Meet the UEA academic researching Star Wars

UEA Professor Dr Tom Phillips who has been undertaking a research project into the buzz surrounding

UEA Professor Dr Tom Phillips who has been undertaking a research project into the buzz surrounding the new Star Wars franchise outside Odeon Riverside, Norwich. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

It has already spawned countless items of spin-off merchandising – from toys to clothing and food. But, it emerges, Star Wars has also inspired a piece of academic research.

Dr Tom Phillips, tutor in Humanities with the University of East Anglia, has been conducting a research project into the franchise since the announcement Disney was buying the rights to it.

Dr Phillips helped found the World Star Wars Project, with the aim to understand the devotion the films inspire. Launched earlier this year at UEA, the project is a 10-institution research initiative which will explore audiences' engagement with the Star Wars film series.

Currently in the first phase, the project is attempting to capture audiences' thoughts before they go to see the latest installment, The Force Awakens, which was released yesterday.

The research aims to examine the expectations of fans, and how the various films in the series meet them – with a particular focus on the effect that trailers can have.

'We have got a really good opportunity to talk to fans of Star Wars and ask how they feel about the fact this thing we love has been given a new breath of life,' he said. 'We are now in the first phase of understanding this film.'

Dr Phillips is sending out online surveys to people who have not yet seen the film and has had around 1,800 responses back.

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'People are quietly confident about how good this is going to be,' he said. 'They are wary of getting burnt like they did with the prequels, which were met quite negatively.'

The film was released at one minute past midnight yesterday, with many fans staying up to be among the first to see it.

The 250-seat Hollywood Yarmouth cinema was packed out at almost full capacity. Norwich's VUE cinema had eight screens for the midnight viewing, at 80pc capacity.

Trevor Wicks, director at Hollywood Cinemas, said people should not be put off booking for this weekend despite the hype. 'We are confident we will be able to cope with the crush,' he said. 'Bookings are good for the weekend and into the thousands, but there will be an opportunity for more to visit.

'People certainly won't be disappointed,' he added.

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