Footprints in beach sand: on ‘The Force Awakens’, and riding out the hype

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What are we all going to talk about after The Force Awakens has been released? This is surely a matter of international concern. Ever since the announcement in October 2012 that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and would be making more Star Wars, every media outlet in existence has wrung out every drop of speculation, obsessed over every detail, and mined every tangential topic. And now, in the days leading up to release, we have reached peak Star Wars.

The Force Awakens has – prior to anyone having actually seen it – been dubbed ‘the biggest film of all time.’ There have been pieces written about the significance of Han Solo’s blaster and the design of Kylo Ren’s mask. There is Star Wars ice cream. There are people getting married in the premiere queue, and astronauts watching the film in space.  This is the hype. There have been pieces asking whether The Force Awakens will live up to the hype  and pieces assuring us that it will indeed live up to the hype.  There have been pieces about how to avoid the film altogether.  And now, here I am, writing a piece about how too much is being written about Star Wars.

Don’t get me wrong: I have absolutely nothing against people being obsessed with fiction, taking apart fictional worlds, wanting to discuss characters and costumes and all the intricate details. This is part of the joy of being a fan, whether you’re discussing Star Wars or Shakespeare. But to my mind, the relentless coverage that has been sustained in the run-up to The Force Awakens is sometimes the kind that dulls enjoyment, rather than enhancing it.

When I go to the cinema, it’s important to me that I don’t have too many expectations regarding either the content or the quality of what I’m about to see. Of course, in the era of Twitter and podcasts and Rotten Tomatoes, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid a general impression – but I can’t enjoy something if I’ve already been saturated with information and opinions about it. I want to see the film in front of me, without comparing it to a version I’ve already created in my own head.

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I recognise that for many people – particularly fans of franchises like Star Wars and comic-book adaptations – the speculation adds to the fun, and I’m interested to know what the tipping point is. How much hype can we take before disappointment becomes inevitable? Will reading endless pre-match analysis take us out of the moment once it comes to actually watching the film? When something becomes a cultural phenomenon to this extent, do we lose the joy of getting lost in the story?

The drip-feeding of information about upcoming films and the hyping of small reveals are designed to whet fans’ appetites, but I can’t help feeling put off by it all. Perhaps it’s because I’m some kind of cynical hipster, dogged by the sense that the more noise you have to make about something, the less worthwhile it actually is. ‘We forget the good and bad superhero films alike because these days it’s all about what’s next,’ says critic Matt Zoller Seitz, in an insightful piece about comic-book films which could apply to Hollywood blockbusters generally.

Where’s the new teaser? Where’s the new trailer? Have you seen pictures of Iron Man’s new costume? The buzz for the next one begins within days of the latest film’s opening. The modern superhero movie leaves impressions as light as footprints in beach sand. – Matt Zoller Seitz

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In some corners of the internet people are speculating about ‘superhero movie fatigue’, wondering whether the time will soon come when audiences get bored with the cycle of huge, hyped-up blockbusters and their endless sequels. I wonder whether the problem is not intrinsically with hype and speculation itself, but when there’s a significant mismatch between the level of pre-film excitement being generated  and the actual quality of the films. Hype, implies Zoller Seitz, often acts to disguise a lack of genuine care and creativity going into films which  ‘can’t be bothered to pretend they’re not product. That’s the difference between popular art and forgettable mass-produced entertainment: the mass-produced entertainment flaunts its product-ness.’

I really hope that The Force Awakens is more than product. I hope it’s a fun and thrilling story, made with love, that gives people hours of enjoyment.  I hope it lives up to all the excitement, especially for the people who have been most excited about it, and that it stands test of time as its earlier predecessors have. Maybe it’ll just be an OK film, and that’s fine with me; but whatever the case, I’d rather be surprised.

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Sophie Lister

Damaris resources bring films to new audiences, start conversations, and enrich lives. Find out more at Here at the Damaris Film Blog, we publish regular discussion guides to help you make the most of the latest cinema releases.

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