We often think of marketing as being about either awareness or persuasion. It seems impossible that Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which opens December 18) needs either one, given its astronomically high profile and the fact that curiosity alone will drive plenty of ticket sales, even for those who will take pleasure in being recreationally disappointed.
And yet, the film continues — as it did during a splashy event at Comic-Con this summer — to market itself hard. Monday night during Monday Night Football, a new trailer appeared that set off precisely the social-media insanity that the production presumably dreamed of.
Not only that, but at the same time (actually, by many reports, somewhat earlier), advance tickets went on sale, with the completely predictable result that ticket sites were jammed up. That had the completely predictable additional result that the film was said to have "broken the internet," which seems a bit hyperbolic. (Anecdote: I bought a ticket for opening night at my local theater without any trouble after 11:30 AM on Tuesday.)
Everything seems to be going perfectly according to plan, with fans getting enough material to chew on together for the next two months while they wait, more casual viewers being invited to remember how much they liked Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford, new viewers spotting Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and other fresh faces to the franchise, and a little Star Wars music for everyone.
The interesting question, maybe, is how big this movie has to be — what it has to do — for all this marketing to be considered a success. The first weekend will be enormous and always was going to be enormous, despite the lukewarm (LUKE? GET IT?) reception that the prequels got a few years ago. It's going to be huge, no matter how good it is. It will get plenty of coverage. It will get plenty of attention. Looking at this film, we all become, at some point, Charlie Sheen in Wall Street, asking Michael Douglas how many yachts he can water-ski behind. How much money can one movie make? How much can it be expected to make? How much can it claim to have made already, two months before anyone sees it? What's the biggest that a big movie can get? Is any result short of the biggest film opening of all time going to look like defeat?
As much as anything, Star Wars: The Force Awakens may wind up being a study in gargantuan commercial pushes and just how much ... er, force they can exert.