Weekend Forecast for December 15-17, 2017
By Reagen Sulewski
December 14, 2017
After last week's punt on new releases, a beloved franchise returns to the screen... oh, and there's some other sci-fi thing too.
Two years ago, the J.J. Abrams-led revival of the Star Wars franchise under the Disney umbrella (though with the Fox purchase this week, this just feels like closing a loop), shattered basically all modern box office records with a $247 million opening weekend on its way to nearly $1 billion domestic (though it still sits short of the worldwide record). On a slightly accelerated scheduled from the original series and the prequels, we get Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (oh, but I bet you're lying about that...)
We pick up basically where we left off last time, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) under the tutelage of Luke (Mark Hamill, making his first real return to the series after last time's glorified cameo), while elsewhere in the galaxy, members of the new rebellion go after the remaining forces of the First Order (hopefully not another "Blow Up The Big Base" mission). Plot details are tightly held secrets, but there are hints at larger scale battles as well as multiple examples of the one-on-one character building confrontations that Star Wars likes to set up, leading to a set up of the final entry in this new trilogy where they'll finally finish off this Dark Side business for good, right?
It's a bit of an open question now how this “main series every other year/side stories the other” plan will work and whether it will remove some of the specialness or cause fatigue. It's not a small part of the argument of why episode VII opened so strongly that it was fulfilling a need of something scarce. What happens when Star Wars becomes commonplace? Then again, we're talking about the studio that can throw out three or four super hero movies a year with no ill effect, so maybe we should all just shut up.
Hype is a difficult thing to track, especially when we're dealing with redlined franchises like this. Without having a quantifiable thing to put our fingers on, it certainly feels like there's a palpable decrease in excitement for this edition, if only slightly so. There was a pressure that was relieved by the release of The Force Awakens, and while there's still going to be a mad rush to the theaters this weekend, I just don't foresee another leap in opening weekends – the new plateau has been reached, and it seems like we'll need something else to make that next leap. Additionally, this is a middle entry in the franchise, and you usually see an increase in interest for the end of something, not the middle. There are of course, plenty of examples of franchises that grew throughout, but they were usually ones that started small or had to build awareness. There are Amazon tribes that know about Star Wars.
Reviews are fairly ecstatic – though there was little danger of this not being true. Remember that The Phantom Menace received almost universally fresh reviews, which now... yeah... sure. It's a series with a difficult relationship with honest criticism, or at least, for critics to view this through non-fanboy lenses. That said, The Force Awakens was clearly better than all of the prequels put together, so it's not hard to imagine it's on that level, particularly with the switch to Rian Johnson (Looper, Brick) behind the camera and responsible for the script.