Thoughts on Fandom and The Force Awakens, The Best Star Wars Movie Ever

Here’s the thing. The Force Awakens is already the best Star Wars movie because movies can’t simply be judged as movies anymore.
By  · Published on October 2nd, 2015

No one knows whether Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will be good or bad or the best ever, except for 63% of fans who haven’t seen it yet. The Harris Interactive poll that you probably already know about, which shows that 1,280 out of 2,031 responders expect the new installment will be the best of the franchise, is a beautiful new insight into how modern fandom operates. Not good, not great, but the absolute best Star Wars movie.

And sorry, purists, but the number one reason listed (at 36%) was advanced CGI. Which makes sense, because it’s the only concrete thing we really know about. We’ve seen it in action. Other responses, as Matt Wayt at The AV Club points out, are nonsensical because of how unknowable they currently are: “a more interesting story,” “more true to the Star Wars series.”

The results of the poll are, no doubt, cause for champagne at Disney. Despite the common verse that releasing any Star Wars movie at all would be a triumph, the studio and the filmmakers have threaded an atom-wide needle to earn and maintain rabid enthusiasm that’s sure to extend through the film’s release.

Here’s the thing. The Force Awakens is already the best Star Wars movie because movies can’t simply be judged as movies anymore. They’re full experiences that start at the moment a studio announces a project, end on opening weekend and have a brief epilogue on Blu-ray. In between that time, they become phantoms. Talked about, discussed, picked apart, forgotten, remembered, worshiped, stocked on shelves. If a film changes by being observed, we get to observe films long before we get to see them and, really, long before they exist.

Call it Heisenberg’s Uncinematic Principle. The first act has been replaced by a full year of illustrative trailers, but the story itself has been changed. Film has become wholly interactive where all of us are encouraged to have opinions about every publicized aspect of the development and production process. From how good the initial idea is, to how well we think the filmmakers can pull it off, to how much we despise the casting, love the new costume, lose our minds at a behind-the-scenes battle scene, question the film’s loyalty to the source material, shake our heads at the extended trailer, compare first looks to Power Rangers villains, pre-order our tickets, tear apart the generic poster, and wear our seething hope on our sleeves when a pollster asks us whether Number 7 will be #1.

Because this isn’t really a poll about how good The Force Awakens is. That would be impossible right now. And for now, it doesn’t matter. It can be anything we want it to be right now. The movie in our mind is powerful.

The poll is actually about how effective the movie’s advertising is. The show before the show (or the first chapters of the show, now). That’s what people are basing their opinions on. All of those positive responders think it will be the best of the franchise based solely on how the studio has presented it to the public. Sorry, Empire, there’s no room for nuance. “It looks like the best,” quickly becomes “It will be the best.”

The other motivating factor to the answer is, of course, personal desire. The engaged optimism that the next piece of a favorite pie will be as delicious (really, even more delicious) than the previous pieces.

This is the kind of thinking that leads to (and is proven out by) people sending Eric D. Snider death threats for not liking a Batman movie and scores of people spending an obscene amount of money on action figures for a tiny robotic soccer ball that rolls around your house without vacuuming it. Also known as, the “coolest Star Wars toy” ever. Let’s not even get started on the tattoos, which are more tribal than any set of jagged lines on biceps in the ‘90s.

The puzzle of this poll is whether it speaks to die hard fans who, somehow, fundamentally need Force Awakens to be the best, or whether it speaks to a general audience who believes it will be the best because it’s the latest. That, too, is impossible to know, but it almost doesn’t matter because both situations speak volumes about the state of movie fandom today – a fandom that is far more concerned with prognostications, purchasing totems to prove passion months before a film proves its worth, and rewarded for having opinions about everything.

“Do you think it’ll be the best?” is a far different question than “Will it be the best?” but that poll would likely deliver the same answers: a gigantic percentage of people who don’t say, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen it yet.”

We have to wait until December to know how much we like The Force Awakens – let alone whether it’s the best Star Wars movie ever – but so far, clearly, fans are loving the show.

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