Star Wars Empire Strikes Back-2

For studios, having fans obsess over major properties is a current cost of doing business

The Huffington Post has published a piece suggesting that fans “stop freaking out” about the next chapter in the “Star Wars” saga. Well, good luck with that.

That’s not to say the column doesn’t make legitimate points about the history of the “Star Wars” franchise, including pre-release concerns about “The Empire Strikes Back,” the best of the six existing movies.

What the article ignores, rather, is the fundamental nature of modern fandom, one that studios have for better or worse embraced, despite the niggling and irritating aspects when it comes to nitpicking and second-guessing filmmakers.

Asking “Star Wars” fans to stop “freaking out” about the future care and handling of the characters is sort of like pleading with Laker fans to stop worrying about their playoff prospects in November. It’s a nice thought, but essentially runs counter to what defines them as “fans” in the way the term is currently understood.

Studios have known this ever since they discovered and co-opted Comic-Con, realizing that the ability to directly address and tap into that passionate audience was worth the headaches associated with engaging them. Sure, they might agonize over a movie whose release date is still two years away, but they’re also the first folks in line, and the ones who stock their houses with DVDs, books and action figures (for their kids — yeah, that’s it. For the kids).

Producer-director J.J. Abrams is no doubt more keenly aware of this than anybody, having already taken over stewardship of “Star Trek,” a property whose fan base has set the standard for torch-carrying and “freaking out” for decades. (If you’ve never seen it, William Shatner’s “Saturday Night Live” skit about Trekkers — where he finally barks “Get a life!” — satirically captures the extremes of this contingent.)

Given that, if anyone responsible for “Star Wars” is irked at this point about the noise surrounding Episode VII, to paraphrase Super-Chicken, they knew the job was dangerous when they took it.

Disney, obviously, has a lot riding on the seventh movie, which will go a long way toward justifying its acquisition of Lucasfilm. Still, there’s something a whole lot worse than having fans who “freak out” over the smallest of details — namely, not having the comfort of a built-in audience that desperately, sometimes aggravatingly, cares.

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