Star Wars: The Force Awakens is set to open in theaters on December 18th, and it is already breaking records – the demand for ticket presales, in both IMAX and regular cinemas, is utterly unprecedented. The seventh installment of the Star Wars franchise is widely anticipated by audiences, and the marketing campaign to promote the film has strategically engaged with fans through interviews, merchandise, trailers and television spots, and some surprising publicity stunts to promote the film in Asia, including putting 500 stormtroopers on the Great Wall of China and an X-wing in an airport in Singapore. Fans, too, have generated a huge amount of content, speculating and developing theories about the new characters, events, and planets.
However, while The Force Awakens is one of – if not the most – hotly anticipated movies of the year, the amount of hype around the film sets expectations so astronomically high that one has to wonder if J. J. Abrams can actually pull it off. It makes sense that Lucasfilm would try to convince fans that the upcoming film will be the greatest Star Wars movie of all time, especially by placing it in contrast to the prequel trilogy, which many fans had negative reactions to. But by setting up the film as “the greatest Star Wars movie of all time”, the bar is set so high that it seems like The Force Awakens is doomed to fail. This isn’t to say that The Force Awakens won’t or can’t be a good movie – or even that it can’t be the greatest Star Wars film – but the hype around it may be detrimental to the film’s reception. Therefore, the following reasons, while skeptical and wary, should not be taken as an attack on The Force Awakens, but simply as a cautionary critique of the promotion of the film and the reaction to it.
Here are the 10 Reasons Why Star Wars: The Force Awakens May Not Live Up to the Hype:
Because the Prequels Had Hype Too
In 1998, trailers were not typically posted online. And so, when trailers for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace premiered in theaters, eager fans bought tickets to movies to see it – and some would leave the theater after the previews because they didn’t actually want to see the movie. This was enough of a phenomenon that the New York Times reported on it. The initial trailer was met with large amounts of praise, and audiences were excited about the upcoming “prequel” films, which would be the first Star Wars movies in sixteen years.
Comparing the trailer of The Phantom Menace to that of The Force Awakens is disconcerting. “Every generation has a legend…” opens The Phantom Menace before showing a spaceship on the desert of Tatooine. The Force Awakens has opted for the tagline, “Every generation has a story…” before opening on the desert planet of Jakku. Both trailers continue with a sequence of short clips of characters, locations, alien species, and action shots.
A good trailer, unfortunately, does not mean a good movie. Fans were incredibly excited about The Phantom Menace after seeing the trailer, only for many to be disappointed by the movie.
Because Being Better Than the Prequels Isn’t Good Enough
J. J. Abrams won over many fans by placing his film in contrast with the prequel trilogy. He has, throughout the advertising process, emphasized his ties to the original trilogy by including members of the original cast and crew. He has also stressed that he will use practical effects whenever he can, using techniques similar to those from the original trilogy. Additionally, in separate interviews, he has said that Jar Jar Binks and midi-chlorians will not be featured in the film.
While at face value, these are good things, they do not mean that the movie will be good. Using practical effects is becoming increasingly popular again in movies, both because of the backlash from digital effects in movies like the Star Wars prequels or The Hobbit trilogy (2012-2014), and because of the critical success of movies that use practical effects, such as Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). J. J. Abrams’ choice to use “practical” effects in the upcoming Star Wars film is not revolutionary or even surprising.
In the same way, Abrams saying that Jar Jar Binks or midi-chlorians will not be in The Force Awakens is just pandering to disappointed fans. Both Jar Jar and midi-chlorians are cheap-shots at the original prequels, but it would make very little sense to include these unpopular elements of The Phantom Menace in the upcoming Star Wars films. George Lucas could have easily said that Ewoks would not appear in The Phantom Menace – but that didn’t mean that Episode I pleased fans. The Force Awakens is not guaranteed to be a great, or even good, film, simply because it omits the worst parts of the prequel trilogy.
Because Merchandise is Still the The Most Important Thing
Star Wars merchandise is a large part of the franchise, and makes more money than the movies themselves (off of ticket sales, home entertainment sales, etc.). But merchandise is meant to accompany the film, not dictate what appears in the film. However, in the prequel films, there were times when characters, sets, and even plot points seemed to be included in the films simply because they could be easily made into marketable and memorable products.
The Force Awakens, and its marketing day “Force Friday,” show how merchandise is still a central part of the franchise. There are toys, clothing, and all sorts of products available that feature characters that fans have never seen before. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with Star Wars merchandise, but if merchandise is placed before the strength of the narrative, then the film could suffer. Until The Force Awakens opens in theaters, we simply won’t know for sure.
Because Despite the “Secrecy,” We Know Everything
Merchandise has also led to a number of spoilers and released details, with fans reading the information on toy packets in order to find out tidbits on the new movie. J. J. Abrams was repeatedly noted for wanting to keep as much of the movie as possible secret before its release, but with the many factors that come from something as large as the Star Wars franchise, spoilers are inevitable. Overall, audiences will know more about this upcoming Star Wars film before it opens than any of its predecessors.
The ever-increasing number of television spots and official promotional material, meant to generate hype around The Force Awakens also contributes to this. Even though each new piece of the puzzle reveals only a few new seconds, in the coming month before the film’s release, these advertisements will slowly chip away at the mystery of the film. Additionally, new interviews with actors, designers, and the director, Abrams, himself appear seemingly each day. J. J. Abrams certainly has some twists up his sleeve, but whether or not they are true surprises is yet to be determined.
Because It’s Trying to Please Too Many People
Who is the new Star Wars film marketed to? In many ways, it seems like J. J. Abrams has tried to market to self-identified Star Wars fans, especially those who were frustrated by the prequel trilogy. However, the new Star Wars film is also being marketed towards children (in large part because of merchandising opportunities). BB-8 and the subsequent merchandise created of the droid certainly appeals to children. Additionally, in order for Star Wars to truly shatter the box office records, it will need to appeal to people outside of these demographics, leading to promotional moves like the trailer being released during a Monday Night football match. These different groups of people will want different things out of the film, and if there is not a clear vision of what the film wants to be, it might create an overly complicated or muddled final product.
Simply, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is trying to please everyone, and unfortunately, it won’t be able to make everyone happy. Inevitably, some people will not like The Force Awakens, simply because different people will want different things.
Because Not Everything that J.J. Abrams Has Done Has Been Good
When J.J. Abrams was announced as the director of the upcoming Star Wars film, many fans became excited. After all, Abrams had helmed a successful reboot of Star Trek in addition to fan-favorite television shows like Lost and Fringe. He was a capable director of science fiction, and he seemed confident and dedicated to creating a Star Wars sequel for fans of the original trilogy.
However, while Abrams is an accomplished director, he has also had some trouble, especially in regards to hype. The ending of Lost was considered by many to be a massive disappointment, especially because it did not answer many of the series’ increasingly complex questions. Similarly, many fans speculated that Benedict Cumberbatch would play the infamous Khan in the Star Trek sequel Into Darkness. Abrams repeatedly denied these rumors, even though after the film premiered, Cumberbatch was revealed to be Khan.
In both cases, Abrams’ projects failed to live up to the hype that had been generated around them, leaving audiences dissatisfied.
Because It’s Banking on Nostalgia…
The official trailers for The Force Awakens have utilized the classic John Williams score of the original trilogy, along with footage of R2-D2, Chewbacca, C-3PO, Princess Leia, and Han Solo. Harrison Ford, once again playing the dashing rogue who captured the hearts of audiences, smiles and says, “Chewie, we’re home.” Many fans found themselves smiling – or even crying – when watching the trailer and seeing their favorite Star Wars heroes come back again.
Obviously, these are beloved characters, and Star Wars fans are excited to see them return to the big screen alongside a new generation of heroes. But honoring the original trilogy can easily devolve into pandering, by using a series of throwback lines and clichés derived from beloved moments in the original trilogy. If Abrams and his team aren’t careful, they could turn this precious opportunity into something annoying and derivative.
But Nostalgia for the Original Trilogy Will Actually Be a Problem
J. J. Abrams has invested fans by tying The Force Awakens to the original trilogy. However, this means that in many ways, his film will be put into direct comparison with A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. For some fans, there will be no way that The Force Awakens lives up to these movies, if simply because their love for them is rooted, at least in part, in nostalgia.
If Abrams does not successfully capture the earlier films’ characters, themes, and feeling, then fans will be upset – but any choice that he makes that does not align with how fans perceive the original films will be taken personally. If he plays it safe, then fans will think that he failed to bring the beloved characters and material to life. But if he makes bold (and potentially destructive) choices – such as the rumor that Han Solo is killed in The Force Awakens – he could alienate the very fans that he is trying to excite. Abrams has set himself up for a task that is nearly impossible, and The Force Awakens must walk a very fine line.
Because It’s Not Sustainable
We have slightly less than a month before The Force Awakens arrives in theaters. It seems as if there are new releases each day, from posters to television spots to merchandise, that are meant to continue to build the hype around the movie. When the official trailer was released in October, it felt as if fan enthusiasm was at an all-time high, but in the month since, the repeated and continuous teasers are already beginning to feel tedious. Audiences are ready for The Force Awakens, but could easily grow tired of being teased with additional two second clips and tidbit interviews.
The level of buzz that The Force Awakens has generated is simply not sustainable in the long-term, and if the energy dissipates before the movie is released, then the movie could suffer at the box office.
Because the Hype is Just Too Big
Ultimately, this is not meant to be a critique of The Force Awakens, but rather, the hype that has surrounded it. Many people, including professional critics and reporters, have claimed that The Force Awakens is going to be the best Star Wars movie ever – this statement has been made repeatedly over the course of the past year, and in some cases, even predates any film footage. To make such a bold statement, with so little evidence, is almost certainly to set The Force Awakens up for failure. The Force Awakens will not be able to please everyone completely, and to believe that it will be a good – or even great – movie is not the same as placing on a pedestal from which it will inevitably fall.
What do you think – will The Force Awakens be worth the hype? Let us know in the comments!