Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Theme-Marketing Integration Part 1, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Theme-Marketing Integration

Part 1
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Today, we'll examine why Star Wars: The Force Awakens was such a runaway box office success, even as Twitter and blogs filled up with anguished criticism. Facebook, likewise, overflowed with malaise and ennui, disappointment and boredom.

The film was a runaway HIT with some people, and a complete failure with others.

You've seen that with Star Trek "reboots" as well, and even felt it.

You love a film, and walk out of the theater giddy with inspiration, say something on Twitter and get flooded with negative comments.

Why this division of opinion?

Why so many see the film again and again, even if it is boring?

It is possible the answer to that question lies in Theme-Marketing Integration - a topic we have not discussed in detail, though we've explored Theme and Marketing.

If you think about it, Theme-Marketing Integration techniques are also being applied to the Presidential Election race, and the division in the audience runs similarly -- vehement opposition countered by enraptured worship.

So let's see if we can figure out why Star Wars: The Force Awakens is so popular and so disappointing at the same time.  What happened? What did "they" do ( well, J. J. Abrams who is also an architect behind Star Trek reboot).  Once you understand what they did and why, you can decide for yourself whether you want to do that with your own Science Fiction Romance.

Yes, Star Wars has all the ingredients of Science Fiction Romance, but does not exploit them for plot or story purposes.  The reason for that may become clear as we examine Theme-Marketing Integration.

This new series, theme-marketing integration, is a spinoff from Marketing Fiction In A Changing World.


The world changes, is changing, will change.  Nothing in fiction is set in stone -- including Stone Age Drawings.

Cave Painters aimed their art at their current audience (not at us), and depicted what they knew, what they wanted others to remember, and what they needed their children to know.  Cave Paintings have theme.


Short, pithy article noting this may be a depiction of a volcanic eruption, prevalent at that time. That is a theme - hunting is dangerous.

Consider, Cave Painters and shamans of the time didn't live very long, and "lore" got lost as parents died before children reached adolescence.

Those Cave Painters may be the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution we live with today -- because their Art transmitted Information to those who were infants at the time it was painted, or perhaps not even born.

In other words, as the old saying goes, we stand on the shoulders of giants.  This is true in novel writing and all artforms.

It is because of the knowledge and understanding gained by our ancestors that we have the easy life we have today -- and the hard life.  It is because of the records they left us and our effort to comprehend and build on that record that we have this modern world.

Today, our art is more ephemeral, preserved mostly just as electrons, perhaps illegible to future devices.  But we are depicting the pithy essence of our world and the life we live now.

Here is the Index to the series on Depicting:


The foundation for understanding Marketing is the understanding of "Demographics" -- separating and classifying people by age, gender, income level, education, native language, and then "targeting" something members of each group have in common with other members of their group.

Obviously, everyone is a member of all those groups, and when you assemble all the groups you are a member of, you find you are unique and don't march to the same drummer that others do.

However, sales statistics do reveal commonality.

Statistics only work in one direction -- predicting behavior of large groups of people.  There is no way to use statistics to predict the behavior of any specific individual, so therefore, to marketers individuals do not matter.

Grasp that firmly and never let go.

OK, given that Marketing is about hitting the largest number of a particular group or Group of Groups, with something they all want, lets look at one clue that we've discussed previously about how to understand why certain movies or books become popular.

Here's the previous post where we discussed Pluto and Plotting:


Here is a quote from way down that long post:

Pluto takes 250 years to circle the sun, but it's in each sign (or 30 degree swatch of the zodiac) for different lengths of time.

Remember to add say 15-20 years to see when these folks would have an impact on amusement markets because they have disposable income.

PLUTO IN LEO 1939 - 1957 (Became The Flower Children of 1960's and '70's)

PLUTO IN VIRGO generation 1958 - 1972 (Gen X)

PLUTO IN LIBRA generation (assimilating out of justice?) Late 1971 - 1984 (Gen Y? sort of)

PLUTO IN SCORPIO generation 1985-1995 or so (video game generation?)

PLUTO IN SAGITTARIUS generation 1995-2008


The popular press uses the 20 year swatch for a "generation" usually, or a demographic bulge of kids all born within 10 years to define a "generation." But think about the list above and see if it doesn't make better sense than the popular press definitions.
---------end quote----------

This Pluto cycle is the best explanation for the Generation Gap effect in taste that I've ever come across.

Pluto, in Astrology, can be understood as the Power that drives action. Other elements in a Natal Chart or transits will define goals, strategy, tactics, wishes, needs, ideals, drives and ambitions, but once all those elements carve out a path of action, Pluto is the source of power.

Mars triggers or starts action, Pluto finishes it.

So, as a writer always thinking Character and Story, I think of Pluto as "at all costs."  What will a character do to achieve a given goal (that's the plot, driving toward a goal), at all costs?  What is a Character willing to pay, to give up, to attain this specific goal at all costs?  The implacable, ruthless drive toward a goal is the signature of Pluto in action.

When targeting an age-demographic, a marketer looks (usually unconsciously) at the "at all costs" mechanism driving that age-group.

So look again at the Generational Positions of Pluto -- and remember, any given individual may have other planets, signs, aspects, that divert Pluto's energy in their life into something totally different than their age-mates, and Marketers just don't care about those individuals.

Remember, 20 years after birth, a generation makes its first mark on the world -- today, it may be more like 18, the voting age.

PLUTO IN LEO 1939 - 1957 (Became The Flower Children of 1960's and '70's) The flower children were all about "doing your own thing" at all costs. Drop out, at all costs. Pluto is related to sexuality, and Leo is The King (sovereign), so free choice in sexual practices as a big generational theme (and still is).  Pluto in Leo is personal sovereignty at all costs.

PLUTO IN VIRGO generation 1958 - 1972 (Gen X), Yuppies, materialism, white win, discrimination in food, and car and clothing brands. Virgo is the neat housekeeper who sees their house as messy.  All white apartments furnished in chrome and glass. So this generation wanted a NEAT WORLD at all costs.

PLUTO IN LIBRA generation (assimilating out of justice?) Late 1971 - 1984 (Gen Y? sort of)  Libra is the picky eater, and the conflict avoider. Balance, harmony, justice at all costs.  Peace at all costs -- so avoid getting the USA embroiled in another war at all costs, even surrender.

PLUTO IN SCORPIO generation 1985-1995 or so (video game generation?)  Scorpio is the Natural 8th House, connecting Sex for its own sake (not for love or Romance) and Death, Revolution, Change.  Pluto rules Scorpio, and thus when transiting Scorpio as this generation was born (who are now 20 years old from 2005 to 2015), Pluto was at the height of its power to affect Natal Charts and the world.  Thus we have a new-adult generation willing to die for Revolution - to CHANGE THE WORLD.

This Pluto in Scorpio generation has produced a determined generation. Each person, and sub-group of people, is determined to do something different from the others -- but they are all implacably determined to do whatever they'd chosen to do.

Thus we have young people organizing college campuses to impose political correctness, and the same generation equally determined to oppose that same political correctness.

The Pluto in Scorpio natal position also explains why a scattering of Americans and people all over the world, male and female, are susceptible to recruiting by Isil or Daesh - or any other totalitarian movement.  Pluto in Scorpio is totalitarian at all costs.  Or free at all costs.

PLUTO IN SAGITTARIUS generation 1995-2008 -- comes of age in from about 2015 through 2028.  Since the key attribute of Sagittarius is honesty, even brutal or tone-deaf honesty, we can expect "honesty at all costs."  Remember, truth is not the same thing as honesty.  Honesty does not distinguish between emotion or intellect. Jupiter is about International Treaties, all kinds of Legality, growth, inclusion, benevolence.  Small wonder the welcome matt is out for refugees no matter how mixed with invading soldiers the refugees may be.  Remember, Pluto is about "at all costs" and Sagittarius is about growth and honesty. Sagittarius is the Natural 9th House, foreign lands, International Law.  Welcome at all costs.

PLUTO IN CAPRICORN (now - 2023). These people will come of age in 2035 onwards. Capricorn is ruled by Saturn, which represents Rules, Law, Government, and the organized part of Organized Religion. Saturn is all about discipline, strict record keeping.  These people will want predictable security and privacy "at all costs" -- so perhaps they will finally do away with hacking.

The signature element of the Pluto Natal Position is not the target chosen, but the "at all costs" attitude.

The current 20-something generation is so susceptible to Daesh because Daesh also advocates chaos as the precondition for the End of Days being summoned.  Chaos per se appeals to that young generation because it is an extreme cost that fulfills the "at all costs" attitude fueling movement toward a goal, in this case the goal of revolution.  "At All Costs" is Pluto, and Scorpio is about change, (death being only one example of a change), and thus revolution.

Remember, the goal itself does not matter -- it is not encoded into the position of Pluto.  The only information Pluto encodes is the degree of determination, that easily escalates to implacable ruthlessness.  That attitude, running full bore and ungoverned by common sense, is fulfilled in acts of rape and murder.

When well leashed by life-long discipline, Pluto's implacable determination to achieve a goal can reshape the world for the better.

The choice of destruction or construction is entirely individual.  Nothing can compel a person toward construction or destruction -- it is a freewill choice.

Now mark this point because you will find it in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Construction vs. Destruction.  It is important to understand the "at all costs" element and the tactic of "construction or destruction."

Think back over how we have investigated the ways to account for personal taste in art.



With a film like Star Wars: The Force Awakens we are talking about the Marketers nailing the "taste" in entertainment of several generations.

As George Lucas planned, the main actors reprised the roles they played in their youth once again in their elder years.

Thus, though George Lucas sold the franchise to Disney, Disney nevertheless did fulfill the promise of the original project and brought us the future lives of the main characters, played plausibly by the same actors.

It was an epic plan, and well accomplished.

A lot of people complained that Carrie Fisher looked her age, 59, at the time of Star Wars: The Force Awakens being released.  Carrie Frances Fisher was born October 21, 1956.  Star Wars original Trilogy (1977–1983) was done when she was 21 to 32 years old.

The youngest part of the audience Disney aimed The Force Awakens at are a new generation - a generation born around the year 2000.  People born in 1995 (a baby-boomlet year) are 20 year olds.  The original audience for the first film is now in their 60's and 70's.

So the youngest part of the current film's audience is dedicated to change-at-all-costs.  The eldest, with Pluto in Leo, personal sovereignty-at-all-costs.

The favorite theme of the elders was revolt against tyranny, and how the individual can be the Hero on his own personal Journey.  The first Star Wars trilogy was structured on the Hero's Journey, which at its core has the assumption, a thematic assumption, that Life Matters.

Whatever you do in your life, it makes a difference. Free will choices (Leo, the King, the Sovereign) make a difference. You can (and must with Pluto in Leo) win.

But that world of can-and-must-win and free will choice makes a difference is not the real world the current 18-35 year olds live in.

They have come of age in a world where "you didn't build that" and "you can't succeed without government help" and "the system is broken" and "you can go to college, yes, but you will then be in debt the rest of your life."  A college degree might get you a minimum wage job, maybe.

In other words, they live in a world where life is futile.

To get that younger viewer to suspend disbelief and enter a galaxy far-far away, Disney changed the theme of the original Star Wars trilogy for a new theme aimed at the younger viewers.

To get anyone to suspend disbelief, a writer has to provide something in the world that is being built that the audience recognizes as real.

Since this series is about interstellar war, it is all about winning and losing -- or not.

The older generation would believe that the Good Guys would vanquish the Bad Guys -- that Good Always Wins.  If that premise were depicted, everything else would be believable and enjoyable.

The younger generation needed to see Revolution, Pluto style, destruction, especially by explosion.

And Disney went for the explosion-spectacle the younger generation wanted, Revolution By Explosion.  Given the state-of-the-art of digital film today, the result was something orders of magnitude more impressive than the original Trilogy.

Thematically, the Good Guys Win Sovereignty At All Costs, the Hero's Journey, is replaced with a clear vision of a core theme of "Life Is Futile" -- there is no personal sovereignty, and no decision matters.

Where do we see that?  Princess Leia is still fighting the same war, albeit as a general now.  Hans Solo is still scavenging.  Luke Skywalker is a failure, off on the periphery somewhere, and does not count.  Nothing he did mattered.  The Galaxy is still in the same state it was before -- tyrany reigns.

The theme is The Hero's Journey is Futile.

So a good chunk of the elder audience found this new film boring, dull, slow, pointless, and disappointing if not laughable.  They pointed at the "lame" dialogue sandwiched between action scenes with scathing comments.

And a major chunk of the in-between and younger audience loved it  for the explosions, destruction, the spectacle, the state-of-the-art visuals, and the reprise of the original trilogy's situation.  They liked the fact that nothing had changed.

The ending, with the young girl with a Lightsaber going off into the wild blue yonder seemed pasted on.  Obviously, it is meant to hint and foreshadow future films centered on her efforts to do what the previous generation failed to do - oust the bad guys.  But it does not grow organically out of the portrait of her when we first see her - scavenging for a mob-boss.

She is not driven, she does not have a goal, she is not  actively establishing personal sovereignty.  She is just existing, with no expectation of getting out of that situation.  She accepts the futility of life.

In the end, she's off with Chewy to seek her fortunes in far places, but there is no plan, no strategy, no tactic, no ambition or expectation of succeeding heroically.  She is free, but she can't see any reason to be free.  Freedom is futile.  It is just a reprise of Skywalker's emergence from his desert.

During the film, nobody builds anything, invents anything (the signature element of science fiction is SCIENCE, where discoveries and inventions are created to solve life-problems), nobody makes a better Light Saber, nobody  creates anything.

During the film, explosions, destruction, and futility are pictured and  mirrored -- the symbolism is world class art, but it symbolizes the futility of building,  not the Happily Ever After.

So the theme of Star Wars has changed from Life Matters to Life Is Futile.

When you change the theme, you change the target audience.

The same thing was done to Ursula LeGuinn's Earthsea Trilogy when it was made as a TV Feature.

It is what is always done to books made in to films -- because the target audience of the marketers of films is different from the target audience of  novelists.

That difference exists because of the difference in cost of making a film vs. making a book.

That gap in cost is shrinking.  The people born with Pluto in Capricorn may live to see video-processors as easy to work as word processors.

For now, though, the box-office success and failure of Star Wars: The Force Awakens should be studied.

For now, Life is Futile and Love Is Impotent are the dominant themes.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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