The Force of Nostalgia

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

a film directed by J.J. Abrams
Rey (Daisy Ridley) freeing the droid BB-8 from the net of the scavenger Teedo and his semi-mechanical Luggabeast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Rey (Daisy Ridley) freeing the droid BB-8 from the net of the scavenger Teedo and his semi-mechanical Luggabeast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens


The Force Awakens, the latest installment in the Star Wars saga launched by George Lucas thirty-nine years ago, is good fun. I saw it—as one must, I suspect—in our suburban multiplex, along with my kids. We ate popcorn and Junior Mints and rejoiced with everyone else in the audience as spaceships zoomed and blasters blasted and characters traded their familiar lines. There was something undeniably remarkable about the experience. How many other movies can children and their parents equally enjoy in a real movie theater these days? All those other special-effects blockbusters—the Marvel Comics rip-offs, the X-Men, the Transformers—seem to be aimed primarily at ten-year-old boys, and grown-up films you might just as well stream or watch on DVD.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines. I’d expected the theater to be populated by teenagers in Jedi robes and white plastic armor, but most of the audience looked pretty much like us: middle-aged moms and dads and their offspring. The uniquely broad demographic appeal of the Star Wars universe probably goes a long way toward explaining the astounding success of the film, which sold $100 million in tickets before it even reached the theaters, and is now well on its way to becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time.

Of course, a huge marketing blitz had something to do with it, too. Disney, which purchased the rights to everything Star Wars from Lucas a few years ago for a staggering $4 billion, clearly wasn’t willing to leave anything to chance. The company has spent the past two years or so bombarding anyone who strayed into range with trailers and merchandise tie-ins and slyly planted Internet rumors. (Disney even enlisted its cruise lines to spread the word.)

The ad campaign was wrapped around its own clever coming-of-age story: the tale of an intrepid apprentice named J.J. Abrams, who discovered his love for the movies when he saw the first Star Wars film at age eleven. Toiling for years in the mines of Hollywood, Abrams engineered several successful TV series as well as directing new installments of the Mission: Impossible and Star Trek series. Along the way he shrewdly positioned himself as little more than a dutiful fan, a true nerd enthralled by the chance to shoot his own versions of the cult classics he’d always admired from afar.

This made him the perfect candidate to succeed Lucas, who was pilloried by his own admirers in 1999 when he launched The Phantom Menace, the first in a trilogy of “prequels” that attempted to flesh out the origin story of…

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