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With The Force Awakens, the circle is complete

Dr Tom Phillips, a tutor in Humanities at the University of East Anglia (UEA), researches fandom and audiences.

Dr Phillips said: “Eight months after the words ‘Chewie…we’re home’ prompted 88 million trailer views in a single day, the fever pitch around the release of a new Star Wars film is at stratospheric levels.

“When Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens opens in the UK on Dec 17, there will be something for both new fans and those with a devotion stretching back nearly four decades. For a start, it will see the return of Han Solo, as Harrison Ford reappears in the series – much to the delight of fans across the age spectrum.

“Those with a longer memory will began to think about their own generational connection to the saga, and how The Force Awakens marks the return of a more sustained fan engagement with the Star Wars brand.

“Luke Skywalker’s declaration from Return of the Jedi – ‘I’m a Jedi. Like my father before me.’ – is a sentiment resonating with many fans this week. Thinking back to the time when their fathers took them to see Star Wars, some fans are looking forward to seeing The Force Awakens with little Jedis of their own. Much like the way parents impress support of a football team on their children, fandom is something which can be inherited. “

Dr Phillips helped found the World Star Wars Project, with the aim to understand this fan devotion to Han, Princess Leia, Darth Vader and company. Launched earlier this year at UEA, the project is a 10-institution research initiative that will explore audiences’ engagement with the Star Wars film series. Currently in the first phase, the project is attempting to capture audiences’ pre-viewing strategies and expectations on the cusp of the release of The Force Awakens.

“We want to know what people are feeling before they’ve even seen it. Are they nervous given the prequel trilogy was so disappointing? How much or little do they know about The Force Awakens going in? Are spoilers the path to the Dark Side?

“Some fans are becoming worried that their experience of The Force Awakens will be soured by reviews posted online. A Google Chrome extension is available which will block out any references to the film this week.

“Yet others are going out of their way to find out as much information as they can before they go – a spoiled film can actually enhance the viewing experience. If a fan knows that the film is going to be good, they can relax in the knowledge that there isn’t another Phantom Menace on their hands. 

“Either way, the cultural impact of Star Wars can’t be overstated.

 “This pervasiveness of its influence has returned on a grand scale as a result of the release of The Force Awakens. Items as everyday as cereal, makeup, and postage stamps hint at the importance of Star Wars not just to fans, but popular culture more generally.

“As a result, the lines between fans and the general audience are becoming blurred. That The Force Awakens has already grossed in excess of $50 million in advance ticket sales suggests more kinds of audiences are allowing themselves a more fannish, emotional engagement with the series.”

For more information about Dr Phillips’s The Force Re-Awakens survey, visit The World Star Wars Project. 

To see how Star Wars trailers have changed over the years, look for more here from UEA's Dr Keith Johnston.