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Marketing 101: STP
Categories: Marketing 101

When Star Wars was released in May 1977, Time magazine hailed it as “The Year’s Best Movie” and characterised the special quality of the film with the statement: “It’s aimed at kids – the kid in everybody”.

Many film scholars, highly critical of the aesthetic and ideological preoccupations of Star Wars and of contemporary Hollywood cinema in general, have elaborated on the second part in Time magazine’s formula. They have argued that Star Wars is indeed aimed at “the kid in everybody”, that is it invites adult spectators to regress to an earlier phase in their social and psychic development and to indulge in infantile fantasies of omnipotence and oedipal strife as well as nostalgically returning to an earlier period in history (the 1950s) when they were kids and the world around them could be imagined as a better place. For these scholars, much of post-1977 Hollywood cinema is characterised by such infantilisation, regression and nostalgia

In the Western world, since the 1970s several generations of children have grown up with Star Wars, and they have maintained their attachment to the Star Wars universe into adulthood, passing their fascination onto their own children. Surveys taken during the highly successful theatrical release of the special edition of Star Wars in February 1997 indicated that a third of the audience were families, many of them no doubt parents revisiting their own childhood experiences and sharing them with their children.

The market research programme for the film which was initiated in the summer of 1976 soon confirmed that, judging by people’s responses to its title and a brief description of the film, Star Wars was most likely to appeal “primarily (to) young male moviegoers, ages 25 and under”, while its emphasis on technology and battle provoked a negative reaction from females and older people. So as to counteract such resistance, the advertising campaign which was developed from this research aimed to highlight the film’s human characters and its mythical dimension in addition to its action and special effects. The advertising was to be placed in media (such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television) which would “impact primarily against 12 to 24 year old moviegoers and, secondarily, against moviegoers ages 25 to 35”. Thus, in 1976, market researchers failed to consider Star Wars‘ potential appeal to the sub-teen audience, and Lucas himself, who gradually realised that he was in fact making a children’s movie, was reluctant to foreground this fact in the initial publicity for the film.

By 1976, Lucas clearly saw Star Wars as a children’s film, yet he didn’t say so in public. It was only in the spring of 1977, shortly before the film’s release, that Lucas finally admitted publicly that his main target audience was in fact children, both young teenagers and sub-teens.

Lucas and distributor Twentieth Century Fox were so reluctant to label Star Wars as a children’s film – the label was feared to disqualify the film in the minds of most cinemagoers. Nevertheless, after the film’s release, Time magazine and much of the rest of the press immediately, and unapologetically, emphasised its tremendous appeal to children as well as its nostalgic address of adults.

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