The actor was pretty dismissive of the iconic trilogy that hit cinemas between 1977 and 1983, and his part in it. Yet most of the excitement surrounding Disney's first foray into Jedi territory stems from its connection to that 30-year-old triptych. With Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher all confirmed to revisit the long-running space saga, not to mention the return of original Chewbacca, R2D2 and C3PO in the form of Peter Mayhew, Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels, Abrams could not have cooked up a more impressive old-school feelgood factor had he managed to resurrect Guinness himself using the power of the Force (and a MacBook Pro).
Earlier this week The Wrap reported some analysts suggesting Episode VII might reach $2bn at the worldwide box office, a figure that only James Cameron's Titanic and Avatar films have previously attained. If Abrams gets the blend of old and new just right, that seems a reasonable proposition: 2012's The Avengers, despite having been hyped to high heaven via a series of origins movies starring members Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, generated nothing like the column inches already being afforded to Episode VII – and that film managed $1.5bn globally. The extremely well reviewed last James Bond movie, Skyfall, passed the $1bn mark despite the history of 007 as a relatively meagre performer at the box office.
In a market that's seeing the increasing growth of China and other territories, could the first "proper" Star Wars movie in 30 years (in the eyes of prequel trilogy naysayers) even become the highest-grossing film of all time?
To do that it would have to pass Avatar's $2.78bn haul, most probably becoming the world's first $3bn movie in the process. If you think that's pie in the sky, it's worth taking a look back at Star Wars history.
The first film in George Lucas's saga, 1977's Star Wars (forget the retro-active "New Hope" baloney) is famous for helping to usher in the blockbuster era. "Only a few thousand people knew about Star Wars when it first arrived in cinemas, but it spread like wildfire and soon there were queues everywhere," producer Gary Kurtz told me in 2011. "We knew there were hardcore sci-fi fans who would fill cinemas for a couple of weeks, but afterwards we thought it would settle down and maybe make its money back for 20th Century Fox. Instead it just ran and ran, staying in some cinemas for nine months, which is almost unheard of today."
To hit $3bn, Abrams will need to achieve something similar. Movies don't open in the same way in 2014 as they did in 1977. Most of a particular film's box office is usually generated in the first few weeks. But movies such as Avatar, Titanic and (in Britain) Mamma Mia! picked up their enormous totals by persuading filmgoers to return two, three, four times to see the same feature. If Star Wars: Episode VII can tap into the same "event movie" spirit that its predecessors virtually invented, it might just deliver.
The key, as Obi-Wan might have warned, is balance. Few warmed to Harrison Ford's return as Indiana Jones in the dreadful The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008. It wasn't so much that Ford was too ancient for the role, more that the movie's old-fashioned adventure matinee stylings clashed awfully with the film's uber-modern, CGI-heavy look. Abrams is rumoured to be plumping for an old-school special effects framing for Episode VII, with the original stars centre stage and younger supporting characters primed to gain greater relevancy in future instalments. But can Ford, Hamill and Fisher really be expected to carry a movie that needs to feel like more than a nostalgia trip if it is to launch a successful new trilogy? The pressure on Abrams after the failure of the prequel series with critics and fans is immense.
How the film deals with its transition from older characters to the younger generation will be key. Lucas and Steven Spielberg foolishly picked Shia LaBeouf, then widely seen as a lightweight star of throwaway teen movies, as the younger counterweight to Ford's sexagenarian tomb raider in Crystal Skull, generating negative reactions from fans. Abrams has wisely plumped for a series of thesps who have proved themselves in arthouse or cult fare, sometimes both, as well as at least one unknown in the form of English actor Daisy Ridley. By the end of the movie, these will need to carry the same weight with filmgoers as their forebears, a tough task indeed.
Abrams faces a task just as daunting as Solo's successful piloting of the Millennium Falcon through the raging Hoth asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back. Fingers crossed, nobody has told him the odds.
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