"It's no good, I can't
"Stay on target."
"We're too close!"
"STAY ON TARGET!"
Did you know they're making a new Star Wars film?
This was the question I asked my family over and over at Thanksgiving this year. They knew I was joking, since I'd had my tickets for the IMAX premiere for over a month at that point. My love for Star Wars goes WAY back…
As an 11-year old boy my Saturdays had a bit of a routine to them. I would head out early to Waffle House with my Mom for the breakfast of champions (biscuits & gravy), then to Turn Style or Ayr-Way to buy a spiffy new T-shirt or, if I was lucky, a new Aurora Monster Model, and finally on to the Eastwood Theatre to see Star Wars on their gigantic 70mm curved screen. This was not a single Saturday – but my EVERY Saturday for about a year (the film ran there for 55 weeks). All told, I've seen the original film somewhere around 77 times, theatrically. This is where you rightly shout: "Geek-Check!!"
To say that Star Wars had an impact on my childhood might be a bit of an understatement.
And to say that I'm more than a little geeked over the newest installment in the Star Wars saga would, again, be an understatement.
Understatement #3 would be that there's a little bit of buzz surrounding the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The following meme kinda says it all:
The crash Han Solo is alluding to happened immediately after the movie's final trailer premiered during halftime of Monday Night Football on Oct. 19th – which also opened the floodgates for advance ticket sales. The immediate demand for tickets crashed ticket sites for Fandango, AMC Theaters and MovieTickets.com, to name but a few.
The trailer and ticket sales came within days of the premiere of the final poster for the new film (seen below). Everything about this film seemed to be screaming excitement and adventure. To say expectations are huge would surely qualify as understatement #4.
Despite the strong childhood ties I have with this franchise, I think the biggest reason for the insane amount of excitement about this film lies elsewhere. Let's call it The New Coke Effect.
If you were around in the spring of 1985 you no doubt remember Coca-Cola's misguided attempt to replace the original formula of it's flagship product with a sweeter tasting soft drink – to universal outcry from consumers. Less than three months after the premiere of the new soda, the original formula was back on shelves, re-branded as "Coca-Cola Classic". As Wikipedia notes:
"New Coke was only on the market in the United States for a short period, but it remains influential as a cautionary tale against tampering too extensively with a well-established and successful brand."
Which brings us back to Star Wars, and George Lucas giving the world a lesson in how to turn fans into haters. In 1997 Lucas released re-worked versions of the original Star Wars trilogy as "Special Editions". A variety of changes were made to clean up some of the original special effects, insert some newly created elements, and edit some scenes back in that were deleted from the original cuts of the films. Lucas claimed that with more advanced special effects capabilities at his disposal he was now able to tell these stories the way he'd always desired. However, some changes were far more egregious to serious Star Wars fans than cleaned up effects. Not the least of these was the infamous showdown between Han Solo and the bounty hunter Greedo in which Han fires only after being fired upon, instead of firing the first – and only – shot, as presented in the original film. That single change became the shot heard 'round the Star Wars universe. In the minds of fans, it fundamentally changed the character they had grown to love. George was no longer just tweaking the formula – he was making New Coke!
Even Han Solo himself chimed in on the controversy as seen in this image originally posted by ILM Visual Effects to Twitter.
Don't think this a serious issue? Google "Han Shot First" and you'll find over 14 million pages to the contrary.
It's an interesting dilemma. Who do these movies belong to? The man who wrote them and directed the first film – or the millions, if not billions, of fans who bought into the story as it was originally told? Here's the thing: Star Wars sort of transcends movies, does it not? Is it not a brand – and a very strong, dog-choking-loads-of-cash-generating one, at that?
As much as Lucas claims that these are "his movies", the truth is they also belong to their audience – and it's your audience that decides whether or not you're being true to your brand. Don't believe me, ask Coca-Cola.
Lucas tried to throw fans a bone (albeit a small one) in 2004 when the films were released on DVD with the original theatrical versions tacked on as Bonus Material. But it was clear there was no love behind this gesture. The original films were from an inferior transfer and not anamorphically enhanced, so on a widescreen TV they play with large black bars on the top, the bottom, and the sides unless you stretch the picture (distorting it in the process).
Surely, however, this would be corrected once the films were finally released on Blu-Ray, right? Nothin' doin!! No original theatrical versions to be found. Unlike Coca-Cola, Lucas was tuning out his audience.
And then the prequels happened. Between 1999 and 2005, Lucas released three films that told of the events that led to the Original Trilogy, taking place some 30 years into the past. I don't have the disdain for these movies that a great many in the fan base have expressed. Although they did get better with each subsequent release, it's also true that there are problems that are too glaring to overlook. The most puzzling was that the creator of Star Wars seemed to not understand what made the original movies so beloved by his audience. The movies he made felt light years away from the original trilogy – in a myriad of ways. Maybe he needed his own Gold Leader barking "Stay on Target" into his helmet. But it seemed like he'd forgotten what the target even was. It would be like the folks at Coca-Cola replacing their beloved soft drink – and then losing the formula to the original. A Yoda-like universal truth is that if your brand has people who love it . . . imperative it is, that you understand why!
When fans had all but given up, the unexpected happened. Disney bought Lucasfilm for, like, a kajillion dollars and announced more movies would be coming. Respected director (and hardcore Star Wars fan himself) J.J. Abrams was brought in to helm the first film – Episode VII, which would take place 30-40 years after 1983's Return of the Jedi. Stars of Original Trilogy were on board to reprise their roles, and there was . . . wait for it . . . A New Hope!
But if fans were hopeful, they were cautiously so. No one wanted to be force-fed (pun intended) New Coke at this point. Which brings me to a website that was the genesis of this post all along. Two passionate fans put a lot of time and effort into an online plea to Mr. Abrams that is best summed up in a quote from their homepage: "For the love of all that is holy. Don't Mess This Up!"
Their exceptionally well-done video features 4 Rules to make Star Wars Great Again, and it is a phenomenal example of how an audience can sometimes understand a brand better than it's creator. It is both a reminder of all that was right with the first films – and all that was wrong with the prequels. Please take a moment to watch this. It may well be the measuring stick used to gauge the success of the new film.
From everything I've seen, read and heard, it looks like The Force Awakens delivers on all four rules. Watch the trailer and it's like they've been checked off one by one – even the film's title nails Rule #3. It's like J.J. Abrams donned a mining helmet and went digging through the vast Coca-Cola archives in search of the formula to Coca-Cola Classic! We will all find out soon enough if he was successful – and I, for one, can barely contain my excitement. I can't wait to have my behind in that theater seat for the earliest night-before-the-official-opening showtime (as mentioned, my tickets are in-hand!).
Heck, I may even have to buy a large Coke to help celebrate what looks to be a welcome return to the original formula everyone fell in love with a long time ago . . . in a galaxy far, far away.