From Irreverence to Irrelevance: A Closer Look At Fan Dissatisfaction and Discourse
by Devin Kleffer
Outrage. Complete and total outrage.
That’s what I felt to the very core of my being when I first learned my fiance was sleeping with my best friend in college. Suddenly, the hopes I had stored away, and the plans for the future were nothing close to what I had envisioned. For the better part of two years (two years!) I experienced a myriad of emotions - from shock, to denial, to anger, and more. It’s as if I were on a carousel, experiencing each of the emotions again, and again, and again. In my mind, there was no way to reconcile the circumstances - in one fell swoop, I had lost my fiance, my best friend, and all the hopes involving each of them. Even the ‘good’ memories would now be tainted.
For the longest time, I carried my anger throughout my daily life. I became bitter, and I confess there were times when others - not in any way responsible for the circumstances - caught the ire of my wrath. It’s a time I am not proud of.
Interestingly enough, one of the constants that saw me through that time was Star Wars. I can still vividly remember sitting in the Rio Theater in Santa Cruz, California, in 1977, and watching it for the first time. And, much like any substance that has addictive qualities, I was hooked.
For many, myself included, Star Wars is much like the faithful Labrador - always present, ready to uplift its fans in even the most desperate of life’s circumstances. Never ‘just’ a movie, its messages about friendship, hope, and redemption are what continue to draw fans old and new. Indeed, the franchise is often a beacon of light in an otherwise dim world.
Today, fans of Star Wars are connected like never before. Through social media, we have virtually unfettered access to our fellow fans across the globe, as well as access to those who bring us even more Star Wars. That last part cannot be overemphasized - we have access to the content creators of Star Wars! Some of you reading this may not know how much that means to a kid from the 1970s, when the only access fans had to Star Wars was through merchandise, sending your address to a fan club, and waiting for an occasional newspaper article about the franchise. Comparatively speaking, it’s the equivalent of living in the late Pleistocene period, where Neanderthals had no concept of a future agrarian society, virtually devoid of the need for constant hunting and gathering. In other words, we have it good these days!
Since the purchase of LucasFilm by Disney in 2012, fandom has been the benefactor of untold amounts of Star Wars ‘stuff’. From films, to novels, to video games, to animated series - the list continues on, and continues to grow in both width and depth. Hell, we’ve got at least three live-action streaming series right around the corner - something no ‘70s kid could have even dreamt about. Yet, despite the plethora of quality content and access to creators, many are displeased - even angry - with the state of Star Wars.
While there is no way to accurately breakdown the various nuances of the backlash from some fans, I’ll attempt to put them into three distinct moments on the timeline: The Evisceration of the EU, The Inclusion of Inclusion, and finally, The Curious Case of Careless Creators. Let’s take a brief look at each…
The Evisceration of the EU
When Disney made the four-billion-dollar decision to purchase the rights to Star Wars, it also decided to do some house cleaning, in the name of creating new stories without preset boundaries. By wiping the slate clean, Disney opened up the possibility of delivering new content that didn’t necessarily have to fit into the various storylines that already existed in novel and comic form. The move, however, caused an immediate backlash from many of whom had high emotional investment, in addition to time and financial investment. For many in this group, de-canonizing beloved stories and characters was sacrilege, and to let their feelings be known, the first of many salvos were fired at the creatives behind the ‘new’ Star Wars. From billboards to social media outbursts, the wave of vitriol was a sign of things to come.
Was this proverbial control-alt-delete the best move for the Star Wars saga going forward - was it the best move for seasoned fans, and for appealing to and attracting new fans? The answer to this question is moot, and ultimately does not matter. A for-profit company purchased another for-profit company. Both produce works of fiction. Neither told fandom we could no longer read or enjoy the stories and characters that were no longer “official.” To the contrary, Disney-LucasFilm have successfully brought both characters and story devices into the rebooted franchise.
The Inclusion of Inclusion
Even before the first Disney-helmed Star Wars film hit theaters in late 2015, there was (more!) backlash from some members of fandom. When the world witnessed a young, powerful, Force-sensitive, yet ‘untrained’ female reach out to grab the hilt of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber in a dark, snowy forest, it was an essential moment not just in the film itself, but also for the direction of Star Wars. For most, there was a visceral reaction - the kind of reaction that only Star Wars can stir in us. Yet, the voices of the few grew louder, proclaiming Mary Sue-dome. Good lord, are we to believe we can accept three versions of Wedge Antilles in a single film, but not accept a young woman with Force powers?!
From Rey, to Finn, to Jyn, to Cassian, to Rose, and more, we have been introduced to new leads that have not only played a central role in the greater storyline, but more importantly have finally reflected the diversity of fandom itself. In fact, I would propose that those who discount or dislike characters because of race, ethnicity or gender look at the macro view: if Star Wars is truly as great as you think it is, wouldn’t you want its greatness to be enjoyed by as many as possible?
Have Disney-LucasFilm creatives sat down behind closed doors and purposefully infused elements of our current culture into this franchise? I hope to hell the answer is ‘yes,’ because doing so means they are keeping with Lucas’ original vision - to create something that speaks to the very core of humanity, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and religious views; something that brings hope, laughter, sorrow and joy to all. And if you think that doesn’t matter, I want to encourage you to listen to those whom have been profoundly impacted by this. Hell, I dare you to listen...
The Curious Case of Careless Creators
The chasm in fandom following The Last Jedi was as deep as it was wide. The majority of viewers seemed to fall into one of three camps: (1) Loved it; (2) Hated it because of story elements; and (3) Hated it because it betrayed their expectations and/or story elements.
There’s a great scene in the film Stand By Me, wherein the character Gordie LaChance - a lauded storyteller - weaves together the infamous tale of Davey Hogan and the legendary pie eating contest. In the film, LaChance’s friends scream wildly in affirmation of the tale’s climactic ‘complete and total barf-o-rama.’ Then, the character Teddy Duchamp interrupts the sheer joy of the occasion and challenges LaChance on his storytelling ability. Here’s the film’s actual dialogue:
Duchamp: Then what happened?
LaChance: What do you mean?
Duchamp: I mean, what happened?
LaChance: What do you mean what happened, that’s the end.
Duchamp: How can that be the end? What kind of ending is that? What happened to
LaChance: I don’t know. Maybe he went home and celebrated with a couple of cheeseburgers.
Duchamp: Geez. That ending sucks. Why don’t you make it so that - so that Lardass goes home, and he shoots his father. And he runs away. And he joins the Texas Rangers. How about that? … It’s a good story, Gordie, I just don’t like the ending.
The Stand By Me scene is a fitting one that could easily be applied to the Disney-LucasFilm creative team and some in fandom. One group is a team of professional (key term, here) storytellers, and the other is not. This certainly does not mean that everything with the Star Wars label is flawless (heck, not even the heralded originals are without blemish!), nor does it mean fans lack creative ideas about the Star Wars galaxy and its characters. What it does mean, however, is the creative minds behind the franchise are ultimately much like Gordie LaChance. It’s their story to tell, and we’re welcomed to enjoy it, or not. Here’s where we, as fans, can learn from the scene in Stand By Me: Duchamp’s character tells the storyteller, LaChance, his ending sucks...and then...they return to what they were doing before Lardass ate a single pie. Point being, they didn’t let a disagreement over the story contaminate their relationship.
To be sure, I’ve witnessed some repulsive things on social media pertaining to Star Wars. In some cases, persons attacked the story, some have attacked the creators (or their wife), and others have lashed out at the actors, who - remember - are playing fictional characters in a fictional galaxy. Amidst the madness, there may have even been some occasions when a creative fired back. (On a very deep, personal level, I can only imagine what some of the creatives have to do in order to hold their tongue as well as they do. As a professional educator, and former athletic coach, there have most certainly been times when my heart has been pierced by the errant student, player, or most likely parent, who thinks they can do my job better than me). Through it all, I have yet to personally see comments from a creative that has not accepted a fan’s thoughtful critique, or well-crafted disagreements about story elements, etc.
From Irreverence to Irrelevance
Much like my anger described in the opening part of this piece, the anger pointed squarely toward Disney-LucasFilm and its creatives, does much more harm to the individual wielding the weight of the anger than the actual object the anger is directed toward. Even psychologist Leon Setzler touches on this in his 2018 article entitled, The Force of Your Anger is Tied to the Source of Your Anger, and amazingly isn’t written directly about Star Wars. In his concluding thoughts, Setzler writes, “...what will be far more effective in “completing” your past anger will be to allow it, finally, to be confirmed, validated, and released in a safe, controlled manner. You permit it—as you couldn't before—to be expressed (in your “mind’s eye,” as it were) to those who originally sourced it. That way you'll be able to make your peace with it and let it go. Otherwise, you’re just be learning how, endlessly, to keep pent up a disgruntled emotion that still longs to be let out.” (emphasis mine)
Said differently, voice your opinion - preferably with respect - and then move on. Continually lashing out is not worth the time or energy - for anyone involved - and doing so actually lessens the power of your view and your voice.
Though there are countless quotable lines from Star Wars, the most appropriate for this moment seems to be the daunting reminder from Gold Five: “Stay on target.”
We love Star Wars. You love it. I love it. Literally countless others love it. It is the source for so many good things in life - a shared community is but one of those things. Star Wars Celebration Chicago is upon us. I am hopeful it will be a time of rejoicing with others who love this silly franchise way too much!
Let’s stay on target. Together. Let’s embrace what we adore, and revel in the fact that we live in a time when Star Wars content is abundant, where we have unimaginable access to those whom craft the story, and opportunities to celebrate with fellow fans from around the world.
Devin Kleffer is a member of the Unmistakably Star Wars podcast team. When he’s not lost in a galaxy far, far away, he’s likely to be creating rich and meaningful content for his history students. Feel free to at-him @MrKleffer.