Linus, Hutch, Zoe, Bottler and Windows spend the entirety of Fanboys crossing the country on a quest to break into Skywalker Ranch to see Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. It’s a noble quest. Linus has been diagnosed with cancer and given a few months to live, medically assuring that he won’t survive to see little Anakin Skywalker race pods unless the crew takes drastic action.
Since Kyle Newman made the film in 2009, well after the prequels’ reputation had been set into crap-covered stone, there’s a great, winking irony to the seriousness and obsession of fans desperate to see a movie that ends up being the single biggest disappointment in modern cinematic history. Fanboys ends with the crew, minus their now-dead friend, seated for a local premiere with a maul of passionate midnighters.
Bottler turns to his pals, says, “What if the movie sucks?” and the credits roll.
It’s a great button line for an audience who knows that, yes, the prequels did suck (ha! They cared so much!), but it’s also a worthy question for the upcoming Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (a movie you can easily imagine as the catalyst for Fanboys: Episode II).
It’s already dominated culture sites, online conversations, social networks, YouTube views, and it’s poised to break box office records. Details are being scrutinized, images are being poured/fawned over, but the Fanboys Question isn’t being uttered.
I understand why. No one wants to live in the mindset that a movie will suck, particularly after the trailers have been slathered with raw entertainment value. Movies like The Fantastic Four and Batman v Superman get properly raked over the coals, consternation and snark reign surprsem, while the strongest negative emotion facing The Force Awakens is apathy. Or level-headedness:
I’m going to need to see a new Star Wars movie before I can get excited about new Star Wars movies.
— John Gholson (@gholson) July 10, 2015
The thorough mental safety net that won’t allow even for the possibility of another bad SW outing is also a rationalization courtesy of the vilification of George Lucas. He gets 100% of the blame for the prequels, his involvement is now subdued, so there’s nothing to worry about. Right? The course has been corrected.
But if The Force Awakens ends up sucking, it will be absolutely fascinating.
Normally, two things would happen. First, fans would be furious and roll through the stages of grief with blinding slowness. Second, a lot of studio meetings would happen trying to gauge the franchise’s remaining viability, if any.
In the case of Star Wars, that second thing wouldn’t take place. Disney has invested a grotesque amount of money in securing the rights, launching a new vision, and pimping out an expansive set of spin-offs. The Force Awakens could be a gigantic, messy pile of terrible, and we’d still get a new Star Wars movie every year for the next half-century. When that happens, it will prove definitively how little quality matters in the face of staggering brand awareness.
All of this is stark speculation because the strength of that brand awareness and the confidence Disney exudes makes the situation almost unthinkable. If The Force Awakens sucks, it’ll be like Babe Ruth bunting after pointing to the bleachers. And then signing a new multi-million-dollar contract the following day.
On the other hand, Star Wars is perfect as a fool-proof success specifically because it takes place in an expanded universe. J. J. Abrams’ movie could theoretically launch a billion angry nerd rants online, but everyone who writes one will still go see Boba Fett Begins when it comes out. That one could disappoint, too, and fans will still go see the Han Solo movie, and Episode VIII and whatever else Disney has inked on its calendar.
To be clear, I’m not hoping that The Force Awakens will suck. Why would I? Or anybody? I hope it’s awesome. I hope it lands on the positive side of Abrams’ coin flip batting average. More Star Trek, less Into Darkness. Even then, not so much Star Trek – which was held together mostly by force of personality.
Disney is expecting it to be the explosive launch of another money-printing franchise, and fans are expecting it to be a spectacular new adventure. So what happens – to fans, to the studio, to Star Wars – if it’s not any good?