Why Do Star Wars Fans Hate Star Wars?
Earlier this year I went to Scum and Villainy Cantina, a Star Wars themed bar in Hollywood. I walked past the droid detector and up to the bar and ordered myself a galactic brew.
Star Wars fans were sucking down blue milk and talking loudly over different covers of the greatest hits of Figrin D'an and the Modal Nodes. Many were in cosplay: there was a pregnant “Ben in the oven” middle-aged Princess Leia, a Kylo Ren moodily sulking in the corner, and more than a few Han Solo’s cockily saddled up at the bar. I think I saw a Greedo waiting nervously in line at the refresher.
The mood seemed great, and in general everyone seemed pretty much stoked to be there. Drinks were a little expensive but I kept buying rounds and caught a nice little buzz. The smoke (machine) -filled room was glowing with neon, I was there, I was in THE Cantina. After a while people started filtering out of the galaxy far far away, onto the long streets of LA. As the place thinned out a bit I saw that one of the coveted booths (where Han shot Greedo) opened up, so I made my move. My girlfriend and I walked up to it at the exact same time as another couple. We ended up sharing the booth. It’s all good, I thought, just some fellow Star Wars fans to chat with.
“Now that is a sweet shirt, man,” the guy said. I must admit I was proud. I was wearing my ‘Millennium Falconry’ shirt. A Renaissance falconer stood with his arm outstretched, the Millennium Falcon perched on his arm. It’s not for everybody, but those that get it love it. Anyway, off to a good start I thought. And then -
“Man, that new Han Solo movie is going to suck, I just know it” the guy said to me, smiling ear to ear. His dislike for this movie that had not even come out yet was stated so plainly, in such simple terms, as though it was some apodictic truth that of course this movie was going to suck.
I didn’t really know what to say… I mean, weren’t we all here to celebrate something that we uniformly enjoyed? Just as a foundation, it seemed we could agree on the fact that we all loved Star Wars. From there the low hanging fruit (Ewoks, Jar Jar, space whales, Hayden Christensen, another Death Star, etc.) could be nitpicked and debated to no end. I mean, being a Star Wars fan has always involved a more than healthy dose of nit picking. That’s basically what we do. But categorically and wholeheartedly hating and dismissing a movie before the filmmakers were even done with principal photography - that doesn’t really leave much room for discussion.
The guy went on. I could tell he was baiting me. “So, what did you think of Rogue One?” he asked.
“I loved it,” I said. “I thought the last act contained some of the most exciting Star Wars we have ever gotten. And the set up for A New Hope… it was perfect.”
The girlfriend of the guy looked over at him somewhat nervously, full of apprehension. As if she had been through this routine many times before.
“I hated it, absolutely hated it.” He seemed almost proud as he said it, his face was beaming. I looked down at his t-shirt. In big bold letters at the top it said STAR WARS and underneath it had an image: half an Alliance Starbird and half an Imperial Cog.
Huh, I thought to myself.
Well, we ended up going back and forth for a while as I tried to convince him what was awesome about Rogue One. His biggest hang up was Leia’s line about being on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan after Vader had just watched her ship flee the Battle of Scarif. I mean, that is a somewhat valid discrepancy, but I have heard some good retconning that she is gaslighting him. Regardless, that is in no way enough to hate the whole movie. But there was just no convincing him. This lover of Star Wars, at a Star Wars themed bar, wearing a Star Wars tee shirt, sitting in a booth that was a replica of the booth where Han Solo shot Greedo, sipping on freakin’ blue milk, wanted to talk about nothing other than the Star Wars movies that he hated. One of them not even in theaters yet.
Now, Star Wars is no stranger to its fan base hating it. Way back at the initial release of The Empire Strikes Back lots of fans were pretty lukewarm; today it is easily the favorite of the 6, I mean 8, well soon to be 9 movies. And that seems to be a pretty consistent trend. There is this routine of exceedingly unrealistic expectations, then disappointment and despair, and then vengeful resentment. Give it a few years, and that hatred has transformed into glowing nostalgia and warm familiarity. From Empire and Return of the Jedi, to the Prequels, The Clone Wars, and the Expanded Universe.
Fandom’s hatred seems to be a rite of passage, a threshold for a Star Wars story to traverse, to then years later come out on the other side of as a beloved piece of storytelling.
Hating the Prequels was all the rage for a while. Simon Pegg famously referred to them as “Utter Infanticide,” and then there was ‘The People vs George Lucas,’ a documentary of sorts where grumpy middle-aged men talked about all the things that didn’t live up to their expectations in The Phantom Menace. But now we are in Disney-era Star Wars. The Prequels seem to have a bit of a new shine to them. They stand as a testament to when Lucasfilm was a one-man show. The George Lucas show. People seem to have forgotten or have grown bored with how much they once hated these movies. J. J. Abrams, and his initially nearly universally praised Episode IIV: The Force Awakens, is the new target.
Two years ago, I don’t recall anybody hating on The Force Awakens. Sure, there was the occasional comment of how it was derivative or didn’t take enough chances but for the most part people seemed genuinely stoked. Star Wars was back, and unlike with Lucas’ much maligned Prequels both critics and fandom were embracing this new chapter of the sequel trilogy. But nothing gold can stay… The internet, or the echo chamber as it were, has become a place where negativity festers and grows.
In the last couple years, this new trend has developed: where once fans’ expectations were impossibly high, there now seems to be a desire for the new movies to fail. There’s this fervent anticipation that each new release will ultimately be the worst one yet. But Disney and Lucasfilm keep letting these people down. Rogue One was a commercial and critical success, even after many saw the dramatic reshoots as a prophecy for its failure. Since fans can’t point to a critical panning, they are instead drawn to the minutiae that they see as being inconsistent with the way that Star Wars ‘should be.’ The guy I met at the cantina in LA just couldn’t get beyond that one detail at the end. That was enough for him to discredit all the awesome things in Rogue One. But harping on that detail for him allowed a personal ownership of the movie. A ‘hot take’ if you will. Loving it felt like a betrayal to his obsession with every detail from the Original Trilogy. Fandom seems to have taken a contrarian approach: you know what movie is awesome now, Attack of the Clones, and The Force Awakens is just a boring carbon copy of A New Hope. The original Battlefront II video game from 2005 is way better than the Battlefront II that comes out this year, the expanded universe novels were so inventive and the new Disney canon is all filler. Hating on the new, and propping up the old with retroactive glorification, seems to be some form of gatekeeping. It is a self-defense mechanism that keeps the fan’s personal history with the material as a sacred experience.
Of course, this is not every fan of Star Wars. Certainly, these ‘hate-fans’ make up a small percentage of the people in the theater. But they are a loud presence within fandom, especially on the internet. There’s an online petition to remove J.J. Abrams as director of Episode IX. It is a small but passionate faction, and they truly seem to embrace their hatred. They have fallen to the dark side, and not unlike Anakin, can no longer search for the light for fear of illuminating any transgressions that go against their hate creed.
At the end of the day, it is their loss. This franchise is firing on all cylinders. This thing that they love the most has never been more prolific or prevalent: movies, TV shows, video games, novels, theme parks, and even bars are all over the place. Not all of these efforts are winners. But so many of them are. And this just seems to piss some fans off even more. The bigger it gets, potentially even the better it gets, just adds more fuel to the Star Wars fan’s hate. Wouldn’t it just be more fun to sit in the dimly lit cantina on Hollywood Blvd, take a big swig of blue milk, and talk about how awesome Star Wars is?