It’s that time again. Even as you’re only a few
words into reading this article, that familiar John
Williams score is probably bouncing around
in your head, heralding the return of easily the
most renowned space opera of all time. We
are, of course, talking about Star Wars - and the
franchise’s new theatrical installment, The Force
Awakens, could turn out to be by far the most
popular yet.
But hang on a moment... haven’t we been
down this route before? If you were one of the
millions of Star Wars followers back in 1999, yes.
The Phantom Menace, originally touted as the
galactic series’ big comeback near the turn of
the millennium, has been filed in the cabinet
drawer of big screen history as a crushing
disappointment. But there’s been plenty of
personnel changes since then - and, more
excitingly, returns for some (very) old friends.
Welcome home - we’ve all missed you...
That the franchise is now in the ownership of
Walt Disney Pictures is hugely ironic, given that
the same studio rejected the rights to the
original film back in the 1970s, several years
before it was released and became an instantly
recognizable pop culture phenomenon. Disney
still doesn’t have any rights to that particular
movie, those rights having been omitted
from the $4 billion acquisition of LucasFilm
that, in 2012, saw much Star Wars past and its
foreseeable future join Walt’s legendary stable.
However, by the time the studio put pen to
paper on the LucasFilm deal, it couldn’t have
enjoyed a clearer idea of what it was getting. The
first two film sequels, 1980’s The Empire Strikes
Back and 1983’s Return of the Jedi, also attracted
strong acclaim; and, despite the more mixed
critical and public reaction to the prequel trilogy
of 1999’s The Phantom Menace, 2002’s Attack
of the Clones and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith,
Star Wars is today the world’s fifth highestgrossing
film series.
Of course, even the most earth-dominating
pop culture phenomenons have had modest
beginnings - and this was very much the case
with Star Wars. Reportedly, Lucas had the idea
of filming a space fantasy as long ago as
1971, and went ahead with writing the first film
after failing to obtain the rights to make a Flash
Gordon movie. The inspiration behind Flash
Gordon went on to inspire the first Star Wars
script, which Lucas kept busy with writing from
January 1973 until March 1976, when shooting
for that script finally commenced.
Upon its theatrical release in 1977, the original
film became what was later described by Ben
Burtt, who oversaw its dialogue and sound
effects, as the first “summer special effects
blockbuster”. It was also critically wellreceived;
the legendary movie reviewer Roger
Ebert commented upon release that it offered
a “unique” experience and “entertainment so
direct and simple that all of the complications
of the modern movie seem to vaporize.”
The two sequels built on the winning formula,
to the extent that many elements of the
original trilogy have become firmly entrenched
in popular culture. Darth Vader is now often
considered one of the most memorable and
darkest villains in big screen history, while Obi
Wan Kenobi and Yoda are seen as archetypal
wise old mentors. X-Wings are among the most
recognizable fictional spacecraft. Oh, and it has
long, long ceased to surprise anyone that Darth
Vader is actually Luke Skywalker’s father...
Naturally, as the franchise has flourished, more
and more opportunities have opened up for
merchandising. The resulting novels, comic
books, computer games, toys and other officially
licensed Star Wars media all fall into what has
been dubbed the Star Wars Expanded Universe.
All of these media outside the main films, The
Clone Wars film and TV series, and Rebels TV
series produced by LucasFilm are considered to
be part of the Expanded Universe.
However, while it would be easy for LucasFilm
to permit Expanded Universe stories to follow
alternative continuities, where much material
from the main films and other EU stories is
largely disregarded, instead, the studio is
determined that all of the EU stories can be
brought together to function as a complete
story. To this end, LucasFilm has its own
dedicated team with the sole responsibility
of overlooking this material to ensure its
ultimate continuity.
The huge amount of merchandising over the
last few decades has, hardly surprisingly, proved
big, big business. To date, Star Wars books have
brought in revenues of $1.82 billion, while
the total revenue figure for video games has
reached an even heftier $3.4 billion. If you think
that these figures look impressive, consider that
they account for decades of sales; just last year,
revenue from Star Wars games and toys was an
utterly eye-watering $1.5 billion.
Add all of these figures together, and it’s clear
that Star Wars merchandise is a multi-billion
dollar industry even on just a yearly basis. And
these figures have all been sourced before
the arrival of The Force Awakens and the
sequel trilogy, which should spark dramatic
acceleration in merchandising revenue. Yes,
Star Wars is well and truly back - and that’s clear
before we’ve even turned attention to the movie
itself, which could prove to surprise even those
with encyclopedic knowledge of the saga.
Indeed, if you’ve yet to see The Force Awakens,
you shouldn’t necessarily delve into any
post-Return of the Jedi EU stories for clues
of what to expect. That’s because, following
Disney’s acquisition, LucasFilm has even
further tightened its control over the individual
narratives of the Expanded Universe going
forward. George Lucas has long made clear
that the highest degree of creative control
within the Star Wars universe rests with him; as
a result, all EU stories must take account of his
own “canon” tales.
To even further expand this strategy, LucasFilm
revealed in April 2014 that, from that point
on, previous Expanded Universe material
would be rebranded Star Wars Legends.

Furthermore, the sequel trilogy of Episodes
VII, VII and IX will largely disregard what was
told in the post-Return of the Jedi Expanded
Universe, with the intention of “giv[ing]
maximum creative freedom to the filmmakers
and also preserv[ing] an element of surprise
and discovery for the audience”.
And yet, despite this subtle but potentially
hugely significant change in artistic direction,
it remains clear, from much of what we have
already seen of the upcoming film, that some
things never change. Faithful and casual fans
alike will be delighted to see Harrison Ford, Mark
Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Anthony
Daniels and Kenny Baker reprise their old roles
of, respectively, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Leia
Organa, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2.
However, there’s also a good injection of fresh
talent. Some, like Andy Serkis as Supreme
Leader Snoke and Max von Sydow as Lor San
Tekka, are new to the franchise, but thoroughly
familiar and established stars. Others are relative
unknowns. Up front and center in much of the
preview material have been Daisy Ridley as
scavenger Rey and John Boyega as redeemed
Stormtrooper Finn. So, there are plenty of nods
to the glorious past as well as confident steps
towards a more adventurous future.
While many of the cast members are no
strangers to basking in cinematic hype and
acclaim, the younger leads could be especially
stunned by how well The Force Awakens fares
at the box office. In April this year, Amboee
Brand Intelligence predicted that the movie
could amass revenues totalling almost
$540 million on its way to achieving cinema’s
biggest ever global opening weekend. And,
this month, FBR & Co. analyst Barton Crockett
hinted that the film will gross over $3 billion
across the world - making it the new highestgrossing
movie in history.
And, as we have already hinted ourselves, there
are lots of new merchandising opportunities
waiting in the wings... or should that be
X-wings? In any case, the exciting new tie-in
products heading our way include a series of
over 20 print and digital books, under the
banner of “Journey to Star Wars: The Force
Awakens”, which will form part of the official
canon. These books will include the next two
titles in a trilogy of novels that will fill in
narrative gaps between Return of the Jedi
and The Force Awakens.
Then there’s the partnership with Google
which allows users of the search company’s
services to join either the Dark or Light Side
and, in the process, change the appearance
of Google websites. Meanwhile, Waze has
enhanced the iOS and Android versions of its
navigation app with the additions of C-3PO’s
voice and, on the digital in-app roads, such Star
Wars items and characters as Stormtroopers
and TIE fighters. There’s also Sphero’s remotecontrolled
toy version of the new droid, BB-8; we
at AppleMagazine have already named it our
choice for Best Toy of 2015.

By the time you read this, The Force Awakens
will have had three major premieres: in Los
Angeles on Monday, December 14; London
on Tuesday, December 15; and Sydney on
Wednesday, December 16. We don’t doubt
for a moment that the latter two will have been
super-glitzy affairs, with hardly a shortage of
massive, bustling and excitable crowds. And as
for the California premiere? We’ve got plenty to
report about that - from who turned up, to what
George Lucas enthusiastically gushed to the
press, to... well, pretty much all the big details
we’ve been able to fit into our pages.
To meet the unsurprisingly huge number
of premiere attendees eager to see the new
film, screenings were shown across three
theaters in Los Angeles at the world premiere.
Unsurprisingly, plenty of key figures of Star
Wars legend were in attendance - among them
Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill,
who were all greeted with huge roars. The
younger Star Wars debutants John Boyega,
Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver
were also well-received, while franchise creator
George Lucas was met with a standing ovation.
On the red carpet, Lucas told reporters of his
amazement at the modern impact of the
franchise, 38 years after the first movie’s release.
He recalled: “It started out wanting to do a
film for young people that had psychological
undercurrents for people who were going
through adolescence – everything from
mythological themes to spiritual themes. In
the end, I think that is the thing that resonated
with people.” He cited the essence of the
series as “families”, adding: “It’s about what
one generation leaves behind and the next
generation has to deal with.”
Preparations for the premiere had certainly been
thorough. As reported by Variety, Disney closed
and tented Hollywood Boulevard beforehand,
while Los Angeles Police Department
provided further security in the form of 50
officers. It was also outside the Dolby Theater
- one of the three booked screening venues,
along with the TCL Chinese and El Capitan
theatres - that Disney staged a tented postscreening
party which Star Wars fans could join.
On the subject of fans, they certainly got into
the right spirit. Jedi robes and Stormtrooper
outfits weren’t uncommon among their chosen
costumes for the festivities, while one couple
from Australia - Caroline Ritter and Andrew
Porters - even planned to get hitched in
unmistakable Star Wars style just ahead of the
premiere. The nuptials would take place before
a Stormtrooper honor guard in the TCL Chinese
Theater’s forecourt, while “Darth Vader” would
walk Ms Ritter to the altar.
Some other eccentric touches that we
especially liked included intricate Lego models
of new characters Rey and droid BB-8, plus -
at the after-party - suitably themed food. The
Los Angeles Times took photos of puddings
adorned with images of Han Solo, C-3PO and
Finn, plus Millennium Falcon macaroons - “for
the fan who has everything”. They certainly
got that right!

With Disney - as Variety also reported - having
put an official embargo on press reviews of The
Force Awakens until the following Wednesday
morning, the brief reactions posted on Twitter in
the wake of the premiere screenings provided
the earliest reliable indications of how good the
film actually was. So, what was the collective
verdict? Basically, that director J. J. Abrams, who
already boasted an impressive pedigree in the
sci-fi and action arenas with earlier cinematic
ventures Mission: Impossible III, Star Trek and
Star Trek Into Darkness, had restored the Star
Wars series to big screen respectability.
The stand-up comedian and writer Patton
Oswalt succinctly tweeted that “JJ did it”, while
The Office star Rainn Wilson described it as “epic,
awesome and perfect”. Maybe calling The Force
Awakens “perfect” wasn’t as bold for the actor as
you might think; after all, director Brett Morgan,
who is especially well known for having helmed
the Kurt Cobain documentary Montage of Heck,
described the new Star Wars film as “the best
blockbuster since the original”. And we all know
how significant the original Star Wars movie is in
the history of cinematic blockbusters...
There is also evidence that Disney are far
beyond happy with the finished product. After
taking to the stage just after 7pm local time,
early during the premiere, Robert Iger, the
CEO of The Walt Disney Company, brought
back his memories of seeing the first Star Wars
film almost four decades earlier. He enthused:
“None of this would have been possible
without the sheer genius, the guts, the talent,
the vision of one person… George Lucas.” He
also thanked Abrams, who he claimed had
“delivered a film that exceeded even our loftiest
dreams and expectations.”
And so we end with delivering our own
verdict. Star Wars: The Force Awakens - is it an
unqualified success? The biggest film ever made
- in terms of euphoria, acclaim and financial
success? It’s obviously too early to give a solid
assessment on any of this - but various signs so
far seem overwhelmingly positive. Now it’s time
for everyone to book their ticket for a return to
the greatest sci-fi saga in history. A long time
ago in a galaxy far, far away...
by Benjamin Kerry & Gavin Lenaghan


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