Ok nerds, stick with me on this one, I promise there’s a valid point to be made here.
I have been in the very depths of fandom for many years, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. And recently, I’ve seen an interesting shift in the perception of fandom by the “public” and, even more critically, the media producers themselves. The turn from viewing fandom as a strange, taboo underground society of loners and geeks to viewing them as loyal franchise aficionados was, of course, money. The big studios and companies realized that if they could make being obsessed with their products the “cool” thing to be, they could exploit that love in the form of merch, theme parks, and opening weekend numbers.
Now, simply creating merch and theme parks and premiere buzz is not malicious in and of itself (unless you subscribe to the belief that capitalism is inherently malicious, which I won’t argue). The issue is that when it comes to fandom, these big companies want to have their cake and eat it too — they want the draw of fandom practices, of making people completely obsessed with their property, but they don’t want to actually engage with the fans in a meaningful way or listen to their desires.
Fandom has historically been built by LGBTQ+ communities and people of color, and yet these marginalized groups are the ones that get shafted the most by companies despite their push for fandom practice.
And this isn’t surprising, because this is where the money comes in.
Though they want all demographics to support their work, huge media companies are only interested in providing for the straight, white, middle class. There is such a deep fear of isolating this demographic and losing revenue that these storylines will always take precedence over more diverse (and interesting) options.
Furthermore, the push for more fan activity has resulted in more online discussion, critical breakdowns, fan theories, predictions, and expressed desires for future installments. However, this is the last thing the media companies wanted. As we’ve seen in many franchises recently like Marvel, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars, studios are feeling a pressure to deliver plots that the fans haven’t guessed, despite how that effects the logic of the story and the characters.
What these companies really want is blind, mindless devotion — for fans to celebrate all and criticize none, but that has never been how fandom works. Fandom is and has always been an active practice, and lately, with the prevalence of fandom on vocal platforms like Twitter and YouTube, this has been the very undoing of our most beloved franchises.
To be clear, I put very little blame on the fans, whose ideas, concerns, and desires are valid. It is the producer’s responsibility to create a product that addresses these things and provides a satisfying experience for viewers. But to say that no part of the explosion of fandom culture has been negative would be irresponsible.
The fact is, in large fandoms there are inevitably going to be differing opinions on the “right” direction for the franchise. The split of opinion on The Last Jedi is proof enough that there is no way to make everyone happy. And that’s the problem — people are only happy if they get everything they want, and that’s simply impossible to do with franchises this massive. There is no compromise from fans, they either love it or hate entirely, and this mindset has created a toxicity within the very idea of fandom.
Ok, so what’s the point of all this? Well, the point is that while media producers absolutely have a responsibility to create stories that reflect and respond to current social issues, pressures, and desires, we as fans also have a responsibility to recognize that new installments of franchises are doomed to never reach the same heights as the ones we first fell in love with. Notice I didn’t say “the originals”, I said “the ones we fell in love with” and that’s because our enjoyment is defined by certain, specific experience.
No, I’m not saying you have to like The Rise of Skywalker just because, and I’m certainly not defending it. But I am saying that the hostility carried over from The Last Jedi meant that it never stood a chance.
Is there a solution here? Maybe not a concise one. But at the very least, we can all take a moment to realize that our feelings about new installments do not have to undo our love for the older ones. You can love the original trilogy, hate the sequels, and still call yourself a Star Wars fan. You do not have attack people who enjoy the sequels. They can be Star Wars fans too. Of course, we all want every part of our object of fandom affection to be perfect, but unfortunately when talking about fandoms this large, there is no definition of perfection.
It’s best to take everything with a grain of salt, and allow yourself to have your own feelings about a new installment. You don’t have to love it or hate it to be a “true fan”. It can be what it is to you. That is what fandom truly is.