** Warning: This post contains spoilers **
Click on the Twitter hashtag #TheLastJedi (with the adorable BB-8 emoji at the end of it as well) and you’ll probably be surprised by what you see. You see, certain Star Wars fans hate hate hate The Last Jedi. Even though most people (and critics) enjoyed it, certain sects of toxic nerds are in open revolt against the new film, and they’re both terrible for different reasons.
There are two main factions inside the opposition: First, we have the alt-right, who are angry that a modern film franchise would in fact resemble the world in which it was created, full of the kind of vital life and inclusion that deeply matters to non-white and non-male people who are just glad to see themselves represented on screen in a good movie. Most of these complaints come from segments of the movie-going population who have never had an issue going to the theater and finding someone who looks like them on screen, and they’ll always have their garbage subreddits and message boards to whine on, seperate from the discourse and also without having much of a real effect on it (remember how well the Rogue One boycott worked?).
You know the type, with their egg avatars and mauled Latin usernames, the kind of quaint dipshits who I’m sure will go out and crowdfund an all-white fan film about a Stormtrooper brigade before the makers of said GoFundMe just take the money and run. They aren’t fans in the traditional sense: one might even say that a revolutionary film series like Star Wars was never intended for them in the first place, and they wouldn’t be wrong! They’re just being shown the door now by people who won’t tolerate their bullshit any longer.
The second faction is full of scorned fans, who are lashing out now that The Last Jedi didn’t meet their exact specifications for a Star Wars movie, and who are going deep down inside of the rabbit hole of shitty hot takes in order to make their opinions seem justified. The Prequels had a better understanding of storytelling structure (they didn’t), they had a better tone and less humor (no), it just doesn’t feel like a Star Wars movie (wrong), Rian Johnson hates them (he doesn’t).
Let’s just remember this: It is a Film Series For Children — it will have stupid jokes in it and characters that will not appeal to you — and it has never never never never pretended to be anything else. Again, point to Rogue One and I’ll tell you straight up that it’s not a numbered entry to the series, and thus not intended for the same audience. The darkness, the grittiness, the things you associate with Empire being good aren’t dark in content, they’re dark in thematics and in their ramifications for the characters themselves, and if you just got a little bit outside of your own head, you might be able to see that same darkness echoed here, in a movie where the Resistance is reduced to the double-fucking-digits.
And that’s not even to suggest that there aren’t legitimate criticisms about the movie — it is slightly too long, some of the plot diversions don’t work as well as you might hope — but these particular complaints are directed with a bitterness that feels mainly like someone spited, like a spoiled teenager given a BMW by their parents throwing a tantrum because it’s blue instead of the black that they wanted.
Lurking behind all of this bitterness is a poison that’s fucking obliterating our cinematic discourse: The fan theory. If you’ve been on IGN or any of the major Star Wars subreddits, you’ve seen some of this nonsense: The endless speculation behind Rey’s and, to a lesser degree, Finn’s parentage, Snoke’s origins and his place in the overall story, Laura Dern’s significance in Episode IX, who’s gonna die, et cetera, et cetera.
Now, I’m not saying that having fun chatting with your friends or an online community about what you think might happen is a bad thing in and of itself. It’s a lot of fun! I do it myself quite often for this very website when a new trailer drops (though I hope you can tell that it’s not too serious and I don’t actually buy into all of my thoughts). But there comes a point, for a certain kind of fan when that kind of idle speculation transforms into something a bit more toxic: an expectation. See, they take their “Rey is a Kenobi” theory, no matter about how pointless it may be overal to the characters growth or how reductive it is — remember how much we hated the Midichlorian-based explanation for Force Sensitivity — or baseless it may be in canon. And, over the course of two years and countless arguments, it becomes belief. New bits and pieces of information confirm it (“Look at the way her outfit changes in the middle of the movie! That means I’ve got to be right!”), and it grows deeper and deeper. Said person talks to their friends about it and begins to stake bits and pieces of their reputation on these bad rumors (“I’m an original Star Wars fan, you should trust me!”), and it becomes inextricably linked to the person’s ego.
After months and months of moments like this, the fan buys his (it is most definitely a “he” here) ticket and sits down to watch the movie and discovers that they were entirely wrong. And instead of dealing with it like an adult and finding something else to focus on or perhaps looking a bit deeper and analyzing why that was, the fan lashes out, having devoted emotional energy to this. Why does Rian Johnson hate us? he wonders. This wouldn’t have happened in the old EU!
The resentment just builds and builds with each passing moment. Turns out The Force Awakens sucks too. They played it too safe, and now they’re going too far with this switch-up. They have a few big and exciting deaths in the middle of the movie, and the rest of the stuff that they thought goes right out the window as well. Even worse, they’re surrounded by people who have the gall to enjoy this garbage, so it just stews and stews within them. Next thing you know, they’re hassling journalists and critics who enjoyed the movie on the internet, and the dumbest amongst them burn their shirts and merchandise for the world to see. It’s disappointment, sure, but it’s a kind of disappointment that fans of this particular saga should be used to now, given that each every one of these movies disappointed from 1983 until The Force Awakens hit theaters in 2015. The only difference is that they’re deeply invested in ensuring that their own interests are protected.
Star Wars fans, much like each and every other fandom, feel entitled to help shape how the story goes in these things, and that’s natural: We all care about stupid and pointless past times and wish we could alter things about them that would enhance their success. But there’s a shift towards Monday Morning Quarterbacking in the Star Wars fandom that doesn’t just feel idle anymore, and it’s to the detriment of our discourse.
The Kenobi fan can’t see why Rey’s arc would be improved by the particular changes to her story, they can only see what they’ve been conditioned by people like George Lucas and the heavy insistence on plot manipulation towards the end of interconnectivity to expect. A nobody can’t rise and become the Galaxy’s savior in the Star Wars universe, that’d just be odd (and thank Jesus that Lucas never made the “Darth Sidious created Anakin” plotline certified canon). Nevermind that Jedi came from everywhere, from all backgrounds and races and species: Rey has to be a Kenobi.
It is ultimately the end of the Skywalker universe as we know it, and that is not a horrible thing: The universe is a vast and weird place, and instead of being excited to explore it, the Fans are sticking to the rote and comfortable. The lack of curiosity or consideration for things outside of their own damn expectations is suffocating, and I’m glad also that these particular fans aren’t being listened to in shaping the direction of the new trilogy.
Your fan theories are wrong and your expectations are wrong, and most of the filmgoing public couldn’t be happier.
Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus.