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:
WAR! Darkness is everywhere. Various factions of fandom are fighting each other over the right way to love Star Wars. And with my love of Star Wars since childhood and my anxiety about "pendulum swings" and corporate PR trashing The Last Jedi, I'm worried about whether I'll like The Rise of Skywalker. Even worse, if I do, I'm worried I may fall into the same toxic fandom that has sapped my love of my favorite thing.
But there are some things which give me hope. And perspective.
Crisis on Infinite Fandoms
This past week we've been treated to a really fun crossover event on The CW's Arrowverse shows. I really liked all three episodes and am looking forward to the final episodes next year. Earlier this year I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article predicting everything that will definitely happen in Crisis. And. . . let's go to the tape: I was completely wrong.
Out of nine predictions I made, I count two, maybe two and a half that I even came close to. Most of them were a complete whiff. And this is instructive: I don't care that I was wrong. (I mean, I'm a little embarrassed at my prognostication skills, but here I am being honest about it.)
Yes, I really wanted to see Diggle as a Green Lantern. But it wasn't meant to be. Am I the tiniest bit disappointed? Yes. Am I mad about it? Nope. Am I holding on to hope in the 4th and 5th final episodes I'll be proved right and it will happen? Yeah, but I'm not expecting it.
Why? Because this is what happens when you play the speculation game. Yes, it's fun to sneak under the Christmas tree and shake the brightly colored packages and imagine what they are. And this is especially true of a filmmaker like Abrams and a franchise like Star Wars.
But you know what's a terrible thing to do? When you get a sweater from grandma instead of an iPad, you don't pout and tell her she ruined Christmas. If you really wanted a Ninja Foodi and got an Instant Pot instead, if you throw a fit about it, you're the asshole, not whoever got you the nice gift.
Same for our fandoms. Same for The Rise of Skywalker. If it turns out Rey's parents weren't filthy junk traders, and Luke was lying to her and he was her father all along? Well, I'll be disappointed for a moment. And then move on. Same if she's a Kenobi, or a Palpatine, or some other weird fan theory. (Not disappointed if it turns out one of those filthy junk traders was Qi'ra, but would mostly only make me want an Emilia Clarke spinoff involving Crimson Dawn, Darth Maul, etc. But if not, again, I move on.)
Last year about this time I wrote an impassioned plea about how Mary Poppins is the best movie musical ever and the symbolism of the tuppence. Then Mary Poppins Returns came along and completely debunked my (nevertheless well crafted) argument. I'm not even mad about it. I was wrong, but, here's a secret– in my own personal headcanon I can still pretend I'm right.
If all we ever expect from our media, and especially Star Wars, is nonstop wish fulfillment and fanservice, then we're the Mary Sues in the most literal sense of the original term: we've placed ourselves in the middle of the story and it's all about how awesome and special we are.
Don't be that Star Wars fan.
I'm not saying you have to love everything that's put in front of you. Far from it. Be critical, be thoughtful, be demanding of your media. But especially expect that it at least occasionally surprises you. Again, to bring it back to a holiday metaphor, if someone brings green bean casserole to your Friendsgiving and you don't like it, just don't eat it. But don't spend your meal telling other people they're wrong for liking green bean casserole.
And especially don't spend TWO YEARS (or in the case of the prequels, TWENTY YEARS) telling people they are wrong for liking something in Star Wars. Simply move on, and get second and third helpings of the things you do love.
Revenge of the Miffed
Confession time: I did not like The Clone Wars "movie" that was released into theaters. I felt it was a step down from Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars miniseries in terms of both story and animation. I did not like the characterizations, especially how Anakin called Ahsoka "Snips" and she called him "Sky Guy." Ziro the Hutt is an abomination and little Rotta being referred to as "Stinky" (again with the nicknames) wore on my last nerve.
But all that meant was that I just didn't watch the show as it continued on Cartoon Network. A friend and I continued to discuss the show, and he kept talking about how it was getting better. I listened. When he described "The Zillo Beast" episodes as takes on King Kong and Godzilla, I gave it a try again. And I liked it. I grew to love Ahsoka and what Dave Filoni was doing with the show. It created a larger, broader Star Wars universe. I still don't love those early episodes, but. . . I also skip most of the first seasons of The Simpsons and Seinfeld.
This, to me, seems like the best model path for how I'll approach potential disappointment with The Rise of Skywalker. Don't like it? Move on but don't let it weigh me down. Be willing to give it a try again. When Solo came out I wasn't in love with it– like 7/10, good, but not great. My most recent rewatch (today, as I write this) I was smiling ear to ear in many parts. I now understand my enthusiasm for the movie was sapped by the fandom itself and toxicity that had crept into all aspects of Star Wars.
If I don't like The Rise of Skywalker, I will write a snarky review, maybe a thinkpiece or two, and then move on. It has been months since Joker came out, and I feel zero need to tell people they're wrong for liking that movie, even though it wasn't particularly to my taste. Instead, I'll spread the love for how much I did like Shazam! or The Farewell (which has nothing to do with Joker or DC Comics, it's just a really good movie).
One of the most important and enduring messages of The Star Wars Saga and the redemption of Anakin Skywalker is to "let go of your hate." The world today is incredibly messed up. There's too much drama in real life already without carrying around a grudge against a movie I didn't like.
If JJ Abrams serves up reheated and rehashed Return of the Jedi, so be it. If he goes after The Last Jedi and retcons major pieces of storytelling, I will probably get immediately defensive and strike out in anger, just like Luke hearing Vader threaten to attack and turn his sister.
But I will not let it turn me to the dark side. I will gaze at my robot hand, think of the monster I would become if I were to let this fear and anger consume me, and toss away my lightsaber. (Now THAT'S rehashed Return of the Jedi!)
Because it's just not worth it. I love these movies so dearly. As a critic, it's my job to criticize. but as a consumer of media my choice is binary: consume, or don't consume. Buy a ticket, don't buy a ticket. These franchises live and die on repeat viewings. If I don't like it, I'll vote with my wallet and not see it a second, third, eighth time like I did for Force Awakens, Rogue One, and The Last Jedi.
Because if Star Wars truly means anything to me, I will follow one of its most important lessons: Let go.
Confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi. In a darkened theater this week, I'll face my fears of disappointment in The Rise of Skywalker. And I'll let you know how I feel afterward. Check-in with me on Twitter on Wednesday after the embargo breaks (No spoilers, I promise).
The Force will be with us. Always.