Author J.G. Ballard once said that the media is a map in search of a territory. The narratives are already written—it’s just a matter of massaging the facts to fit those narratives.
Here are the facts in the case of The Force Awakens:
- the teaser is “on track to become the most viewed trailer of all time”, getting over 58 million views on Youtube alone;
- film critics in respected publications like The Guardian are writing favourable reviews of the teaser; and
- the press in general are talking Star Wars now on what seems to be a daily basis (e.g. The Sydney Morning Herald published at least three articles on the teaser over the weekend).
The Guardian review in particular is worth studying closely: this is the template for the reviews of the film proper next year. In short, critics will be saying that The Force Awakens is a return to the relatable, tangible, playful world of the original trilogy, as opposed to the misjudged prequel trilogy:
Insofar as it is possible to tell anything at all from this impressionistic splurge, it looks as if director JJ Abrams wishes to return to the verities of character and story and to move away from the inert digital gigantism of the last decade’s prequel-trilogy whose masses of pointless minor characters seemed to be there simply to sell action figures.
The narrative is clear: this is the film we thought we were going to get with The Phantom Menace. Expect exclamations like “The best entry in the franchise since 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan have restored Star Wars to its former glory.” Such statements will rankle some fans, and I’m not even saying they’re fair, but unless the film is middling-to-poor, expect such reviews in 12 months’ time.
Now consider the number of views for the teaser. This is right up there with the hype behind the Phantom Menace teaser back in 1998, except Lucasfilm have an additional seven months to build anticipation for The Force Awakens. And keep in mind that we’ve still yet to see Luke, Han or Leia in the new film. When The Force Awakens opens in December next year, there’ll be action figures, playsets and Lego kits lining the aisles of toy stores everywhere, just in time for Christmas, while older fans will be pining to reunite with the “big three” characters from the original trilogy. The anticipation will be at fever pitch across multiple generations.
Finally, the press will again be reporting on the anticipation just as they did with The Phantom Menace. The unprecedented response to the Force Awakens teaser will ensure this, and it’ll create a feedback loop: people will be talking about the anticipation because people are talking about the anticipation.
These three factors will give the film a boost at the box office, in critical appraisal and in popular word-of-mouth. If it’s a genuinely good movie, it’ll be perceived as a great movie, and its earnings will reflect that. If it actually is a great movie, this thing will be unstoppable.
I believe that, at the very least, The Force Awakens will be very good rather than passable. It has to be good for Lucasfilm to produce five more planned Star Wars films in its wake. And let’s face it, we already know Kasdan can write great Star Wars material, and the teaser seems to suggest that J.J. Abrams gets Star Wars on a fundamental level. Odds are good that The Force Awakens will be perceived as being one of the best Star Wars films yet, and that perception will be reinforced by critical response. The end result: the movie will break box office records.
Even if something goes horribly wrong, you can expect people to convince themselves it’s “good enough”. It may not result in a mega-franchise, but you’ll get a response similar to that of the Hobbit films. But again, the chances of that are vanishingly small.
It’s quite amazing, but it looks like Star Wars will once again be the king of the franchises in 2015. It’ll beat Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World to be the biggest movie event of the year and one of the biggest films of all time.