Star Wars: The Force Awakens did so with buzz and gusto over the weekend, shattering box office records with a global take of $517 million and, in one fell blast of pop culture from another era, apparently upending everything that everyone has been saying and writing about the entertainment zeitgeist.
“Conventional wisdom holds that mass moviegoing is the pastime of another era. The cultural heat emanates from television now. Hollywood only churns out banal sequels and forgettable action films. Netflix is the new multiplex,” writes Brooks Barnes in the New York Times.
“Well, the movies just struck back,” he tells us. And it does so “in an astounding display of cultural and commercial domination on a global scale — one with little precedent in the history of Hollywood.”
Indeed, the seventh film in the Star Wars series dating back to 1977, after three critically panned prequels from 1999 to 2005, “isn’t just a hit, but the spark Disney needed for years of sequels, toys, video games, television series, theme-park attractions and more that it is planning or already producing,” writes Ben Fritz in the Wall Street Journal. He recounts that Walt Disney Co. CEO Robert Iger had paid a whopping $4 billion to buy Lucasfilm LLC, which was 100% owned by Star Wars creator George Lucas, in 2012.
But the road to merchandising is, as everyone knows, paved with content compelling enough to draw the masses into multiplex seats.
“‘I knew when we purchased Lucasfilm that the No. 1 priority by far was making a great film,’ said Mr. Iger, who slipped into a theater in Santa Monica, Calif., to watch The Force Awakens with other moviegoers on Friday. ‘It wasn’t just about storytelling, it was recruiting and engaging new fans in the U.S. and around the world,’” he tells Fritz.
Those newbies include the Guardian’s critic, Mark Kermode, who “was never a Star Wars fan,” according to the subhed for his review. He was “always the wrong age” for its various iterations, he tell us in his lede. But by the time you get to his concluding grafs, you’ll already be itching to log into Fandango to reserve your own seats.
“Watching the film in a packed auditorium with an audience almost incandescent with expectation, I found myself listening to a chorus of spontaneous gasps, cheers, laughs, whoops and even occasional cries of anguish,” Kermode writes. “What’s really surprising is that many of them were coming from me.”
Others of refined taste were a tad more restrained.
“Paying to watch a new Star Wars movie, in the wake of its predecessors … is like returning to a restaurant that gave you severe food poisoning on your last three visits,” observes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker. “So, be of good cheer. The Force Awakens will neither nourish nor sate, but it is palatable and fresh, and it won’t lay you low for days to come.”
Overall, “reviews were sensational and moviegoer feedback has been electric,” concludes Gitesh Pandya in the “Box Office Guru” column on Rotten Tomatoes, where 95% of critics and 92% of the audience say they “liked it.”
“The CinemaScore grade was an encouraging A and other audience metrics also show extremely high levels of customer satisfaction,” Pandya writes.
Iger last week wrote a letter to Walt Disney staff declaring the opening to be “one of the proudest and most exciting moments in our Company’s history,” Variety’s Brent Lang reveals.
“That kind of boast is a rarity at a time when media companies like Disney are so diversified, their tendrils reaching out into cable television and digital platforms, that films can do massive business or crash in spectacular fashion without making a dent in a stock price,” Lang continues. “But then again, Star Wars is no ordinary film franchise. It’s less a film than a giant corporate happening — a film intended to not just sell tickets and DVDs, but to spawn toy lines, theme park rides and television shows.”
And a gazillion words and pixels about said enterprises. So pardon us if this aggregation fails to touch on every angle put forth by commentators about the Awakened Force. We admit to not getting to anywhere near the 25,000 or so articles on the subject scraped by Google News as of this morning.
A new Star Wars movie will be released annually for the next five years, by the way, starting with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. See you same time next year, I’m betting.