Consume. Obey. Conform.
As much as the new Force Awakens teaser got touchy-feely with our heart strings, the opening ceremony that preceded its reveal drew a stark line between the creators and the consumer audience.
Long-time Celebration hype man Mark Daniel warmed up the crowd for the Star Wars “royalty” that would take the stage: Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy and director J.J. Abrams. (The stars of The Force Awakens and the original trilogy were surprise guests later in the ceremony.) Within moments of seating herself, Kennedy shared an unsolicited anecdote:
“I just have to say last night, I was so excited as we were walking through [the convention hall], that I ran in before anyone got inside and I bought this t-shirt.” She proudly displayed a pastel Star Wars logo shirt by Her Universe that debuted at the show.
The event’s emcee, EW‘s Anthony Breznican, stated the obvious — certainly she could have been comped a shirt.
“I know, but it’s so much more important to pick things up here at Celebration, because it isn’t anywhere else. I had to have it first.” As with many moments throughout the opening ceremony, this one feels somewhat rehearsed, but the sudden and unmasked consumer message was jarring.
No one has any delusions that we, as fans, aren’t here to consume. Star Wars, artful blockbusters though they are, are indelibly tethered to merchandising – from Kenner’s original line of action figures, to that freaky lollypop of Jar Jar’s tongue. The last thing a Star Wars fan needs to be told is to go out and buy some cool branded merchandise; especially after throwing down $40-$155 just to get into the show.
Likely, the message wasn’t intended for the fans in the audience, but the millions more watching online. For the first time ever, major presentations at Celebration were streaming for anyone to tune in. It makes a lot of sense, especially at this pivotal juncture with so many announcements. But in some ways, it devalued the experience of being at the show.
However, despite this shakeup and knowledge, thousands of ticketed Star Wars fans waited overnight anyhow, just to be in the arena. The line to get into the 10 a.m. opening ceremony had formed the afternoon prior. My seat in the nosebleeds was the result of a 5 a.m. arrival. So, don’t you wish you were in Anaheim, where you could have filed into an hour-long cattle corral to pick up that exclusive Max Rebo plush?
“Nothing is more important than the fans,” Kennedy insisted. Of course not; they’re where the money lives.
Nerd culture is based around passion. Passion for niche interests and nuanced stories. It’s a passion that lends itself to creation and consumption. Nerds are good for business because we’ll invest ourselves in things we love. Companies have learned to feed off this investment. Fortunately for us, they’ve also learned that passion isn’t always blind. While some might become slaves to a given franchise, come hell or high water, most nerds have made it plainly clear that the content we consume has to be good. If it sucks, we’ll jump ship.
Case in point: how heavily Disney/ Lucasfilm has invested in the era the original trilogy. The reign of the prequels has ended. At the opening ceremony, the excitement of a fully mobile BB-8 ball droid was only dwarfed by the extended cheering for the upcoming film’s use of practical effects. It’s a beautiful moment, one that gives Abrams pause. And although moments like Kennedy’s T-shirt announcement pigeonhole us as a consumer class, the passion of the fanbase is mirrored in the revitalized Star Wars‘ creative teams.
The Lucasfilm Story Group, the committee that now manages the brand and development of the entire Star Wars Universe, is helmed by living Star Wars lexicons. Kennedy and Abrams brought fan droid builders they met at the previous Celebration onto the staff of The Force Awakens. Writer/producer powerhouse Simon Kinberg cited his first memory of seeing A New Hope in theaters as a defining moment that prompted him to devote his life to film.
That fandom was shared by many others on new creative teams, especially Gareth Edwards. During his panel about the new Anthology films, the Rogue One director flashed his Star Wars cred by sharing photos from his 30th birthday, where he traveled to Tunisia to visit sets from Star Wars, sip blue milk, and gaze wistfully into the sunset beyond a desert igloo. Yes, the force is strong with them, and that’s a very good feeling to have again.