“If it sounds too good to be true,” the old saying goes, “then it probably is,” and yet for some reason we are all too willing to believe that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is definitely going to be amazing. And why shouldn’t we? After all, J.J. Abrams and Disney are telling us exactly what we want to hear. It’s not like anything could possibly go wrong…
As J.J. Abrams woos us with the promise of practical effects, the return of the original (read: “good”) cast and – for the lucky fans in Hall H yesterday – a free Star Wars concert, it may behoove us all to remember that there is still a chance that Star Wars: The Force Awakens might suck. Or, if that sounds too cynical for you, that it might be simply “okay,” which by definition isn’t that great either.
This is not to suggest that J.J. Abrams and Disney don’t have the best of intentions, which I am fairly certain that they do. Nobody wants to make a bad or even a mediocre movie (I hope). But the various promises currently being made to Star Wars fans seem laser-focused on encouraging a Cult of Enthusiasm which, by extension, dissuades their audience from engaging in perfectly rational skepticism.
This makes sense, of course, since it’s in Disney’s best interest to market the hell out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and an important part of their plan seems to be negating any of the residual ill-will left over from the largely disappointing Star Wars prequels. In fact, it’s such an important part of their plan that they hardly have to do anything else. They don’t need to reveal much of the movie or explain anything. The Star Wars panel received fantastic press just by trotting out a practical effects alien on stage; they didn’t even need to tell us what that character has to do with the story (if anything).
This very specific form of publicity is dangerous to Star Wars fans, because it develops our enthusiasm based on the filmmakers’ intentions, not on their actual film. One doesn’t need to look very far under the surface of this year’s Comic-Con panel to find a particular subtext: that even if Star Wars: The Force Awakens fails – or if it simply underwhelms – its flaws will be reasonably forgivable because they tried, if nothing else, to give us exactly what we wanted.
Abrams and Disney are engendering a relationship with their audience based so much on familiarity – with promises of friendship and fealty, and yes, that Star Wars concert, which could at least arguably be considered a bribe – that audiences might very well become unduly biased in favor of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It’s the same relationship that George Lucas had with his audience when Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace came out. Fans were ready to love the film sight unseen, and a large portion of that dedicated fanbase then loved it without question for some time, until they were finally willing to ask the question, “What if it sucks?”
No one wants Star Wars: The Force Awakens to suck, and when all is said and done it might very well be amazing. But it would be wise to reserve our judgment until after we’ve seen the film. It’s not like Star Wars is infallible. The three prequels, the animated film and the two Ewok movies are hardly considered classics, after all, and even the original trilogy was eventually marred with “special edition” tampering in the 1990s. And if you want to argue that the Ewok movies “don’t count,” consider this: are you saying that because they sucked? If they were genuinely great movies, would you be willing to let them count? If so, that’s one of the biggest problems with the Cult of Enthusiasm, i.e. a willingness to rewrite reality just to avoid admitting that the object of our enthusiasm isn’t perfect.
We all want Star Wars: The Force Awakens to be a great movie (or at least, I presume we do), but I wouldn’t trust a used car dealer who told me everything I wanted to hear, and I can’t imagine why a healthy amount of skepticism shouldn’t make sense in this context either. Star Wars hasn’t been perfect in the past and J.J. Abrams has a pretty spotty track record himself (unless you think Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness are indisputable classics, of course).
What we have seen so far is encouraging, but it is also – in the grand scheme of things – next to nothing. We don’t have any evidence that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is going to be amazing other than the promise that it will, and that promise comes from people who are actively trying to sell us something. So let’s all take a deep breath and consider that maybe the movie will be great, that maybe it won’t, and that maybe we should all reserve our enthusiasm until after we find out for sure.