On Friday I got a press release from a company that - somehow, I don't really know how - tracked the ticket presale for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. They reported that most of the presale tickets went to older men, and that the average tickey buyer on that first day was a 34 year old male.
In a lot of ways this is a real no-brainer. After all, the Star Wars faithful is clearly white guys in their 30s and 40s. That's the sweet spot. And when it comes to selling tickets two months early, that's exactly who you're targeting - the people who give enough of a shit about Star Wars to buy tickets two months in advance.
But I suspect that Disney doesn't really care about these guys. I mean, they're happy to sell this cohort (of which I am a member) all kinds of merch and stuff, and they love us for buying tickets in those first few crazed hours, but they don't care about us in a larger sense because we're in the bag. The group they worry about, and the group who was unrepresented in that ticket-buying frenzy, is young people.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to young people and Star Wars. One is that their representation on ticket buying day is hard to gauge; it's quite possible that a lot of younger moviegoers were having tickets bought for them. It's also important to remember a lesson that the people who do opening weekend tracking have learned: it's hard to nail young moviegoers down. They're not thinking about seeing a movie two months from now (which could make the opening weekend of The Force Awakens interesting as a whole bunch of under-18s show up at the theater only to find all the tickets pre-sold to portly balding dudes), so even if they were able to buy their own tickets I'm not sure they would be doing it in advance. Also, they've grown up in a Star Wars-soaked world, so the 'specialness' of Star Wars isn't as obvious to them as it is to oldies who lived through Star Wars droughts. What's more, they might very well love the Prequels, the movies they identify as Star Wars. The Force Awakens is trafficking in some original trilogy nostalgia, which they don't have.
It's important to know that The Force Awakens is going to make all the money. It could very well be the biggest movie ever, if it's any good. But that isn't why Disney bought Lucasfilm. They didn't spend those billions just to make billions back. They're looking to make trillions. And to keep making those trillions over most of the next century. That means the money that The Force Awakens makes is just the prologue. What Disney wants to do with Star Wars is achieve nothing less than complete pop culture supremacy, and that's why those absent young moviegoers are so important to them.
Star Wars isn't just going to be another trilogy and some spin-off movies. This is a 50 year juggernaut they're planning, a singularity at the center of popular culture that sucks in all attention and money. They're opening Star Wars Land bicoastally because they want total domination, and to carry that domination through the next five or six decades they're going to need those young people. Maybe some of today's 40 year old ticket buyers will survive until 2065 (those large sodas they're buying at the theater say otherwise, but who knows), but Disney really wants to groom another generation of hardcore Star Wars fanatics.
That's why the structure of the new movie is brilliant. Rather than doing an Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull scenario - old lead with a next generation sidekick - The Force Awakens is establishing the next generation as the leads and bringing the older generation along for the ride. While the movie is pushing the nostalgia button for the oldies it's providing a new crop of heroes for the kids, a crop of heroes who will probably be showing up in Star Wars movies 40 years from now. Welcome to the rest of John Boyega and Daisy Ridley's lives. This is why the final poster for The Force Awakens is in the style of posters we've seen since the Special Editions in the late 90s - that's what Star Wars posters look like to the younger generation. That's why the music on the new trailer sounds kind of like Michael Giacchino's version of the Star Wars cues, because that's what blockbuster music sounds like to the new generation. That's why the leads are a black man and a woman, because the next generation expects a kind of diversity the oldies don't even consider.
As the fans relish the records broken by the trailer debut and the ticket sales* I guarantee there are people at Disney who take no comfort in that hypothetical 34 year old male ticket buyer. That guy represents the past for them. They're looking to nab the ticket buyer of the future - young, gender evenly divided, just as likely to be non-white as white, willing to spend the next four decades of their lives supporting Star Wars. For armchair box office watchers it seems like Disney is printing free money with their new Star Wars films, but there's actually a lot of work that will go into the process of growing a new generation of fans and making them as hardcore as the people who broke the internet on ticket sale day one. Hypothetical 34 year old male who bought a Force Awakens ticket came of age at a time when the competition for his attention was much lighter; today's youth are besieged by a whole universe of entertainment options. Selling this trilogy will be easy, but selling this trilogy is only the beginning. As someone who finds the marketing of a massive franchise like Star Wars just as, if not even more, interesting than the movies themselves, I'm fascinated to see how Disney does more than just engage the next generation, to see how the company truly nails them down forever.
Young people, Disney will be watching your ticket-buying habits with great interest.
* I honestly don't know why they get excited about this stuff - Star Wars isn't going away, even if the first day of tickets sales had underwhelmed.