Hype is a funny thing. There’s an entire subculture of geekdom based around speculation, fan theories and micro-analysis of upcoming films, games and shows ranging from the MCU to the Ghostbusters remake. Star Wars is no exception, with several sites like Making Star Wars and Theforce.net delving into leaked photos, combing through JJ interviews and piecing together bits and bobs from press releases and Instagram pics. In a way, it’s almost as if diehard Star Wars hype-heads are treating the films pre-release stage as a sort of elaborate easter egg hunt, combing through every trailer and every blurb on the back of every action figure in the hopes of discovering clues about the upcoming film’s plot.
Back in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000s, this sort of rampant speculation would have easily been dismissed as simply nerds doing their thing, but nowadays “nerds doing their thing” mean big bucks for click-driven news and entertainment sites like IGN, Cinemablend and Newsarama. Several speculative pieces based on fan theories and leaked details have made their way around the internet, resulting in what seems to be a new, earth-shattering revelation about Luke being evil or Darth Vader clones being the main antagonists of the new movie. Some believe that Rey and Kylo Ren are stand-ins for the Pre-Disney EU’s Jacen and Jaina Solo, and that Chewbacca and Han will end up dying near the end of the film.
It’s this sort of obsessive spoiler-hunting and theorizing that honestly makes me feel no matter how good The Force Awakens ends up being, the end result will most likely disappoint hardcore fans. As a beta tester for a couple video games, I’ve had the opportunity to experience the gaming equivalent of this sort of thing quite often. Usually, a game will come out that has a lot of hype riding on it (such as say, Star Wars: Battlefront), and will be scooped up via beta invites by rabid fans who then turn around and hate it because they got burnt out too quickly. To make matters worse, many game developers (particularly Kickstarter-focused ones) add to this burnout by promising larger-than-life features and nostalgic whimsy which…is basically the same thing as every recent Star Wars ad. I may be really overthinking things here, but as someone who’s been burned by the hype beast on more than one occasion, this sort of nostalgia-bait advertising is a huge red flag that disappointment is nigh.
Not convinced? Let me illustrate this principle in action with a little thought experiment. Imagine if you will, that JJ Abrams intended Luke to turn to the dark side. In an internet without incessant Twitter sharing and leak/theory articles, this sort of twist would be considered groundbreaking and memorable. But in a world where “Luke goes bad” is probably the sanest theory incessantly spammed by the likes of Gawker and Entertainment Weekly, I feel that any surprise Abrams intended for us will feel like a far cry away from Vader’s twist near the end of Empire. Why? Because the chances that the actual reveal will be anywhere near as shocking as the speculated deaths, returns or resurrections of beloved characters is about as good as Jar Jar’s chance of appearing in the film. Add a sappy, emotionally-charged ad campaign to the mix, and Force Awakens is left with a bar raised so dangerously high, it’ll be a goddamn miracle if this thing manages to please anyone. Sure, it’ll get good reviews like Phantom Menace did, but will fans accept it? Perhaps not, if the reveals and plot details in their heads end up making the actual movie seem lame by comparison.
Some franchises such as Marvel, have actually managed to make the hype machine work in their favor, but the fact that Disney struck gold with that particular franchise doesn’t mean Star Wars will end up the same. Unlike Marvel, the Star Wars franchise can’t just shrug off a “meh” film like Thor or Incredible Hulk. The ad campaigns have literally promised us an experience straight from our childhoods, and if that somehow backfires due to overly-high fan expectations, plot issues or other problems, there’s not much that can be done to repair the franchise. For the sake of Star Wars, let’s hope The Force is truly with The Force Awakens.