Some people will tell you that Star Wars is dead. Theyíll say the prequels killed the saga and that no one is interested anymore. Up until a week ago, I would not have disagreed. I was on the nay-saying bandwagon, and I was ready for a lackluster response to this summerís release of Clone Wars to be the end of the sagaís reign on the pop culture throne. That mindset in place, I ventured to the San Diego Toys Rí Us for the Clone Wars Midnight Madness Toy Release last Friday July 25.† I mentally prepared myself to be greeted by the handful of devoted Star Wars fans who would be there to wax poetic on the celebrated seriesí waning popularity.
I’ve never been more satisfied with being wrong. The line consisted of several-hundred fanboys (and fangirls and fankids) by the time I arrived at the store.† Not only was there a several hour wait from where I stood; but apparently the first folks in line had been at the location since nine oíclock that night, highly anticipating the brand-new product being debuted at the stroke of twelve. Standing in line in front of us were some other collectors (and forum admins from a Star Wars collecting site, if you can believe it!), and we all discussed the current pulse of the original fanboy nation, particularly in regard to Clone Wars.† Needless to say, the naysayers have no clue into what is happening, at least not among those loyal to the throne of George Lucas.
Star Wars may not be as strong as it was in the late 90’s when the re-emergence of the action figure line, as well as announcement of The Phantom Menace, sent the world into a frenzy.† Nor is the hype as high as it was when audiences saw the first ‘breathing’ teaser for Attack of the Clones or when word hit that Revenge of the Sith was ‘surprisingly good’. No, not this time. This summer, the mass media interest is casually (and cautiously) curious, at best; and for those of us who left the church of Lucas to seek fulfillment elsewhere, there is little more than a relatively apathetic uncertainty about this latest project.
But thatís just the perspective of disillusioned so far as one could tell from Fridayís turn-out. Among those still in the Star-Wars-know, the brand is as alive and vibrant as it has been in recent history. In fact, some fans are more hailing this latest theatrical run for the Star Wars universe as important (if not more important) than previous ones; but surprisingly, the fandomís collective support has less to do with the content than the context.
From a Star Wars fan’s perspective, the importance of the Clone Wars release into theaters has very little to do with what lore is being explored but rather, that Star Wars is back in theaters at all. In the opinion of a large number of fans, it should not be. For the uninitiated, the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars film, due in theaters on August 15th this year, is not even a movie… or at least was not conceived as such. The film is actually the first four episodes of a series debuting on Cartoon Network this fall.† These episodes are combined to tell a singular story that will both introduce this newest installment in Star Wars lore as well as advertise the continued series. The arrival of the film in theaters is a shot of adrenaline to the Star Wars brand and fans could not be happier to support it. Itís Star Wars after all, and itís back on the big screen.
Of course, there are more people invested in the Star Wars franchise than your average fanboy. Children, the obvious market to whom Lucas has been catering to for the last 10 years (Revenge of the Sith does not change that), are as excited as ever to see more Star Wars. In fact, for many of the little ones who did not catch Sith in theaters, Clone Wars will be their big-screen inauguration into the Star Wars universe.† Those that have seen the saga in the big, noisy theater will affirm that itís a far different experience than a DVD viewing.
Leave it to George Lucas to hatch a plan this maniacally clever. Not only will the profits from the pseudo-filmís theatrical run likely pay for the entire run of the cartoon, but it will also announce and advertise the series (as well as the usual mountain of merchandise) to everyone who may be skipping TV but venturing into a movie theaters this summer. If box-office returns from Indiana Jones and The Dark Knight are any indication, Star Wars can return to prominence among both devoted fans as well as new viewers.
Of course, we’ll have to see if this latest endeavor can bring back the strays like myself. Even the tractorbeam-esque pull of brand new figures and a store exclusive were not enough to keep me in line (I gave up after about an hour, having progressed only 20 feet). But it’s not guys like me who will drive the success of the brand. Between the aforementioned die-hard fans and the kiddies, Star Wars still has its supporters, and the brand is much more alive than many of us had considered. It may not be getting the royal treatment through special episodes of Entertainment Tonight but as far as the fans are concerned, Star Wars is still king.
You can read more of C.J.’s musings on film, toys and music over at stunksstage.com.