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How a galaxy far, far away became an obsession on planet Earth

"Star Wars: The Force Awakens" isn't just a movie. It's part of a universe, both imaginary and real, that has obsessed fans since the 1970s. Jeffrey Brown explores what’s made the enduring franchise a storytelling and moneymaking powerhouse.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now the ever- continuing, and yes, inescapable saga of “Star Wars”, as the feature film, “Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” opens nationwide this weekend, including at some theaters tonight.

    Jeffrey Brown has our look at what’s become a touchstone of movie storytelling and money- making.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    We could say the force has reawakened. But for its fervent fans, and they are legion, it’s barely taken a nap, not since the late 1970s.

    They were out in force at the frenzied, glittery, weird and wild Los Angeles premier earlier this week.

  • CHARACTER:

    Nothing will stand in our way.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    To see the start of a new trilogy for a series, franchise, a universe that can seemingly go on forever.

    In his article, “The force will be with us always”, Adam Rogers of “Wired Magazine” refers to “Star Wars” as an example of a paracosm.

  • ADAM ROGERS, Articles Editor, Wired Magazine:

    A paracosm is in psychology terms, an imaginary world. In the case of the “Star Wars” movie, you can have a year zero and go forward and back and just set stories in the paracosm and people are familiar, oh it is a “Star Wars” story. These universes are designed to not end and not even begin. They can stretch 10,000 in either direction, “Star Wars” especially.

  • MAN:

    An adventure unlike anything on your planet.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It all back in 1977.

    Filmmaker George Lucas brought out the first “Star Wars,” introducing the world of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Hans Solo and a host of other characters, human and decidedly not so.

  • C3PO:

    I am C-3PO, a human cyborg relations.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Its enormous success, as Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday says, came as a surprise.

  • ANN HORNADAY, Film Critic, The Washington Post:

    They didn’t think it would do much. Nobody thought it would do much.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The expectations weren’t low.

  • ANN HORNADAY:

    Expectations were incredibly how but Hollywood, I think, was so desperate for something consistent to work with like a model or template that they thought if they could just repeat and rebottle that lightning over and over again, that they would do it. So, that is why we have our superhero comic book franchise culture today.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The beginning of the franchise.

  • ANN HORNADAY:

    Oh, absolutely.

  • CHARACTER:

    Here is a path to the dark side.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    The second trilogy unfolded between 1999 and 2005. And now, the story expands, in a film directed by JJ Abrams.

    Speaking to Jimmy Kimmel, the director explained he was reluctant at first to take it on.

  • JJ ABRAMS, FILMMAKER:

    I was only reluctant because: A, I love the movie “Star Wars” so much. I love the original trilogy. I was 11 years old when I saw the first one. It had a profound impact on me. And so, the idea of getting so close to something kind of scared me a little bit.

  • CHARACTER:

    I will show you the dark side.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    “The Force Awakens ” introduces a new cast.

  • CHARACTER:

    I don’t know your name.

  • CHARACTER:

    Finn, what’s yours.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac.

    While tying into the original trilogy with the presence of its stars.

  • CHARACTER:

    If I need this.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It’s a purposeful approach to casting that keeps the story moving in all directions.

  • ADAM ROGERS:

    Because characters can enter and then leave. In the “Star Wars” universe, that they are building right now, characters can die and that’s OK because that is what happens in a real universe. And then new characters can come in and you can keep making movies about them.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    It’s a story-telling and money-making power house. Disney bought the franchise in 2012 for a galactic $4 billion. Advance ticket sales for the new film have already broken records.

    And investment bank Goldman Sachs predicts “The Force Awakens” will take in some $8 billion all together. The breakdown, about $2 billion in global box office, and $6 billion in retail sales, new games and gadgets, of course.

  • MAN:

    You keep mac and cheese in here?

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    But also branded mac ‘n cheese.

  • MAN:

    “Star Wars” Kraft macaroni and cheese.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Data plan deals.

  • MAN:

    Because when data, it is your only hope, better matters.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    “Star Wars” dodge caravan processions.

  • MAN:

    We’re going to need more valets.

  • MAN:

    You can build the millennium falcon to defeat them.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And a whole lot more, films and merchandising hands in hand.

  • ANN HORNADAY:

    Part of this generation’s fascination, it does have to do with the merchandising, and the toys and ubiquity of the projects, and then there was the Saturday morning cartoons. I mean, this universe, these characters and these narratives have taken all these different forms and these different platforms that you and I might not even be aware of, but it show carried generation after generation, so that we can arrive at this place and time.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    A loyal fan base in fact lives in this place and time, inhabiting the “Star Wars” universe, all across planet earth. You see it in Japan.

  • MAN:

    Hello, Tokyo.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Australia.

  • MAN:

    So exciting. We’re going to need your support.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And Mexico.

    (CHANTING)

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And millions more of us it seems are ready to go along for the ride with every any turn.

  • ADAM ROGERS:

    “Star Wars” transcends again in some ways. It becomes whatever we bring to it. It is western, it’s science fiction, it’s fantasy, it’s philosophy, it’s a family drama. It becomes a thing that all of us can connect to on some level.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And the new film does it live up to the hoopla? Well, early reviews including from “The Washington Post’s” Ann Hornaday are strongly positive — though I wondered aloud how much that even matters.

    This movie sort of comes presold, right?

  • ANN HORNADAY:

    Yes.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    I mean, is it critic-proof? Does it — I hate to say it, to put it on you, but does matter what you say to anybody?

  • ANN HORNADAY:

    Probably not. And again, going back to how this changed the movies, that is another piece. It introduced that idea to a presold audience and that is increasingly what Hollywood has wanted over the last 20, 30 years, is something that comes ready made. They call it execution dependent. It’s not execute — it does matter if the movie is bad or good but they will come because they are curious and they’re loyal. So, you’re probably right that the critics don’t matter, but we’ll try to make our presence felt anyway.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    She will have her work cut out for her. Disney plans to roll out at least five more “Star Wars” films over the next few years.

    From a galaxy quite near you, I’m Jeffry Brown for the PBS NewsHour.

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