18. Formatting Nostalgia IMAX Expansions of the Star Wars Franchise
Star Wars and the History of Transmedia Storytelling
On July 8, 2014, J.J. Abrams's production company, Bad Robot, released a tweet with an image of an IMAX camera suspended over a desert landscape, with the hashtag #bestformatever. 1 At this point in time, the company had released only a few oblique details about the production of The Force Awakens; while it was not immediately clear if they were shooting the film in this format, the image inspired speculation about how the much-anticipated Star Wars film might be enhanced by the experience of
... AX. However, this was not the first intersection of Star Wars and IMAX. In this essay, I will address how IMAX iterations of three Star Wars films draw upon viewers' transmedia experiences with and nostalgia for the franchise. The 1996 documentary Special Effects: Anything Can Happen, directed by Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt, features a recreation of the opening sequence of A New Hope in IMAX format. Using IMAX's unique discourse of science documentary and sensory immersion, the recreation offers viewers a simulation of the theatrical awe that is central to Star Wars's place in popular history. Six years later, Attack of the Clones was among the first films to be reformatted for IMAX exhibition using the DMR (digital remastering) process. The IMAX version invited and magnified comparisons among and debates about the relative merits of digital and analog formats. While many twenty-first-century films have engaged in such discourse, Star Wars's decades-long rhetoric of technological innovation and cinematic nostalgia made Attack of the Clones's use of IMAX particularly interesting. Finally, The Force Awakens includes a sequence shot with IMAX cameras, a fact that played a key role in the film's promotional rhetoric by emphasizing its faithfulness to pre-digital filmmaking practices. These three applications of IMAX technologies offer illuminating case studies for how Star Wars's transmedia manifestations cultivate viewer sensitivity to the aesthetics and phenomenology of particular film formats and subsequently align those formats with nostalgic sentiment.