The Force has Awakened - Now What?by Todd King, contributing writer
Disney has got to be pleased with the success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We all knew, as well as Disney, that the movie would be a hit and make good on its box office returns, but we didn't know how great would be that success.
There must have been a lot of questions in the minds of Disney execs about how the movie would be perceived by fans, and whether newcomers to the franchise would love it. They may have also considered the possibility of any quick or major backlash that could have come out of nowhere. Perhaps they even feared the movie would only have a very strong opening weekend then slide off the map. It seems silly to now think it could have been a flop especially when it already had great reactions to trailers and its early ticket sales were enormous. But we live in a world of unpredictability. Disney is pleased because they put their trust in Lucasfilm, in the people running the company, and in the director of the film and it all paid off.
Before the prequel trilogy came out, there was a lot of positive suppositions about its inevitable success. But in the longer run, the movies haven't enjoyed completely favorable reviews. When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, it had a great deal of hype and promise. While it remains a financial success, over time it has been met with a wave of backlash that started around the end of its theatrical run. Much of that backlash against it remains to this day and argues against aspects of the film itself including racial stereotypes in the voice-acting, a noticeable overabundance of computer-generated imagery, a meandering and confusing plot, and a conspicuously out-of-place character meant for cheap comic relief. With the new movie, I believe Disney might have been worried about this kind of descending reaction with The Force Awakens if fans and newcomers found problems that the filmmakers couldn't foresee.
Even if the financial side of Episode VIIwas a billion times perky, if a large negative tone formed around the reactions to the movie, Disney would worry about it tainting its huge long-term plans of more Star Wars movies and parks. And now in 2016, fans would be quicker than they were some 16 years ago to ignite such flames and hit the Internet with antagonistic commentary.
As it is, The Force Awakens is breaking all kinds of box office records to becoming the biggest hit in the United States, and second place in world totals. That is, of course, nothing to sneeze at. Sure, there were many of us who felt certain the movie would be a major blockbuster, but as a business, Disney and Lucasfilm could only wait and see the actual numbers. But as with Episode I, the financial success isn't everything. Fortunately, this new film is being met with great reviews from critics and fans alike.
Most fans and movie-enthusiasts are assuredly positive about the movie and excited to see and experience more. There do exist negative reviews and responses, but they aren't overshadowing the movie's startling run. In general, the new movie felt more like a true Star Wars story, one that was realistic and full of living environments—and above all, likable and even complicated people, old and new. There simply is a lot to love.
While negative reviews focus on the derivative nature of the film, that it borrows too much from the original trilogy, much of the new stuff—including admirable heroes like Rey, Finn, and Poe and complex villains like Kylo Ren—balances against the familiar ideas and make it exciting. For a positive look, here's a shoutout to fellow MousePlanet writer Chris Barry, who devoted his January edition of "My Disney Top 5" to The Force Awakens, with a positive review. He echoes many of my upbeat sentiments about the film.
What does the success of The Force Awakens mean moving forward? It means Disney can move ahead with all of its Star Wars plans with a great sense of confidence. A lot was riding on the success of this movie, and it accomplished everything it needed to do—and did so with flying colors. The merchandise will fly off shelves, DVD and digital pre-orders will be in high numbers, the hype and anticipation for the next movies, Rogue One and Episode VIII, will be more than favorable. And of course, the park construction for rides and attractions will have the best effort put into them.
Fans, audiences, and guests will be greatly excited for the new Star Wars experiences to come because this whole new Disney-led initiative got off to such a fantastic start. The movie's supernova status means it's all lightsaber rainbows from here on out. Stuff just got real.
Star Tours: The Adventure Continues at Disney's Hollywood Studios now has new signs that show off images inspired by the new scene just added to the attraction based on the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens film (opening December 18). All rides on Star Tours currently include the new scene. Photo by Alan S. Dalinka.
Disney has already begun its massive Star Wars plans with the addition of a new scene from The Force Awakens as part of the the Star Tours ride. There also is the "Seasons of the Force" theming in Disneyland and the addition of the Launch Bay exhibit in both American parks. This month, they are breaking ground for Disneyland's Star Wars land by closing much of the Thunder Ranch area. In Walt Disney World, the "Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show" is scheduled to close April 2 to make way for Disney Hollywood Studios' Star Wars land. New merchandise is already available in Disney Parks, from clothes to pins to toys. Kylo Ren will be a new character to meet in the parks as well. As Finn said in the movie, "Are we really doing this?" With all this happening, it seems now that plans have turned into actions. Let the waiting begin.
Now that this new era of the Star Wars movie saga has started, my eyes turn toward the anticipation of the Disney park construction. With no opening date yet announced, it's time to go back into speculation mode for a little bit and ponder the upcoming Star Wars land and its attractions. I was originally apprehensive that too much emphasis on the new movie in Star Wars land would be detrimental to fans' expectations, but that was before seeing the new film. Now, I think we'll be much more warm to the idea. Like the movie, I still believe the new park will feature a great mix of old and new aspects from the franchise, but we have yet to see any details other than the original concept drawings.
Another look at the original concept drawing
If we go back to original concept drawings, we may be able to figure out a little bit more about the proposed environments. We can determine that the Millennium Falcon appears to be parked on Takodana, the home of the character Maz. While the movie did not spend much time there, it is a place where it seemed everything converged: our heroes were there (Rey, Finn, Han, Chewbacca) to meet with Maz (where she has a cantina) when the First Order arrives (including stormtroopers and Kylo Ren) in an ambush.
The Resistance also shows up (including Leia) to save the good guys. It is also important to note that this is place where Rey comments the planet is beautiful. The site is one of more Earth-looking destinations in the saga. That look makes it an understandable choice for building a beautiful theme park.
No matter the theme, it was most always a philosophy of Walt Disney to make his parks beautiful first, then concentrate on the experiences. Relate that to Disney's choice of the style for the first Haunted Mansion in Disneyland: a run-down ramshackle house? Or a nice-looking New Orleans-style mansion? Even though it is supposed to be haunted, the idea of a beautiful house for it seemed contradictory to what a place full of haunts should look like. It wasn't until Disney said, "We'll take care of the outside, the ghosts will take care of the inside," that the park wouldn't be locked to its theme and be limited in such a way as to take away from the natural beauty of the park's surroundings.
You can enjoy a very pleasant day in the park without ever going inside one of the attractions; it simply is a nice place to be. Personally, I like how New Orleans Square feels like a street with French and Southern architecture meeting to create a medley of comfortable sights along with jazzy sounds and warm food. But then, if you explore just a little bit and go through the doors of one of those houses, they seem like welcoming houses—then you'll find yourself transported away to a pirate's cove or to a spirit-filled ballroom.
Having Star Wars set around Takodana may hold the same kind of philosophy as Walt's longstanding ideas for layout. The area may not seem to be the most familiar, but it is beautiful and pleasant, and will encourage exploration. When I started to first consider the Star Wars park, I thought Tatooine would be the best choice to transport guests to Star Wars. But using a desert scene like Tatooine or Jakku just doesn't look fun. Tatooine is vast and desolate while Jakku is like a boneyard of ship remains. Takodana will present a more welcoming atmosphere. And the movie presented it as one of the only places where the characters had a little respite.
Maz’s place was supposed to be a safe one where people could find help and get on their way. The more I think about it, the more I'm liking this scene as a place to enter the new Star Wars world for ourselves. Perhaps I'm all wrong and this isn't Takodana at all. If so, the philosophy is the same—it's a beautiful place for guests. In any case, the Millennium Falcon is the centerpiece and you can't get more familiar or cool than that!
We have a long way to go before the new Star Wars land will open; we will have a couple more movies by the time the ribbon is cut. Until then, there is a lot to look forward to and we have many unanswered questions. Here are some questions I hope we get answered within the next two years: Who is Rey and who are her parents? When will Star Wars land open? What will Luke do now that he is back? What actual attractions will be in the parks? What is Kylo Ren's next move? Will the park open up some truly new immersive experiences that will blow us away? Here's hoping.