New Star Wars premieres as fans debate meaning

Out of the dark: The Force Awakens advance ticket sales have made more than $50m. © Lucasfilm

The British premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits London this evening. The series has become a global phenomenon — but is it any more than a brilliant commercial project?

‘It’s a big, sprawling space saga of rebellion and romance. It’s a spectacle light years ahead of its time. It’s an epic of heroes and villains, and aliens from a thousand worlds.’

This was what a 1977 trailer promised of a new science fiction film, which was simply called Star Wars. Its creator, George Lucas, had told his studio that they could expect to make $8m in ticket sales — or $12m if they were lucky.

Nearly four decades later, Star Wars has spawned six films, made $42bn and been watched by a total worldwide cinema audience of 1.3 billion. Those viewers have been treated to pioneering special effects and apocalyptic battles between good and evil.

Today, the seventh instalment of the Star Wars saga will be shown in Britain for the first time, as Episode VII: The Force Awakens premieres in London. Plot details have been tightly guarded, but several of the stars of the earlier productions, including Mark Hamill who plays Luke Skywalker, will be joined by newcomers such as John Boyega and Daisy Ridley.

The release has generated feverish excitement. Industry experts predict the film will make £1.3bn at the global box office, while a campaign to allow a terminally ill fan to see it before he died gained worldwide attention. The world premiere, in Los Angeles on Monday, generated a positive reaction from critics: Adam Vary, Buzzfeed’s senior film reporter, called it ‘100% Star Wars’, while LA Times film writer Rebecca Keegan tweeted: ‘Star Wars fans, this is the movie you’re looking for’.

Observers have often suggested that Star Wars contains mythical and religious features. ‘The Force’, the mysterious energy which guides ‘the light side’ and ‘the dark side’, has drawn parallels with the Chinese notion of yin and yang and positions espoused in Zoroastrianism and Buddhism. And the Jedi — who are charged with maintaining peace and order in Lucas’s galaxy — have been seen as the carriers of ethical messages about patience, seriousness and wisdom.

Can you feel the force?

Some see Star Wars as little more than a highly popular commercial enterprise. The formula is straightforward — combine some of the world’s best-paid actors, state-of-the-art production techniques and a merchandise operation which encourages cult-like behaviour from its followers. And as Lucas himself said, ‘the Force’ has no religious basis.

Others detect a deeper meaning. Star Wars can teach us a great deal: about timeless struggles between good and evil; about personal relationships, including with those who may seem very different to us; and about the difficulties all humans face in overcoming their imperfections. The success of Star Wars is a testament to its wider relevance.

You Decide

  1. Will you go to watch the new Star Wars film? Why, or why not?
  2. Does Star Wars teach us anything significant about human nature?

Activities

  1. Create a poster advertising the new Star Wars film, trying to show why you do — or do not — think it will be worth seeing.
  2. Think of a message which you would like to convey in a film. Then write a one-page summary of a plot which would convey this message. Could you produce this film one day?

Some People Say...

“People do not go to the cinema to discover the meaning of life.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not going to see the film — does it still matter?
The fact that Star Wars has been such a success shows that lots of people care about it a great deal. The question is whether that is simply because they enjoy the simple pleasures the films provide (such as the action sequences and special effects) or the result of its deeper, more mythical messages. That is an issue which affects us all.
Is there a political message in Star Wars ?
The emperor’s rule, which in the initial Star Wars films was enforced by Darth Vader, has been interpreted as a model of tyranny and oppression. The rebels fighting against ‘the dark side’ represented by the empire have been seen to epitomise democracy and the rule of law. One stands for death and destruction, while the other stands for hope and tolerance.

Word Watch

$42bn
This is according to analysis by The Telegraph. Star Wars now makes $1.5bn per year. The figure eclipses even the earnings of highly successful franchises such as James Bond and Harry Potter. It has made more than $32bn through merchandising sales.
Audience of 1.3 billion
A Lucasfilm spokesperson said last year: ‘We do not know how many individual people have seen a Star Wars movie in a theatre. But we do know there have been approximately 1.3 billion admissions over the six films worldwide’.
Newcomers
The film will also feature Star Wars’s first major female villain, played by Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie.
£1.3bn
A detailed report by industry analysts from Morgan Stanley predicted this figure earlier this year.
Terminally ill fan
32-year-old Daniel Fleetwood from Texas was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer and given just two months to live. A social media campaign, using the hashtag #ForceForDaniel, was launched to give him the chance to see the film. Fleetwood was given a private screening on 5 November. He died five days later.