As someone who believes the perpetual hype cycle is inherently bad for movies, I’ve sworn off commenting on teaser trailers, casting notices, plot leaks, poster designs, and all other methods used to generate publicity — and web hits — for movies that don’t yet exist. But I find my resolve weakening when faced with the news that J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars” movie, hitherto known only as “Episode VII,” now has an official title, and that title is “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
As Mallory Andrews pointed out on Twitter, “The Force Awakens” is not, categorically speaking, a worse title than “The Empire Strikes Back,” or, for that matter, substantially goofier than “Star Wars” itself. (Are the stars fighting each other? Are they being fought for?) We all had a good round of making fun of the title — within a few minutes, my Twitter feed was filled with comments about the Force hitting the snooze button, being no good before its first cup of coffee, running late for work, etc — and then the backlash set in. (We’re over that now too, in case you haven’t been keeping track.) One might reasonably ask if the Force hasn’t been awake all this time, or if it settled in for a nice nap after the defeat of the Empire, but I’m sure J.J. Abrams has some sort of relentlessly convoluted, fundamentally unimportant answer for that.
What bothers me, really, is the tense. It’s not “The Awakening of the Force,” or “The Force: Stay Woke”: It’s “The Force Awakens,” a present-tense intransitive verb that makes the latest “Star Wars” salvo sound like an installment in a TV show rather than a self-contained movie. (Episode 7, indeed.) Granted, we all know it’s part of a trilogy, but given that “Episode VIII” (“The Force Takes a Shower”?) isn’t, at last report, due out until 2017, it seems like the least we could expect from Abrams’ film is some modest form of closure. “The Force Awakens” promises the opposite, the equivalent of a closing title reading, “See You Next Wednesday,” as if the whole movie’s just been one big ad for the next one in line.
I have no idea what “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is about. I haven’t read the supposed plot spoilers circulating on the Internet, nor do I know anything but the identities of its principal cast members. But I do know that Abrams, Mr. “Mystery Box” himself, has a history of favoring plot twists and cliffhangers over coherent, satisfying storytelling, and that blockbuster movies are increasingly designed to leave you wanting more: Marvel didn’t announce its release schedule through the end of time so you could get to the end of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and think, “Yeah, that’s enough for me.” Of course “Empire,” which will likely stand forever as the best of the “Star Wars” movie, ended with its own story flagrantly unresolved, but at least Luke got his hand back. Fans have waited for new “Star Wars” movies long enough; it seems cruel, and crass, to think that “The Force Awakens” might end with little more than a come-on for the next installment.