Naïve (adjective): (of a person or action) showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgement. I have chosen this word over delusional, foolish or puerile in an attempt to keep this post measured and level headed. Because this is a discussion about fandom and it’s a subject that is seldom driven by cool, even handed, mature reflection. Fandom is about passion, strong emotional connections and a sense of community. These can be and often are positive things. Yet fandom can also be about myopia, zealotry and gate-keeping. Something that that is supposed to bring people together can degenerate into a “them and us” scenario. Just another binary, tribal, world view that screams at anyone or anything that is not “the same”. And in recent years, due to the internet and social media, fandom has now developed an erroneous sense of ownership. By loving something and venerating it, you (allegedly) have an inherent stake in it and a right to say how it evolves. Which leads me neatly on to “Remake the Last Jedi” movement and the staggering naivety that underpins it.
For those who may not be aware (and in some ways I envy you) a group of “devoted” Star Wars fans are currently lobbying, campaigning and generally advocating that the recent instalment in the franchise, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, is remade because it wasn’t to fans liking. Take a moment to read the official statement from their website. “Welcome to the Rebellion. This is a campaign to provide Disney an opportunity to course correct with the Star Wars franchise. The fans are completely divided, and the core goal of Star Wars has been abandoned. The goal is to not make one half of the fandom happy over the other, it is to make a film that the fandom in general as a whole enjoys. The hero archetypes of the original films are what made these so great, it made characters that everyone could relate to regardless of their background and beliefs. No longer having this core element along with poor storytelling, has made the franchise divisive and in disarray”.
It’s difficult to know exactly where so start with such spurious reasoning as this. The above statement seems to be predicated on numerous false axioms and driven by a quite frankly staggering degree of hubris. Yet these seem to be common facets of fandom these days. However, let’s try and remain rational and the unpick Gordian knot that is zealous, fundamentalist fandom. First off, Star Wars: The Last Jedi grossed $1,332,539,889 internationally, which is broadly five times it’s budget. Star Wars: The Force Awakens made $2,068,223,624 at the global box office, which is about eight times its production costs. So, although there was a drop-in revenue with regard to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the movie can hardly be described as a financial flop. It can be cogently argued that the high gross of the first Star Wars sequel was primarily driven by curiosity in the franchises re-launch. The bottom line is that Star Wars: The Last Jedi was broadly a financial and critical success. The fact that it was not well received by some fans is simply a foot note to this. A tangential incident and an event of no more significance than a reflection of the capricious nature of fandom.
So, I think we can safely say that from Disney’s perspective there is no pressing need to “course correct” the Star Wars franchise. Certainly not from a financial perspective. But that’s not what is meant is it. The course correction referred to by “Remake the Last Jedi” is the narrative and specifically, its racial and gender diversity. Because apparently anything that isn’t a white hero, a white secondary hero, and venerable old sage like white hero and a solitary sassy girl who needs to be rescued, isn’t living up to “hero archetypes of the original films”. Archetypes that were steeped in the prevailing socio-political-economic attitude of the times (IE the seventies), which as we know from history where a veritable golden age of equality and moral rectitude. Make no mistake, these trite excuses trotted out with tedious predictability are just the usual smokescreen for a section of society who don’t like the slow and gradual diminishment of their demographic privilege. Once again, we see a percentage of fans that are angry because they didn’t get a movie made exclusively on their terms, servicing their questionable needs.
Another myth that is being perpetuated here is that Star Wars movies and indeed any franchise movies per se, are made exclusively to cater to the needs of core fans. They are not. I’ll say that again in case the sound of certain parties’ jaws dropping and hitting the ground drowned me out. Just because you like something and you’re vocal about your appreciation of it, it doesn’t make you the exclusive customer. It’s a simple question of numbers and economics. The box office returns from fans alone are not going to make a healthy profit for the studio. This matter came up recently with the Warcraft movie, which I happened to think was a above average genre outing. Many of those who have avid played the game over the years felt that the movie was too broad and covered to much familiar territory. Why didn’t the film concentrate on more specific aspects of the lore? Well the answer boils down to accessibility. To ensure adequate box office returns, the movie had to provide an overview of the established lore and a means for the casual viewer to get up to speed. This is something that Peter Jackson wrestled with when he adapted (and that is the key word) The Lord of the Rings. If a studio focuses solely upon fans, then they are effectively setting boundaries on a movies appeal. Steven Spielberg struggled with this issue more recently with Ready Player One. As a result, the films narrative suffered. Movies are made for profit first, art second. More bums on seats means more money.
Furthermore, irrespective of the credibility of the arguments put forward by “Remake the Last Jedi”, there is another major pachyderm on the mezzanine to consider. Namely the legal possibility of remaking such a film is negligible. Putting aside the immense loss of face a studio would suffer in conceding that one of its products is so bad, that they felt compelled to let “joe public” remake it, the legal logistics of such an undertaking would be prodigious, requiring support and sign off from multiple parties. Although it’s far from a like-for-like comparison, look at the fate of Star Trek Axanar when it attempted to “rub” another studio’s “rhubarb”. That project has ended exactly everyone thought it would. So, because there is no conceivable situation where such a project could be facilitated, this entire “Remake the Last Jedi” endeavour is nothing more than a public act of showing one’s displeasure. Now in principle, I have no problem with that as I support the right for peaceful protest. However, those protesting do not have the right to avoid scrutiny of their cause and subsequent judgements of its righteousness. For me and many others, it is absent in this case.
Steeping asides from the specifics of this incident, there is much to reflect upon in a wider context. The growth of this more zealous form of fandom is extremely counterproductive. It perpetuates a stereotype or fans being dysfunctional social misfits, drives away moderate and even-handed supporters and validates the notion held by some, that pop culture having an infantilising effect upon society. Certainly, there are elements here of “me, me” culture present in the “Remake the Last Jedi” movement. This ties in with the wider growth of “faith and feeling over facts” and the compulsion to make every nuanced discussion into a trite binary argument that demands you to pick a side. In many ways this is just another aspect of growing cultural decline that accounts for so many of the political “upsets” we’ve seen of late. Now, I’m sure some readers may be inclined towards dismissing “Remake the Last Jedi” out of hand as just being the an excessively vocal minority taking advantage of social media and it’s reach. But I think it is symptomatic of a more comprehensive shift in the western zeitgeist and that it’s not a change for the better. I fully expect something similar and more incredible to occur soon. Also, it’s only a matter of time before something tragic happens.