While discussing pop cultural blindspots with a co-worker recently, I admitted that Star Wars is something of a personal sore spot. I’ve seen all the films, watched my fair share of The Clone Wars, and thumbed through a comic or two, but I have never and probably will never be able to love the franchise because of one rather significant part of the Star Wars experience: The fandom.
I think it all stems from the fact that growing up as a kid, I never had much of a connection to Star Wars. The Phantom Menace was the first of the films I can distinctly remember seeing in a theater, and unlike many of my friends, neither of my parents were particularly into the franchise. To me (a child of the ‘90s), Star Wars was a series of relatively older films with so-so special effects, silly costumes, and a main villain who, from the looks of it appeared to be a grown man wearing an extravagant bathrobe and a helmet that—sorry, folks—looks like the tip of a penis.
At age nine, The Phantom Menace was almost exactly what I wanted out of a space opera for kids. Cool weird planets, even cooler ships, and just enough allusion to the larger story looming in the future that it felt like I was, for the first time, beginning to see what all of the fuss was about. But just as I began to consider myself something of a fledgling Star Wars fan, I got my first real taste of fandom backlash from an older generation of enthusiasts who, in retrospect, were dealing with a series of emotions that I didn’t quite understand, but drove me away from the series all the same.
The Star Wars prequels are not exceptionally good movies, but they aren’t particularly awful, either. Rather, they’re a dramatic shift in style and tone from the original trilogy that catapulted the franchise and its cast to superstardom. But the vehemence with which people pooh-poohed the new films (and still do) spoke to something that has always unsettled me about the Star Wars fandom.
Star Wars fans, like all diehard nerds, are an intense bunch of folks for whom the films, television shows, and books are more than mere entertainment. For some, they’re formative parts of their childhoods—crucial pieces of art that helped them become the people they are today. In Star Wars, many fans have found friends, family, and community in a way that I can recognize as being deeply powerful and emotionally fulfilling. But there’s a way in which the largess of Star Wars has the odd ability to bring out a kind of feverish fanaticism in people. Everyone feels as if they own Star Wars because they love it, but when a fandom gets that big, trying to find your place within it can become a daunting and taxing experience.
A big part of the problem is that there’s just too much damned Star Wars content to consume. Even with the mass culling of the extended Star Wars universe that Disney thankfully introduced, the company is hellbent in churning out movies set in galaxies far, far away until our own universe perishes due to heat death. Rogue One was a lovely change of pace from the rest of the franchise’s excessively optimistic films, but do we need a Han Solo movie? Do we need a Jabba the Hutt movie? No, we do not, but Disney is in the business of making money and it knows just how rabid an appetite our global culture has for Star Wars.
Much in the same way that big-budget comic book movies are seriously beginning to show just how formulaic the genre has become, Star Wars has started to show that its over-reliance on nostalgia isn’t exactly something that the studio is interested in changing. Although it’s set in a world filled with billions of potential stories, we’re still mucking around with the Skywalker family after all these years, and as lovely as Finn, Poe, and Rose Tico are, Star Wars is still embarrassingly white.
The fact that even the smallest attempt at shifting Star Wars’ focus away from this same family promptly gets people foaming at the mouth is one of the oddest, most unsettling things about the franchise. This is all coming from someone who sees these films as... just films. They’re fun, they’re dumb, they have a good message at their heart, but to me, they’re still just films and therein lies the core of the problem. I’m always going to be playing emotional catch-up when it comes to Star Wars in a way that makes it difficult to connect with the franchise and those who cherish it.
At the end of the day, I realize that this is mostly a personal issue that I’m just going to have to deal with and that’s fine. There will be more Star Wars media and I’ll gladly (if casually) consume it, but I’m just never going to feel that deep-seated love for the franchise that so many other people do.