After a panel discussion at the recent Comic Con in San Diego, and director J J Abrams’ announcement that a first cut of the film has been completed, the heat surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens – arguably the most anticipated Hollywood movie in history – continues to grow.
When a second teaser trailer for the film was released in April, it sent records tumbling and the internet into overdrive, racking up 88 million views in 24 hours and smashing the previous record for most trailer views in a single day (62 million achieved by Fast and Furious 7 last year). Within hours of its release, Disney’s stock was boosted by $2bn. Meanwhile, the trailer’s nostalgia-fuelled final shot – depicting cinema’s favourite lovable rogue, Han Solo, back on screen alongside loyal companion Chewbacca – was enough to reduce adults to tears.
Star Wars has come a long way in the past 10 years. After the 2005 release of Revenge of the Sith – a film which completed the much-derided prequels trilogy and tied the story back to the first film in the series, 1977’s A New Hope – it looked as if we would never see a live-action Star Wars adventure on the big screen again. Viewed as effects-driven and soulless, the prequels saw fans of the beloved original trilogy turn on their one-time hero, the Star Wars creator George Lucas, whose tinkering with the early films had already raised more than a few eyebrows. He later declared he would never again return to Star Wars (“Why would I make any more, when everybody yells at you the whole time and says what a terrible person you are”).
Crucially, though, the films were box-office hits (the loathed The Phantom Menace is the most successful single Star Wars movie of all time at the box office, making $924.3m worldwide in 1999), while they introduced the franchise to a new generation of moviegoers. In 2012, in swept Disney, which had acquired Pixar in 2006 and Marvel in 2009. It brokered a $4.05bn deal to buy Lucasfilm and, with it, the rights to any future big screen ventures in the Star Wars universe. The company announced that it would be starting production on a whole new trilogy, keeping the epic story going for years to come.
The first film in that series, The Force Awakens, will be released on 18 December. It is set 30 years after the Battle of Endor and the events portrayed in Return of the Jedi, while J J Abrams, who has already proved his geek cred with 2009’s Star Trek reboot and sequel, has communicated to fans that he is returning to the ethos of the original trilogy. He is shooting on film rather than digital, using lots of real costumed stormtroopers, spaceship models and puppet aliens, and even introducing a real-life, fully functioning ball robot, BB-8, which is already busy making promotional appearances.
Abrams has assembled an impressive team of actors, with Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford reprising their roles as Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Han Solo. They will be joined by relative newcomers: the English actors Daisy Ridley, starring in her first feature film, and Peckham-born John Boyega, who played Moses in his 2011 debut Attack the Block
Also joining the cast are the stars of this year’s sublime Ex Machina – Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson – the Girls actor Adam Driver, motion-capture maestro Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o from 12 Years a Slave and veteran Max von Sydow. Little is known about the plot, but it seems that it will centre on Ridley and Boyega’s Rey and Finn. The big baddie, Kylo Ren, will be played by Driver.
It is an exciting prospect, but it is only the beginning, with a further five Star Wars films due out between now and 2020. The two other parts of the new trilogy will be released in 2017 and 2019. Part two will be directed by Rian Johnson (Looper), while J J Abrams is rumoured to be returning for the final film.There are also three “spin-off” movies in the works. The first, Rogue One, due out next year, is being directed by Godzilla helmer Gareth Edwards and will star The Theory of Everything’s Felicity Jones. A movie about rebels stealing plans for the Death Star, it will be set in the years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope.
The second is out in 2018, and will tackle the origin story of the iconic Han Solo, with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller – who directed 21 Jump Street and The Lego Movie – calling the shots. The third, out in 2020, could focus on any number of much-loved characters, including Yoda, Boba Fett and Obi Wan Kenobi.It is an ambitious plan but one that looks set to pay off handsomely. According to the Hollywood Reporter, The Force Awakens is predicted to reach $500m globally in its opening weekend, meaning it will be only the second film in history – following this year’s Jurassic World – to achieve that feat. This will add to a ledger that is already unsurpassed in the movie world. Since 1977, Star Wars is estimated to have brought retailers more than $32bn in merchandising sales, while the six cinema releases have made just under $4.5bn at the box office. Add video game, VHS, DVD and Blu-ray sales into the mix, and the franchise is said to be worth $42bn (the only other entertainment franchise anywhere close to this is Harry Potter, with a total revenue estimated at $25bn).
Fundamental to its success, the Star Wars “hero’s journey” framework appeals across cultures and belief systems. Meanwhile, from Volkswagen advertisements to Family Guy, it is deeply embedded in popular culture, and has lured in at least three generations of viewers; The Clone Wars, which started as a mediocre theatrical release in 2008 (though still made money), has proved hugely popular as an animated series for kids on Cartoon Network. The Force Awakens is set to introduce a galaxy far, far away to yet more beginners. Its box office, along with the accompanying toys and merchandise, will see an already enormous cash cow march on.
When George Lucas first devised the idea for Star Wars he was turned down by several studios before 20th Century Fox finally, and somewhat reluctantly, picked it up. Thirty-eight years on and not even Lucas, in his wildest dreams, could have anticipated the phenomenon that Star Wars would become.Reuse content