George Lucas is the reason that I am writing this blog. I suspect if many of us (especially guys) really traced our love of movies back, it would come from one monumental film that changed the way cinema was perceived in America. STAR WARS did not just dominate the box office in 1977, it dominated the headlines. There were lines six blocks long to see the film. The unknown cast became instant stars, the merchandising tie-ins were endless, and Lucas ushered in a slew of space-imitators (even Star Trek decided to boldly go back out into the marketplace). It lent its name to a Ronald Reagan-backed missile defense system, it spawned parodies (like Hardware Wars or Spaceballs), and it became a part of the cultural lexicon the way a movie had not since Gone with the Wind. And instead of looking back at our past, Star Wars looked to the future (never mind the ‘a long time ago’ business).
The fact that Star Wars was a Science Fiction film was not really what mattered. What changed cinema forever was George Lucas’ naïve optimism was that he could dream anything and make it real. He created a world, and he created an audience for that world. Anybody who makes a film takes that same exact leap of faith, and hopes that audiences will leap with them. After Star Wars, the leaps seemed easier, and could go further.
George Lucas is often considered part of the first ‘Film School Generation’ with Spielberg, Coppola, and Scorsese. At the time, cinema was at a bit of a crossroads in the US. With the studio system gone, American filmmakers were finding their voice for the first time. Building on the history of films that had come before, they created films that were both critically acclaimed and commercially successful. For the first time, ‘genre’ films like THE EXORCIST or THE GODFATHER or 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY gained mass appeal and the modern blockbuster was born. Lucas may not get the critical acclaim of the others in his peer group, but he is the one that created a world that audiences want to visit again and again.
Lucas influenced, inspired or even created a generation of filmmakers, dreamers who saw the impossible made possible and wanted to do the same. One of those filmmakers was J.J. Abrams, hand-picked by Lucas to take us back into a galaxy far, far away. US Cinema again finds itself at a crosstoads. With VOD and high profile binge-worth television eating away at its traditional audience, the Cineplex finds itself more and more just a refuge for first dates and teens to watch horror films. Hollywood churns out one superhero film after another and it seems rare that any film of substance has much of an impact on the box office.
Of course, I’m not saying that the new Star Wars films will have substance. Abrams’ STAR TREK movies were interesting, but not full of much thought. No, THE FORCE AWAKENS is important because most everyone in this country is going to see it, and they are going to go to a theater to do that. No one is going to wait until it is on Netflix to see The Force Awakens.
From an industry standpoint, this is called a tentpole film, a film that lifts the entire marketplace up. But The Force Awakens is going to be more than that. Trips to the cinema have been eroding over the last ten years. Many people would rather sit at home on their couch and surf the Internet on their tablet while watching something they DVR’ed. The Force Awakens is going to give these people an opportunity to experience something that will show them what cinema can be – transporting them to another world where dreams are realized on screen – a vision of wonders. Nothing replaces a giant screen and a dark room and a tub of popcorn. And The Force Awakens might just remind everyone of that.
At least that’s what every other filmmaker in the world is hoping. Because we are in an entertainment overload era and there are too many choices vying for attention. Cinema has been loosing the attention wars for a while now, and a new Star Wars film might just reverse that. No one makes a film hoping someone will have it on in the background while they read listicles. Every new fan that The Force Awakens creates is a new potential audience member for another film, or even a potential filmmaker.
So with that in mind, let’s hope THE FORCE AWAKENS can reenergize our audiences like the original Star Wars did, and May The Force Be With You.