Why SOLO Needs to be Exceptional
Three seconds. That’s approximately the length of time between the fading out of the Alderaanian-blue words of “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” and the bombastic blast of french horns combined with the unmistakable yellow text emblazoned upon a starfield. Yet, for so many legions of fans, those three seconds are filled with unbridled anticipation, energy, and hope. In those three seconds, even the oldest of Star Wars fans devolve into the wide-eyed and innocent child that once sat in a theater for their first Star Wars experience. Even now, as I type these words, the very thought of those three seconds cast goosebumps on my body and sends a chill down my spine.
Star Wars means so much to so many. Since its release in 1977, Star Wars has grown from a pop culture phenomenon to being an ingrained part of culture itself. It has spurred imaginative play, birthed a merchandise revolution, and been referred to in the speeches of world leaders. There is truly nothing like it - a literal force so powerful, its characters, its themes, and its music have been lovingly passed-on from one generation to another, and now, to yet another. Indeed, Star Wars has conquered that which typically divides humans - geography, language, race, ethnicity, and even religious and political ideologies - and still, somehow, manages to find new fans with each passing day.
The Fall of 2015 was filled with electricity. The rebirth of Star Wars, this time under the Disney umbrella, caused an unheralded collection of fandom to sit in front of their TVs, monitors and devices on a Monday night, waiting impatiently for the trailer for The Force Awakens to be released. In its aftermath, YouTube melted down as people mashed the reload button with fervor, and Twitter was ablaze with trailer reaction videos from everyone from John Boyega and Daisy Ridley, to priests. It was, for all intents and purposes, an event unto itself.
In the weeks following the trailer’s release another movement with its roots in fandom broke out and spread like wildfire. This time, however, it wasn’t fandom gathering for a new trailer, but instead, fandom rallying for one of their own - a man named Daniel Fleetwood. Daniel - a lifelong Star Wars fan - was dying, and it was his wish to see The Force Awakens. An insurmountable wave of support for this engulfed social media, branding the movement #ForceForDaniel, and even stars Mark Hamill, John Boyega, and others joined the party.
What’s special about that moment is not just the fact that Disney answered the call and granted Daniel his wish to see the film a mere five days before his death, but that the movement itself was created by Daniel’s fellow fans - all but a few who didn’t know him personally. It was a beautiful moment and put the absolute best part of fandom on display for the world to witness. Like the Rebellion itself, we collectively rallied in a fellow fan’s darkest hour and pulled off something grand. Never tell Star Wars fans the odds.
Since then, though, it seems we’ve forgotten what surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds us together. With the release of each new film, fandom has not only been divided on the film’s acceptance, but more poignantly, we have allowed our differing views to become like the razor-sharp claws of a Nexu, slashing away at one another and intentionally causing damage. Critical and thoughtful discussions have all to often been replaced with angry assaults and a mob mentality to such extremes as to cause some longtime fans and members of the fan community to close their accounts - leaving what has sometimes been a refuge of escape from the mundane or stressful realities of life. Sadly, many have traded listening thoughtfully for understanding and asking questions for clarity, for the desire to launch the first emotionally reactive and vitriol-laced salvo that is affirmed with Likes and Retweets.
This is precisely the reason we - all of fandom - need SOLO to be a surprisingly fun and quality addition to the Star Wars catalogue. Despite outposts and beacons of hope scattered across the galaxy of social media, fandom remains largely fractured and far from where we were in the Fall of 2015. Certainly, there are still those who bring positivity, who can rally others for good and worthwhile causes, and refuse to succumb to using derogatory terms and tones. And it is with great hope that I look to SOLO to be not only a thrill ride laced with that which makes Star Wars so special, but also a glue that mends.
While no film will be free from critical reactions and reviews (nor should they be), and while there will always be hardline fans who stand on the fringe with outdated ideals and hills to die on, we need SOLO to be a celebratory event, so we can return to being a fandom that seeks to again collectively affirm and rally for those we do not personally know - even when we disagree with them.
Devin Kleffer is the host of the Unmistakably Star Wars podcast, as well as a professional educator and business owner. He resides in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, kids and shelf full of Captain Phasma collectibles.