Following Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm back in 2012 and the subsequent announcement about new movies, fans of the Star Wars franchise have awaited the next feature-length film in the venerable 37-year-old franchise with a bated breath that most in genre fandom are known for.
This past Thanksgiving holiday, fans got their wish with a peak at a purported 88 seconds of the next movie, “Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens.” (Teaser trailers are notorious in Hollywood for using teaser-only footage.)
Like many pop culture phenomenons, popular reaction has been varied, depending on who you ask. For the most part many online commentators describe a positive feeling much like the thrill and excitement of being a child again. They’re taking to social media to express excitement over the prospects of new adventures and stories. A new hope is rising that the series will return to its simpler roots — and story lines — away from the less than lauded prequels.
For others though, the Internet’s sometime inherent desire for cynicism, ridicule and controversy has reared its head once more, creating a mess of scorn and debate — or perhaps more correct wariness — at the inevitable change in direction coming with veteran director J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek”) taking the helm of another major sci-fi franchise.
To begin with, the loudest of debates centers on, of all things, the look of a new lightsaber design wielded by a mysterious shrouded figure presumed by viewer speculation to be the film’s antagonist. Said figure’s lightsaber shares much of the same look and feel of the iconic weapon, save for the addition of a crossguard above the hilt, yet below the light “blade” itself.
While such a minor design change might not be radical for most sci-fi franchises, for the Star Wars’ franchise it has lead to fervid technical debate from would be lightsaber experts and outright parody in the form of various Internet memes and jokes.
The “controversy” being apparently so substantial as to even include self-appointed Star Wars expert and pop culture commentator Stephen Colbert weighing in on the technical merits of a fictitious class of melee weapons intended for a more civilized age.
In addition, there is the racial debate regarding an African-American appearing as a stormtrooper, played by British actor John Boyega. It’s a debate that warranted direct commentary from the character’s real-life actor urging fans to “get used to it” as debate has run on as to how such a development works within the framework of the Star Wars franchise. To be clear, in Star Wars lore the illustrious Empire’s military was originally founded on mass production of clones of Jengo Fett, played by Māori/Scottish/Irish actor Temuera Morrison. The new development leaves some fans debating whether stormtroopers from the original trilogy of movies are still comprised of clones from the prequels or now have been replaced by a volunteer/conscripted army of naturally born citizens of the Empire. Most sci-fi fans of course are used to diverse casts, yet notorious for debating unexpected casting decisions.
In the end it appears the title of the new movie is prophetic from a marketing and thematic perspective. For Disney, the force awakens with the seventh Star Wars movie — the preeminent return of the Jedi to the popular consciousness of genre fans and film.