January 15, 2018
Over the holidays, I was catching up on some PVR’ed episodes of TV, when I stumbled across a poll as part of CTV News’ TalkBackTO (similar to VOCM’s Question of the Day) asked viewers “Are you a Star Wars fan?” This newscast originally aired just a few days before Star Wars: The Last Jedi opened in theatres on December 15, 2017. The film was projected to have a $425 million global opening weekend, yet 67 percent of TalkBackTO’s responders said “NO”, they were not a Star Wars fan.
Now, we can debate the merits and validity of such polls as TalkBackTO and Question of the Day, (or you can take Political Science 3350: Public Opinion and Voting here at MUN, it’s a great course) but 67 percent seems like a high number for a movie that has gone on to rake in over $1 billion worldwide. Over one thousand people voted to say that they were not Star Wars fans, which is strange that non-fans would put in the effort to express their non-fandom. Conversely, one might wonder where all the Star Wars fans in Toronto were and why they did not vote in CTV’s poll; perhaps they were too busy taking part in the #KyloRenChallenge?
The results of this poll reminded me of a meme that was shared on my Facebook newsfeed at the time of the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens two years ago. It read, “I have no idea when the new Star Wars movie comes out because I have sex,” seemingly conjuring up images of the classic socially awkward and inept virgin nerd and suggesting only these people cared about the release of this film. The Force Awakens would go on to become the third-highest-grossing film of all time meaning that many sex-starved individuals went to see this movie.
Why is Star Wars considered such social fodder? Since Disney acquired the franchise it has arguably become even more mainstream but it was doing fine before that. When The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, I can remember the promotional tie-ins with restaurants like Pizza Hut brands like Pepsi and Doritos. Heck, I can even remember the lotto scratch cards that were released in time for Revenge of the Sith right around the time I could legally buy tickets. (Scratch three Yodas and you win!) If Star Wars wasn’t a huge pop culture phenomenon, these companies would not bother with the promotional tie-ins.
The Muse conducted an interview via email with Sarah Van Lange, Director of Communications at Cineplex about how many, and what types of people showed up to see The Last Jedi. She told us that Cineplex does not track demographic information and because they are a publicly traded company, she cannot share numbers that are specific to a particular film, theatre or province. She did say “one of the most amazing things about the Star Wars series is that it really is a cultural phenomenon and seems to resonate with movie lovers from all walks of life for a countless number of reasons.”
Van Lange also shared a personal connection with the franchise. “For me personally, one of my very first memories as a child was going to see ‘Ewoks on Ice’ with my brother, who has always been a huge Star Wars fan. To this day, thirty years later we always go to see the new films together.”
Cineplex isn’t talking demographics but I can. Star Wars truly is a cultural phenomenon that seems to resonate with movie lovers of all walks of life. I went to see The Last Jedi on opening night and there were all kinds of people there. Young and old, groups of friends, you name it, they attended. There was even a family who was wearing matching “The Force is strong with this family” t-shirts.
Star Wars is for everyone. It is for me and my brother, who bonded over the franchise. It is for my nieces who were duped into watching a movie because I told them there was a princess, “but she uses a gun and kicks butt,”; (their faces lit up when I took them to see Rogue One and the digital recreation of Carrie Fisher appeared on screen and uttered the word “hope”). Star Wars is also for the Vietnam War veteran whose dying wish was to see The Last Jedi.
It’s time to stop pretending that Star Wars is just for “nerds”, or maybe it’s time to stop pretending we aren’t all nerds? Either way, it is clearly evident that CTV Toronto’s poll was incorrect. Everybody knows who Luke Skywalker’s father is and not every movie franchise is able to capture the pop culture zeitgeist the same way that Star Wars has managed to in the past forty years and counting.