Maybe the problem is I’m just not that much of a Star Wars fan. Oh, it’s not that I dislike the films (y’know, except for the prequels); when you’re eight years old in 1983, the experience of seeing Return of the Jedi in the theater, and owning the subsequent action figures and Ewok lunch boxes, makes you a loyalist for life, if for no other reason than nostalgia. But mine is a casual affection, not a gaping maw requiring the constant ingestion of information, and that is apparently what Star Wars fandom has become these days — if the furious response to Disney’s D23 expo is any indication. You see, the new owners of the Star Wars franchise had the nerve to share nothing new about Episode VII last weekend, and fans are livid. Because that’s the point we’ve arrived at with movie hype: the choice to maintain some semblance of secrecy about a project two years from delivery is not only a vile insult, but an indication of big trouble. Come again?
To be fair to the superfans, you could argue — if you were conspiracy-minded — that Disney pulled a bait and switch. The program for D23 promised a “revealing look at our upcoming roster of live-action adventures from Disney, Marvel, and LucasFilm,” but in their opening remarks, Disney Studios chair Alan Horn and Disney chairman/CEO Bob Iger warned attendees that there would be no new information about Star Wars. Iger put it in the simplest possible terms, stating, “we aren’t ready to share some of the details with you just yet.”
That seems like a credible explanation. Star Wars Episode VII is, after all, a full two years from its summer 2015 release date. There is a script; there is a director. Maybe the Disney folks were hoping there would be more to share, but there wasn’t, and that director, after all, is J.J. Abrams, not exactly known as a wellspring of pre-release information. My guess is that the Disney folks tried to pressure LucasFilm to contribute, and when they didn’t, they quietly changed the program and carried on.
And then the Internet lost its fucking mind. Several commentators asked if the lack of appropriate hype/tidbits/spoilers was indication that the project was in some kind of dire trouble — months before the cameras even roll, mind you. Over at /Film, Germain Lussier wonders if there are troubling “bigger questions” raised by the radio silence. Disney didn’t “have” to announce anything, Lussier writes, but “the thought is they probably ‘should have.’ I mean, come on. It was a fastball down the middle. The film has been in development for months and decisions have obviously been made in terms of characters, story, etc. This was Disney’s chance to wow their fans with their new acquisition with the whole world watching. It seems like a no-brainer.”
Does it? Because here’s the question: is there actually anything anyone — Disney, LucasFilm, Abrams, George Lucas himself — could say at this point in the process that’s going to affect, either positively or negatively, whether anyone on God’s green earth is going to see a new Star Wars movie? Something Lussier writes elsewhere in his piece is particularly striking: “Maybe they have a major event planned in the coming months where we’ll find out everything we need to know before May 2015.” Take a good hard look at that word choice: “everything we need to know.” Not want, but need.
Look, I realize fans make franchises like this possible, and there is some obligation to them. But does anyone actually need to know the title, characters, or story of a movie two years in advance? And if so, why? And Lussier has another question, beyond “what the title is going to be or who’ll be starring. It’s how are Lucasfilm and Disney going to let fans know about it?” Is this satire? I’m just spitballing here, but I imagine they’ll let fans know about it via press releases, trailers, posters, and the like. And I imagine they’ll do that in due time. And until then, fans can calm the fuck down.
“Some people have remarked that the Prequels shared very little information in advance,” Badass Digest’s Devin Faraci writes, “sometimes not even announcing the title of the film until after shooting was complete. That’s true, but that was then. This is 2013, and fans have been trained to expect reveals, surprises and basic information to be fed to them for years before the release of a movie.” True enough. But is that a good thing? The degree to which breathless hype has overtaken the movie industry is far from a positive development; films now are about the hard sell, the quality of the pitch given far greater consideration than the quality of the product itself.
And it’s not just the movies themselves that are suffering (or the studios, as this summer’s parade of high-concept, high-profile bombs indicates) — it’s the movie-going experience itself. By the time we finally settle in at the multiplex to watch a big-budget summer studio release, we’ve been bludgeoned by (literally) years of tidbits and teases, months of carpet-bombed advertising, and trailers that reveal most of the good moments and a fair percentage of the picture’s running time. And then it comes out, and makes its money basically in three days, and by the next weekend, it’s forgotten.
Maybe we’ve passed the point of no return on this — perhaps this is just how movies are now. But if there were ever an appropriate franchise to buck the trend, it’s Star Wars, which brings with it the very definition of a built-in audience. And to that audience, I humbly suggest this: LucasFilm and J.J. Abrams are making you a new Star Wars movie. Why don’t you just let them?