Cast your mind back to 2015. If you were a Star Wars fan, it was a pretty special time. At that point, the few bits of information we had about The Force Awakens had told us next to nothing; there was an intoxicating sense that the movie could be anything. Even as we walked into that first screening we had no real clue of what to expect. All we knew, all everyone agreed upon, was that the future of Star Wars looked very bright indeed.
Well, it didn’t really pan out that way.
Around this time last year I wrote a lengthy blog post bemoaning the state of the franchise, predominantly the fact that, with a glut of new content seemingly hinged on fan nostalgia rather than any clear creative vision, the saga had lost its shine. And to a degree, I still feel that way, but my growing apprehension was tempered somewhat by the pleasant surprise that was The Last Jedi, a film that, love it or hate it, was clearly driven by genuine creative vision, a film that subverted expectations and was thematically rich in a way that no other Star Wars film was before. It was a film that got better upon re-watch and single handedly restored my love and excitement for the franchise. The Last Jedi demonstrated that Star Wars can be more than just callbacks, that there was enormous potential within the sandbox to do new and bold things. It even managed to make me kind of excited for Solo.
But now, for the first time ever, I’m ready to stop calling myself a Star Wars fan. The problem isn’t Solo, The Last Jedi, or Kathleen Kennedy. The problem, to paraphrase a really good thriller I finished recently, is not that one big thing went wrong. It’s that a lot of little things have gone wrong and now the one point I agree on with the really awful ‘fans’ out there is that Star Wars is in serious trouble.
It’s an issue with multiple parts. The first, which I outlined in the aforementioned blog post, is ubiquity. In the next few years, we apparently have on the way an Obi-Wan film, a Boba Fett film, a new Rian Johnson trilogy, a separate film series from David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the new animated series Resistance and a live action TV show from Jon Favreau. It’s easy enough to see Disney’s logic here; the Marvel Cinematic Universe, after all, can spit out three films and multiple TV shows a year and only grow in popularity. But Star Wars isn’t Marvel. The Star Wars universe was never the same kind of fleshed out playground of endless possibility; it was the backdrop to a singular narrative. The fact that Rogue One and Solo, ostensibly the franchise’s opportunity to branch out and tell different stories, were so nostalgia heavy just proves it. Marvel is made up of many different sub-franchises with their own styles, concerns and characters. You might get three Marvel films a year, but you generally have to wait three years for a new Avengers. Those are the events, not the lead up instalments.
Star Wars loses its value if it’s not an event. And honestly, a yearly film is probably fine. The midnight screenings for The Force Awakens, Rogue One and The Last Jedi were buzzing with excitement and atmosphere. The midnight screening for Solo, just five months after a movie that people are still talking about, might as well have been a lazy afternoon visit to your sparsely attended local cinema. Nobody really cared, and the box office has shown it. Might it have been different if the film came out in December? I think so. Because then it would have been positioned as an event, and, whatever you think of the film, Star Wars would have retained its status. Solo’s close proximity to The Last Jedi has created a sense of Star Wars fatigue that hasn’t really turned up before, and that is dangerous for a franchise that has always thrived on being something hotly anticipated.
Yesterday I listened to a Star Wars podcast that was supposed to be a Solo review but devolved into a debate about The Last Jedi. That, I think, says it all. Solo was too bland and safe to wrestle the cultural conversation away from a film that is still very much being discussed. And even on social media, the big divide between Star Wars fans still uses The Last Jedi as its point of contention. Solo slipped by practically unnoticed, inoffensive to all. That’s not what a Star Wars film is supposed to do.
Mentioning the online debate naturally brings me to the main reason that I’m stepping away from calling myself a fan. Simply put, a Star Wars fan is not a fun thing to be anymore.
For context, I probably don’t watch movies the same way as most people. Having spent three years on a popular film podcast means that I approach films and the behind the scenes process with a level of scrutiny that isn’t common. But then, that’s also what happens if you’re a fan of something. You devour every bit of news, you discuss what announcements and events could mean, and generally you stay in the conversation even at times when new content isn’t forthcoming. But that conversation has become a very unpleasant place to be.
The Last Jedi backlash, rather than fading away as we all assumed it would, has devolved into something far uglier. In the last few weeks Twitter has been replete with people attacking anyone and everyone involved in the ‘Disney Canon’, and then reacting with outrage when those people stand up for themselves. For the record, these attacks go from insisting that the target has ruined the attacker’s childhood, to accusing them of deliberately killing the franchise, to death threats.
We all know the internet can be an ugly place, but the scale of this is unprecedented. And look, while there are many people who genuinely take issue with the creative direction of the film, an overwhelming amount of the backlash appears to be rooted in the film pushing ‘identity politics’, even though I’m pretty sure there’s no point at which Finn yells ‘black lives matter’ or Rey starts talking about the internalised misogyny of Jakku. They’re just characters who happen to not be what we’re used to seeing in Star Wars, and for some people that’s sacrilege. When Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in the film, ends up deleting her Instagram posts in response to the largely racist harassment she was receiving, you know that things have gone way too far. There are now corners of the internet where suggesting that you liked The Last Jedi is an invitation for an instant barrage of loathing, corners where being labelled a ‘cuck’, a ‘shill’, or an ‘SJW’ are among the nicer names you’ll be called.
This, I need to stress, is all because of how you felt about a movie.
The solution is probably obvious. Stay away from those corners of the internet. After all, if you’re a Star Wars fan who doesn’t go on forums or isn’t on Twitter then it’s possible that you’re unaware of all of this. It’s possible that your Star Wars experience is all based around the films themselves, which, arguably, is how it should be. But by and large that’s not really how fandom works anymore. Part of the fun of being a follower of something lies in reading articles and reviews, in joining in debates on social media, in the rampant speculation and discussion over which was your favourite and why. It wasn’t that long ago that all of these things were so much of what made Star Wars fandom awesome; a shared passion that brought people together, disagreements and all. That level of engagement is certainly not necessary to your enjoyment of the films, but it can and perhaps should be a valuable supplement.
It’s not, anymore. Not when you can’t express your feelings without being attacked. And let me clarify; this cuts both ways. There are hardcore fans of The Last Jedi who will write off those who disagree with them as racist manbabies, which is also unfair and unhelpful. Unless, of course, they are actually being racist manbabies, as in the case of what happened with Kelly Marie Tran. Disliking Rose Tico is fair game (I found her annoying and underwritten), but that should never, never spill over into harassment of the actor.
A few years ago I went to an all-day Lord of the Rings Extended Edition marathon at the Astor. I went by myself and was so excited to lose myself in one of my favourite ever film series. In the minutes before it started I sat in the foyer listening to the blaring soundtrack and was overcome with emotion and excitement. But, after a fourteen-hour long day of only Lord of the Rings, I walked out a bit sick of it. I was happy to not revisit Middle Earth for a while after that.
Currently, being a Star Wars fan feels similar, on a larger scale. The franchise dominates the culture, but not in a positive way. People aren’t speculating on what might happen next or discussing their favourite moments, they’re yelling at each other, name calling, and either actively willing the franchise to fail or wanting it to only exist if it can cater to their exact specifications.
Now, when I think back to being a kid, sitting in a darkened cinema as those familiar words came up on the screen, I find it hard to remember how it felt. I know there was a singular love and excitement that only came from Star Wars, but it feels far away now, buried under an exhausting amount of content and a nauseating degree of ugly fan negativity. I’m sick of talking about Star Wars and I’m sick of thinking about Star Wars even as I find myself writing blogs like this and reading think-pieces about the box office failure of Solo. But that’s the degree to which it dominates conversation, especially in my field.
If somebody told me tomorrow that there wouldn’t be another instalment for a decade, I’d be fine with it. But that won’t be the case. More films will come, and they’ll either be safe and dull or prompt outrage from ‘true fans’. And while those fans shriek and abuse, my suspicion is that the audience will slowly fade away until Star Wars is no longer special or exciting.
I don’t think I’m done with the franchise. I’ll probably see the new films and I’ll retain fond memories of what Star Wars meant to me as a kid. But right now? I’m no longer a Star Wars fan.
Writing words about writing words.