On December 15, Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi released to generally positive reviews. It was praised and criticized for its risk-taking, which was something its predecessor, Episode VII, lacked. Its controversial creative decisions were certainly debatable, but naturally, because it’s Star Wars, a sizable group of fans were so enraged that roughly 60,000 of them signed a meaningless online petition to have The Last Jedi removed from the Star Wars canon.
For Star Wars and movies like it, this kind of superficial outrage is nothing new given the current state of the entertainment industry. “Geek is cool” has been a cultural movement that seemingly began with Marvel’s Iron Man in 2008, and has gradually steamrolled in the decade since. Today, geek culture is an inescapable hellhole that is endlessly being discussed, analyzed and monetized. And like any cultural movement, there are those obnoxious people who take it too far and ruin it for everyone.
In terms of awful, there are two main groups of offenders within fan culture: Gatekeepers who prohibit people from enjoying something because they enjoyed it first, and the hive-minded “fandom” which lives to consume and mindlessly digest any morsel of pop culture media without any amount of critical thinking. When it comes to The Last Jedi, its biggest enemies are the latter.
The fandom consists of the people who, rather than simply enjoying something and looking forward to its release, revolve their entire existence around when the next super hero movie is coming out. With every film, the fandom’s members follow a predictable cycle.
At first, they salivate over the dozens Comic-Con clips, trailer Easter eggs, and leaked set photos leading up to a film’s release. They share every minute casting detail with their Facebook feed, endlessly speculating and establishing their credibility as a geek expert in the comments section. Then finally, once the movie is released and the internet’s sensibilities form, they surrender their taste to popular opinion, regardless of how they felt about the movie in the first place.
Episode VII was a clear victim of this cycle. Initially, the fandom thought The Force Awakens was the best Star Wars movie of all time. They said it combined everything that was great about the original trilogy and modernized it. It was even better than Empire. And then it was released on Blu-ray, and internet film critics dragged it for staying too close to A New Hope. And now, any member of the fandom will start their opinion of Epsiode VII off by saying, “You know it’s, like, a total clone of A New Hope,” and like they’re revealing some kind of secret information to someone less enlightened than they are.
In truth, what most people subconsciously want is the same market-researched, focus-group-tested movies that have the same tension-dissolving comedy, the same CGI one-dimensional villain, and the same throwback classic rock soundtrack. Anything that deviates from that formula is either rejected or overlooked entirely. The Last Jedi refused to behave the way audiences expected it to, and that is the real reason why those 50,000+ petition signers are so upset. They held a faulty belief in what Star Wars should be, and can’t accept that they never truly understood the fandom that they took so much pride in flaunting.
The petition itself is emblematic of everything wrong with toxic fandom. Its author, Henry Walsh, insists that the “travesty” of Episode VIII can be easily undone, and all Disney has to do is simply erase The Last Jedi from the Star Wars canon and remake a whole new movie from scratch.
“(Episode VIII) completely destroyed the legacy of Luke Skywalker and the Jedi. It destroyed the very reasons most of us, as fans, liked Star Wars. This can be fixed. Just as you wiped out 30 years of stories, we ask you to wipe out one more, the Last Jedi. Remove it from canon, push back Episode IX and re-make Episode VIII properly to redeem Luke Skywalker’s legacy, integrity, and character.”
The petition’s demands are comparable to a child who insists his parents re-do Christmas because he wasn’t satisfied with his presents. But to Walsh’s credit, he later said he regretted creating the petition and had written it while on medication following surgery. He still didn’t like the movie, but admitted the goal of Disney nuking The Last Jedi was unrealistic. Yet even still, in an update to the petition (where he also admirably directed signers to refocus their efforts to Star Wars charity A Force For Change) he doubled down on flashing his “real Star Wars fan” card.
“Rian Johnson insulted the hardcore fanbase repeatedly and made poor use of the assets he had available with regards to classic characters. Killing legendary characters off-screen then introducing new characters in roles that classic characters could have filled better and losing the emotional impact and weight those classic characters would have brought to the series. I feel that some of the decisions made hurt the franchise. I am still torn up about the ending.”
I guess that means in Walsh’s book, Admiral Ackbar constitutes a “legendary character” who could have carried the movie better than any of the new, fresh faces Rian Johnson added. And just to prove how delusional the fandom can be, when Walsh said his initial statements about Disney remaking Episode VIII had been hyperbolic and sarcastic, the signers turned on him, he received threats and was accused of being paid off by Disney.
Seeing those signers who were inconsolable over Luke’s story ending with him rejecting the Jedi order that has served as the franchise’s infallible good guys shows how little they understand Star Wars as an entertainment property. They might believe that Star Wars is an endless universe that is tailor-made for the thousands of novels, comics and video game stories that have been written inside of it. But in reality, the Star Wars universe is incredibly limited. It primarily exists in reference to other things, and crumbles when made to stand on its own.
The original trilogy, particularly Episode IV, is a celebration of film and myth. The plot is predictable and unoriginal, but that’s the whole point. It’s the mono-mythical hero’s journey coupled with homages to classic films George Lucas was influenced by. The emotion and nostalgia that comes from watching these movies is less about what’s happening on-screen, and more about what it represents.
It wasn’t until Star Wars proved to be insanely profitable that those in power added needless amounts of lore and backstory that completely missed the point of why these movies were made to begin with. And now, for anyone who hasn’t drank the Star Wars Kool-Aid, it should be pretty clear that Disney is playing it by ear, given how Episode VIII derailed any kind of track that J.J. Abrams laid with The Force Awakens.
This movie proved the new trilogy isn’t some highly coordinated 3-act adventure where Rey and Kylo Ren ultimately team-up to defeat Snoke aka Darth Plagueis in Episode IX. Rey has no lineage that calls back to previous Star Wars movies and ultimately cheapens her character arc. Snoke wasn’t the reincarnation of a Sith Lord from some shitty expanded universe novel, but was instead just some deformed old man who gets cut down before he can do anything of note. The Last Jedi didn’t care what audiences thought about Star Wars, and the fandom didn’t know how to accept that.
The Last Jedi’s backlash is purely reactionary, and is a product of the popcorn-munching masses who refuse to think critically about the things they enjoy. What’s happening with Star Wars right now is a symptom of the larger disease of fan culture, which will only grow as we are force-fed an endless supply of comic book movies and TV shows until we die. To those who were incensed at Episode VIII’s controversial decisions, I suggest you create some distance between you and the things you enjoy, and ask yourself if the people who are making these movies to be as profitable as possible really care as much about the Star Wars franchise’s integrity as you do.