Apparently, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is more than just a huge money-maker. It’s also a tool used for a great cause. J.J. Abrams recently revealed to Entertainment Weekly that the film satisfied the wishes of a dying man in November last year as well as dozens of terminally ill fans.
It all started with 32-year-old Daniel Fleetwood, a Texas resident diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma, a connective tissue cancer. In July of last year, Fleetwood was given two months to live, putting his expected time of death just two months short of the December release date. As his dying wish, he asked Lucasfilm to give him a sneak peak of the film.
Before long, others heard Daniel’s call and generated the hashtag #ForceForDaniel. It quickly spread across social media and caught some attention from some of the studio’s actors and crew members.
On November 5, 2015, Fleetwood was granted a private showing of the film before the editing was done and before anyone else saw the footage. Five days later, Fleetwood passed away in his sleep. From that point on, Lucasfilm and Bad Robot productions made it a point to share the footage with dozens of terminally ill patients.
When asked about his favorite experiences with fans, J.J. Abrams noted this experience.
“You know, there are a lot of examples of passionate and excitable people but the most, I think, profound experience was that in the time before the movie came out — about a month before — we had a couple people go around to those fans who were not going to survive because of terminal illness until the movie came out. The movie was screened probably two dozen or so times to various people who, tragically, were struck with illness that would prevent them from seeing the movie otherwise.”
Abrams is referring to the studio’s efforts to travel to patients’ homes or hospitals to show the film. Members of the Bad Robot production team showed the footage, but Abrams called and introduced the showing first.
“I would speak with these people before and after,” Abrams said. “Sometimes they were adults and other times they were children and it was always… it was the most profound thing to be reminded in such a clear and wonderful and heartbreaking way how important this world was that George Lucas created, what it meant to these people.”
He went on to explain how the experience showed him just how big the Star Wars universe really is.
“It was a reminder to all of us how what we were doing was really important to so many people,” Abrams said.
It was an incredibly uplifting and heartwarming experience for everyone. It put some real perspective on how we often take life for granted.
“It was also a reminder about what was important in life with all the pressure and everyone always asking, ‘Oh, how do you deal with the pressure?’ Then you talk to someone who’s going through something like this, or a family member who’s going through something like this, and you very quickly realize that this pressure [of making the movie] is nothing. This pressure is a luxury. And that was probably the most impactful type of experience with a Star Wars fan.”
There’s been very little publicity regarding this experience, as well as some of the other charity cases the director has handled. In 2013, he also granted a similar wish to a Star Trek fan.
“We didn’t want it to turn into a publicity stunt,” the director explained. “This was a quiet thing we were doing for people who will remain anonymous but it was, you know… the exchanges and the conversations that we all had with these families and these people were really moving.”
Even though publicity has been kept low regarding these experiences, more and more people will find out about it thanks to the Blu-ray combo pack, which features the Force for Change charity campaign. So far, they’ve already raised $10 million for UNICEF alone, not to mention countless other charities backed by the actors and crew members.
The campaign, which began during the production of Star Wars: The Force Awakens will continue over the next few years as more films are made. The current campaign promises that they’ll double any donations collected between now and December 16 when Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is released.
[Image via Hu Chengwei/Getty Images]