, stronger than its ever been before.