At this point in time, I’m sure a vast proportion of you have seen JJ Abrams’ latest blockbuster, Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Aside from its dominance over the box office and numerous Academy Award nominations, The Force Awakens is still miles ahead of its competitors in many different fields.
For one, it completely redefined what it means to be a hero in this day and age. While other releases this year decided to keep to a very safe cookie cutter outline, Star Wars did the unthinkable both on and off screen in choosing two completely unknown actors from two backgrounds poorly represented in film, women and non-white people, to helm its franchise. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega, both 23 year old aspiring actors with few credits to their name, stole the show in the latest addition to the franchise. In just one movie, Disney took these two young performers and transformed them into global superstars.
Star Wars as a franchise is revolutionising cinema just as it did when it was first born back in 1977. Back then, it managed this through ground-breaking effects and a plethora of memorable characters. Forty years later, it’s creating just as big an impact on the industry, though more through its off screen endeavours than its actual film making.
Star Wars began as a very western tale that drew heavily on the mythology of its time. The first film, Star Wars, retitled Episode IV A New Hope in 1981, took inspiration from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces and had an almost exclusively English/American cast. Fast forward to The Force Awakens in 2015 and you’ll find a representative from every continent. In promoting its international approach, The Force Awakens dominated the global box office, gaining over $1 billion in overseas territories as of January 2016.
The next instalment in the franchise, Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, boasts an ever more diverse cast, featuring actors hailing from Mexico, Denmark and China in its leading line-up. Aside from introducing the franchise to new potential viewers worldwide, a diverse cast such as this allows Star Wars to stand ahead of the crowd of action movies by pushing the boundaries of what is expected. The latest instalment in the series has shown how progressive the forty year old franchise can be and it looks set to only improve from here.
But it’s not just on screen that Star Wars is leaps and bounds ahead of the curve. In its flagship novel last year, Star Wars: Aftermath, the fans were introduced to the first openly gay protagonist in an official Star Wars property. The author, Chuck Wendig, has since been signed on for two further novels and has been praised for taking huge steps towards greater diversity in a galaxy far far away. His work, along with that of the other new Star Wars writers, has stood as an inspiration to other creators to broaden their range when it comes to all kinds of social and racial diversity both on paper and on screen.
Aside from its social progression, Star Wars has also made progress from a marketing standpoint, being one of the first films to launch a huge nationwide campaign in China, the fastest growing film market in the world. Events were held across the country, including a garrison of Stormtroopers along the Great Wall of China and theatrical rereleases of the previous six Star Wars movies. Although the final reception of the movie in China was slightly below expectations, the campaign is believed to have drastically increased ticket sales.
Disney have a further four Star Wars films in various stages of production with the intention of creating many more. As what is arguably the most successful film franchise ever created, Star Wars has clearly set its sights on challenging the preconceptions of film critics and the general public alike when it comes to diversity. For other companies where money is not a problem, such as Universal or 20th Century Fox, Disney’s foray into a region of big-risk-big-payoff will stand as an inspiration to encourage them to follow suit.