How The Last Jedi Made Me Rethink My Star Wars Fandom

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The franchise that started as a little film in 1977 could have easily drifted into the backlog of our culture, but in the internet age Star Wars has become so pervasive it soaks in to every crevice of our lives. This is due in large part to Lucas Film licensing every inch of Star Wars for just about anything, and it’s ramped up by Disney shoving a new movie in our faces every year for the next 1000 generations.

As a Star Wars fan I’m not always sure how I feel about this new amplified exposure. I’m always excited to see new Star Wars films, but I’m a little worried all the life and spirit of the movies will be crushed under an avalanche of Storm Trooper bobble heads, and Lightsaber toothbrushes.  It seems inevitable that the constant inundation of Star Wars will eventually become so exhausting it all folds in on itself with a giant sucking sound.

The Last Jedi is where I first heard the sucking sound, however that’s not a full reflection of how I feel about the movie, I enjoyed it. It started when I realized it was the first Star Wars movie that left me feeling somewhat indifferent. So, when I reached for that knee-jerk Star Wars reaction to the new film it wasn’t there. It was the first time I didn’t care about a Star Wars movie. I’m aware this is just another step in my metamorphosis into becoming my father, but I also realized anyone indifferent to these last three films has a unique perspective from the middle of a widening chasm of fans, a chasm dug by a million lines in the sand.

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But, it’s not the hysteria from the people on the fringes; it’s the common Star Wars fan drawing our little lines in the sand while declaring what a Star Wars movie is and is not. For some it’s the insistence the ewoks ruined Return of The Jedi, for others it’s a passionate defense of the prequels (guys, for real, let it go).  For me, its Rogue One;  If you’ve been within 10 yards of me talking about Star Wars in the last year, you know I don’t like that movie. It’s become a running joke whenever the subject of Rogue One comes up I go through all my reasons for why I think it’s a bad movie. However, for many, no movie has been more divisive than The Last Jedi.

With its inexplicable story decisions, completely unsatisfying character arcs and clunky humor, TLJ ends up being a pretty mediocre film with some great moments nonetheless. It’s another disposable blockbuster to be thrown into the social media blender and spit back out. But, if there is one point or theme The Last Jedi manages to get across through the blur of mediocrity, is that in order for this franchise to survive Disney needs to break away from the limited scope established in the first two trilogies, and we the fans need to be more open to possibilities, even if it means some nonstarters and or even bad movies. The demand for these films to bottle up and mass distribute that magical feeling we all had when we first watched Luke, Han, and Leia save the galaxy is what will choke the life out of it. The worst thing Disney and Lucas Film can do in response to the divided fan reaction to TLJ is to fall back on such a tired familiarity rather than push forward into new experimentation. And the worst thing we can do as fans is demand any of these films meet a narrow expectation based on our past experiences with the franchise. It’s how we end up with films like Rogue One, a movie many people enjoyed, but is stripped of all narrative substance in favor of empty Star Wars fluff, making it essentially an elaborate fan film (even you’re not spared from the wrath of my smug).

The truth is if you haven’t already noticed, I’m writing this out of catharsis for my own fandom. Maybe, like for so many others, it’s interwoven with many of my best childhood memories, helping to shape my very first impressions of movies (and mass marketing). Eventually my devotion to Star Wars had given me a sense of ownership over it, narrowing my view to the minutia of each film. However, it’s easier to foster such devotions when the films were rare. But, they’re not rare anymore, and when it all ends, whether that be the Star Wars franchise or the world, at this point, these movies will be wiped away and reimagined several times over. A debate over Luke Skywalker tossing a light saber, for example, seems insignificant now that we’re standing on the edge of cinematic eternity.

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This pattern is forever etched upon my mind.

What I did like about The Last Jedi is the spark of hope it had in exploring these possibilities. Rian Johnson created a weird and even campy Star Wars movie, and though it has its failures it still feels like a step in a more interesting direction. It’s hopefully a sign that Disney will let film makers explore this little eternity.

-James Merolla

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