Last week I started getting worried about Star Wars and, specifically, JJ Abrams and the direction of The Rise of Skywalker. This led me down a dark path, but one which I hope I have emerged from, like the cave on Ahch-To or Dagobah, with greater wisdom and perspective. This is my journey:
Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Tweets
When we last left my journey through the fandom, I talked about my love of Star Wars since I was knee-high to a womp rat. But in the last week, I've started getting worried that JJ Abrams is going to give us something in The Rise of Skywalker that I don't really like. My anxiety was peaking after a New York Times article and some choice quotes about pendulum swings and meta-commentary.
It also seemed like a corporate public relations campaign (something which I am incredibly experienced in professionally). The irony of ironies! Disney, a corporation lambasted by a disgruntled group of fans for "ruining" Star Wars, trying to appease these same fans with a slick PR campaign– the exact kind of thing these fanboys "hate" about Disney's iterations of Star Wars. My professional advice to Disney would be Han talking to Luke:
"This is not gonna work."
"Why didn't you say so before?"
"I DID say so before."
Also, "[Wading into the toxic fandom] was a really wonderful idea. What an incredible smell you've discovered."
Regardless, I became unsettled. Was this just PR trying to mollify the unmollifiable? Or was there something more?
And then Twitter happened. What a wretched hive of scum and villainy. And fascists.
Suddenly, film and Star Wars Twitter were re-litigating The Last Jedi in reaction to that NYT article. All the old arguments were back, and, frankly, some of the fans who have decried toxic behavior online in the past were engaging in some low key trolling themselves.
The Dark Side called to me, just like it did to Rey, drawing her to the cave on Ahch-To. And amid the cacophony of a million identical snapbacks in a self-perpetuating circle, the answer became clear to me: Just walk away. Nothing useful is happening here.
And my anxiety spiraled into depression as I realized that no matter how good The Rise of Skywalker is, people are going to be disappointed. And some among those disappointed people are going to be toxic assholes. And they are going to ruin Star Wars for everyone. Again.
But it worries me that this "pendulum swing" might mean we go back to a more predictable, less subversive, less surprising, less interesting brand of Star Wars. For example, I'd brought up theories about Rey's parents previously: I remain on #TeamFilthyJunkTraders because I love what it says about the nature of the Force and what makes any of us special, makes any of us heroes.
Using the Force isn't a power the Jedi have to move rocks around, and it certainly isn't just some weird blood disease where you have a bunch of "midichlorians" in your DNA and that's what makes you special. And so some "Chosen One" who came out of ol' Sheev Palpatine's and Darth Plageius's weird-ass experiments with midichlorians that became the virgin birth to Shmi Skywalker means he gets to use this magic power better than everyone else? And the galaxy and our stories all revolve around only his family? Hard pass.
But speaking of putting too much stock into fan theories or what we think we know, while I love the idea that Rey's parents were filthy junk traders, I am also intrigued by the idea that Kylo Ren was simply gaslighting our hero to try to manipulate her. But if Rey is Luke's daughter (which many have long theorized) it seems like we get something less special, as it's the predictable answer yet again.
It would mean that Star Wars has become what the Disney critics (some of the loudest among TLJ haters) have always said: this is all about selling toys and merchandise, and therefore, about talking down to the lowest common denominator and taking all (fun, interesting) the rough edges off. It would be the cinematic equivalent of gluing in Boba Fett's firing rocket pack because you're worried some people might shoot their eye out.
Speaking of the merchandising. my anxiety is compounded by what seems to be a concerted effort to remove Rose Tico from everything from t-shirts to posters to tote bags.
The version of the movie poster featuring Rose from leaked merch designs, vs the version of the poster ultimately going on shirts, trading cards, and tote bags pic.twitter.com/Av4RZqpUvJ
— Jenny Nicholson (@JennyENicholson) October 4, 2019
I can understand a giant media empire deciding not to poke the bear and playing more conservatively with their billions of dollars in investment into this franchise. But the fact that this seems to be retroactive, removing a character after the fact, seems retrogressive. Worse, it appeases the worst elements of the fanbase who seem decided in their criticism that they will never be appeased, never be happy.
In essence, Disney has an abusive relationship with its toxic fanbase. And no matter how much they try to make their abuser happy, they will never be able to. But I ultimately can't control what a multibillion-dollar corporation will do. Disney gonna Disney. I can't control the toxic fandom. But I can control myself, and when recognizing a shift towards the Dark Side in myself, what do I do? My fear about The Rise of Skywalker will lead to anger, anger to hate, and hate to suffering. So what do I do?
I must unlearn what I have learned. I must let go.
In my next and final step in this journey, I'll ruminate on Crisis on Infinite Earths, Mary Poppins, and The Clone Wars cartoon to look for a resolution.