I have no idea what the history of fandom is. I like to imagine it was born with Star Trek, found its feet with Doctor Who, reached its teenage years with Star Wars, and achieved … well, something that’s not exactly maturity with the arrival of the internet. Where fandom came from isn’t really the point of this post: it’s where it is now. And where it is, is mired in an entitled state of toddlerdom, where people just can’t seem to grasp why they can’t have things exactly they way they want them.
Before I go on, in case you can see where this is heading, let me make something clear: anyone should be free to like or dislike anything they want without judgement. If I don’t like something, and you do, then in no way should it diminish or invalidate your enjoyment of that thing, nor should your taste or critical faculties be called into question. Equally, if I like something and you don’t, then it doesn’t mean the that thing I like is faulty or broken any more than it means that you are faulty or broken for not liking it.
Got that? Good.
So I went to see The Last Jedi tonight, and loved it. I walked out of the cinema imagining that the world of Star Wars fandom would be as delighted as I was that we had been given another solid entry in the series and our third good Star Wars movie in a row (I remember the dark times, you see: I remember the prequels). I was so very wrong. Turns out that however whiny and entitled Doctor Who and Star Trek fans are, Star Wars fans are like: “Hold my beer…”
(Obligatory #notallStarWarsfans hashtag.)
At this point–and, yes, I’m cheating again and writing this post a few days after the fact–I still don’t really understand what the problem is. Doubtless some of it is inspired by this being the most diverse Star Wars movie to date, riddled with strong women and people of colour. That said, those complaints seem far more muted than they were when The Force Awakens came out. I know there is some grumbling about flaws in the storytelling–and The Last Jedi absolutely commits a couple of cardinal sins on that front–but these issues are not enough to undermine the other parts of the movie and, honestly, if you’re going to a Star Wars movie for solid storytelling, rather than for the characters, spectacle and myth-making, then you’re walking into the wrong cinema.
And I reckon it’s the mythical aspect of these films that’s the key here. People have grown up with Star Wars, whether it’s the original trilogy or the prequels. For most of us, these movies are entwined in the complex tapestry of story and culture that introduces and explains the world to us. And if that tapestry begins in to weave itself in a direction that we don’t understand, we start to feel nervous and insecure. I remember the reaction to the prequels, but for the most part that wasn’t because George Lucas did anything especially controversial with the mythology (*cough* midichlorians *cough*) but simply because they were so badly written. Riding in on our rose-tinted memories of the original trilogy, we were simply shocked that a Star Wars movie could be so disappointing.
The reaction to The Last Jedi is different, and it’s firmly wrapped up with the way we use the internet, and the way we react to any piece of culture (a Ghostbusters remake, a new Harry Potter story, etc) that ties into our childhood–especially when something comes along that reshapes or rebuilds the cultural artefacts that helped guide us through our impressionable years. With the internet we all have a platform for our opinions (I’m exploiting it right now!). We have the opportunity to present our opinions to an audience; often an audience of peers who share those same opinions, and are happy to have them repeated and validated. We have stopped becoming just the audience, and have become creators in our own right. This is where the line has blurred: we are no longer content to passively receive culture, we have come to believe that, as ‘creators’ ourselves, we have a right to play a role in its creation. And we are dead wrong.
We own what we create. Until we release it. Then no one truly owns it. It becomes an idea, free to roam in the imagination of anyone who receives it. At that point no one truly owns it anymore. This is why George Lucas was wrong to meddle with the original trilogy: once he released the films, they belonged as much to the fans as to him. But it’s also why we were wrong to despise him for creating the prequel trilogy: he released the films he wanted to make, and he had every right to make them the way he wanted to. It’s our right to like or dislike him, but it’s not our right to try an undo their creation.
Lucas famously/intriguingly/controversially applied the ring theory to the Star Wars films, which posits that the prequels mirrored and reflected the original trilogy in various ways. Given the reaction to The Last Jedi, it seems he might have been more prescient than he realised.
Final reminder: if you disliked, disagreed with, criticised, or plain hated The Last Jedi, this post isn’t about you. You are entitled to those opinions. This post is about all those people who think they’re entitled to a different version of the movie, one that accords with their own personal vision of the Star Wars universe. They. Are. Not.