Star Wars Fandom - What Changed?

The Star Wars community is struggling with a lot of toxicity these days. Some suggest that it stated with the Disney buyout. But did it?

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Some of you grew up with the Prequels being your first Star Wars movies (in theaters). Many of that generation love the prequels wholeheartedly! Being from the older (OT) generation, I remember the span between 1983 - 1999 when there were no movies, when books only started to come out in 1991 with "Heir of the Empire".  Even then they were written almost haphazardly , with contradictions scattered across the EU (because George Lucas didn't care about the books; there was no Story Group to even consider any sense of continuity).

So when TPM was announced, we all went spastic! We were so excited, our fandom was reignited! I have photos, images, screen shots, and other things from that period that highlight just how excited I was for the first new Star Wars movie in years! The Vanity Fair Star Wars edition magazine came out - and we shot through the roof!  The trailers hit and our energy levels tripled!

Does any of this remind you of the energy in fandom for TFA or TLJ? I was at SW Celebration Orlando (2017) when they showed the first teaser trailer for TLJ - and how the entire convention center went insane when Rian Johnson unveiled it! It played on loop for what seemed like hours - we were fixated and enthralled!

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I was honored and lucky enough to see the first (midnight) showing of The Phantom Menace at Mann's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, with the fellows who stood in line for weeks on the sidewalk. I still stay in touch with Lincoln, the guy who organized all that. I'll never forget that experience, with all the fans, the energy, the excitement, the anticipation. We got into the theatre 2 hours ahead of the midnight showing.  Beachballs were being thrown around, people were running up & down the aisles.  Then finally, the lights dimmed and the audience screamed like you've never heard before!  I remember looking across at Lincoln, we were literally sitting on the edges of our seats (the best seats in the house, btw), and yelling at each other "OMG I CAN'T BELIEVE IT'S FINALLY HAPPENING!!"  Then the Lucasfilm logo came up and the combined energy of everyone in the room would have propelled a rocket into space!  "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away" came on screen. This was what we were waiting for! Our dreams were coming true!

It was 3am. Lincoln, myself, and two others of our group were the last people to leave the lobby - first in, last out as it were. We were standing there completely in shock.  I remember things like "what just happened?" and "I don't want to go out there - I don't want to talk about it" -- there was a street full of TV trucks and journalists waiting for audience reactions. The hype of the movie didn't live up to our expectations by any means. We felt let down, disappointed - we were shattered. What just happened?

Sound familiar?

Now in fairness, I've warmed up to TPM over the years. I appreciate the PT movies for what they were (I can't change them, after all), and for the story they told. The Maker didn't create these movies for the fans, he created them for himself. We generally agree the directing was terrible, which created the issue of "bad acting" for Padmé and Anakin (good actors who got asked to do unnatural things).  AotC is often ranked as peoples' least favorite SW movie of the 10 that are out.

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So let's face it - the division in Fandom started happening way before Disney came into the picture. Even today, there remain some pretty hard core "prequel haters" - you can't put that on Disney.

So with that in perspective now - what's changed? Why does Fandom keep growing apart from each other?

I'm definitely on board with attributing some of it to the growth (and reliance?) on social media. It creates some very vocal platforms - which often don't represent a voice proportional to the represented group.

I'm still in the camp that it's all about expectations. Perhaps that stems from my TPM experience. That first viewing felt like a huge slap in the face. I had built up so much in terms of what I expected. George Lucas had let me down.Nowadays I hold a low bar. That's not a pessimistic approach though - it's simply about not letting expectations ruin my experience. I go into a movie now with an open mind. Perhaps even realizing "this is not going to go the way you think!" If you let that go, and just "experience" the movie and let it play out, doesn't that allow you to have a better experience?

The division seems to be between people who either totally hate the new movies, or think they're perfection. But most of us, I'd argue, are in between. We can enjoy it for what it is, acknowledge the parts we don't like, because we know no movie is perfect, and still walk out of the theatre feeling good overall. Isn't that a better experience. So why does it have to be anything else?

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So what's changed in the Star Wars Fandom? Maybe the answer is: nothing. We started to see fandom get divided by the prequels, and it's just been getting noisier since then. Acts of toxicity have been elevated to be effectively "hate crimes". But has the size of the population of haters really grown? It's difficult to say.  Maybe they're just more vocal, or more visible, due to the increased connectivity within the community through social media and the Internet.  But with box office numbers for the saga movies still topping $1 billion, there's obviously a lot of fans who still are committing to the franchise with their wallets.

I have to reject any claims that any of this is actually Disney's fault. You're looking for a scapegoat.  "Disney started this when they reset canon!"  That's your expectations and your "head canon" talking.  George Lucas's view on the SW universe was that only thing considered canon was the movies he created; he never considered the EU as canon.  Disney only said it out loud.  

So why didn't we rail against George Lucas for the prequels? Oh wait, WE DID! The term "prequel haters" is still used commonly within the community, but not with such vitriol as debates about the newer films.

So why is the fandom acting like this is new? Is it just easier to blame Disney and deify Lucas at this point?

Star Wars fandom has been wrestling with division for a lot longer than we realize (or care to admit). Yes, the noise has grown louder, but the issues remain the same. I went through it with TPM - it wasn't the movie I expected. But with time, I accepted it.  And I still like it better than AotC.

ESB got poor reviews when it came out, yet today it's many peoples' favorite SW movie. 

So what changed?


Cheers/Cheerz,

Steve