‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ and Shared Spectacle in Games

“There’s been an awakening, have you felt it?” Because everyone else has. The internet is abuzz with rampant speculation, arguments, and lengthy screeds about the first reveal for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The teaser, released last week, speeds past in a mere 88 seconds with short but chilling voice over and a few brief images from a galaxy, far, far away. Even so, the glimpse at the franchise’s rebirth has stirred up a storm of chatter and for those willing to dive in and all those hopping aboard the hype train, a year of shared excitement and conversation.

I love these types of shared cultural experiences. I remember intimately the first time that I saw Bungie’s teaser for Halo 3. I was in a packed room at PAX Prime. The teaser had already been shown at E3 earlier that year, but I don’t remember having heard about it until the moment that Martin O’Donnell’s amazing score started to play. The crowd instantly reacted as a chill passed through the room. Cortana speaks: “”I have defied gods and demons. I am your shield. I am your sword.” Even now the teaser gives me goosebumps. It recalls a shared excitement between fans, something similar to the ripple of excitement stirred up by Star Wars.

After all, Star Wars means something significant to a lot of people. For some, it’s a cherished childhood moment, for others a reminder of lasting friendships, some are just really into spaceships, and others dress up like Stormtroopers and do charitable work. It is a franchise that can bring tears to audiences in theaters just to watch the newly released trailer. Now is an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan. To participate, even to watch from the sidelines, will be an interesting and educational experience.

Take the conversations around new lightsaber for example. As soon as the claymore-like blade idea started to spread, detractors and defenders appeared from everywhere. Some balk at the idea of a lightsaber with crossguards, others, including Stephen Colbert, counter with arguments about its feasibility and utility. My favorite defense comes from Fast Company and John Brownlee who offers these words of wisdom: “the most important thing about a lightsaber’s design isn’t whether or not it’s practical to fight with in the real world. It’s what it tells us about the person holding it.”

New and improved lightsaber technology from the Star Wars: The Force Awakened teaser.

These types of conversations can be both frivolous and rewarding. By jumping into the fray around the topic of lightsaber technology, you’re jumping into a conversation about design and storytelling. This is why despite the industry’s general paranoia, I value early and open looks at games. You can hate the “hype train” all you want and all the despicable components of review and release cycles in the games industry, but there is something valuable in discussing the creative process before we see the final product. Right now, Star Wars can be anything. That opportunity to engage with potential is a fascinating process.

The value of shared spectacle in games and cinema doesn’t stop there. Discussing the possible narrative arcs of the film, analyzing the minutiae of a shot or the extended fiction makes storytellers of us all. Those participating in rampant speculation are essentially drafting their own stories, measuring what they would find satisfying and rewarding for themselves. Even the conversations around race that have arisen, especially regarding John Boyega’s appearance as a Stormtrooper, can offer important perspectives to reach popular awareness. Race in cinema has a long and troubled history that has been far too easy for the public to ignore. It is still an issue and we should embrace the chance to have the conversation again so publicly.

When similar opportunities present themselves around games, we can and should engage with them also. Critics were right to question the lack of women in the Call of Duty franchise, for example, and of course we should welcome conversations about the depiction of race and gender in major gaming franchises. Likewise, game fans have long participated in rampant speculation about upcoming games. From fan fiction to theorycrafting, sharing in the spectacle of a game’s release is a great opportunity to engage with art, even before release.

Not a big Star Wars fan? Cautious about what J.J. Abrams might do to the franchise? Set those things aside and dive into the chatter about one of the biggest film releases in years. You have an opportunity to join in the shared process of anticipation. At the very least you will be ready to analyze the early looks at the next Star Wars: Battlefront. Are you excited? You should be.