Beware the wrath of the super fan

January 11, 2020

TL;DR Superfans are way too attached to things we love, and if authors / directors disrespect the source material we will unceremoniously burn down the internet.

 

Our last couple articles have touched on Star Wars, and this one will too. There's a reason for that.

 

Star Wars is one of a handful of fandoms that have transcended genre and grown into religion. I've legit seen fist fights break out at fan conventions, and your life will never be same after you see a pair of sweaty geeks punching each other out over who shot first.

 

Star Wars ushered many of us into adulthood. Maybe that happened with the prequels for you. Maybe it was the original 1977 Star Wars before A New Hope was added. Whatever your entry point what these movies did for millions was present mythological archetypes in exactly the same way Homer and Aesops did thousands of years ago. 

 

A funny thing happens when people build something into their core identity be it religion, family, or a silly movie about laser swords. If someone attacks that property, then they attack our very identity, and we respond badly. 

 

The very worst of us take it way too far, make it personal, and are correctly labeled as toxic fandom. Telling an actor to die over their role in a movie is not okay. Thankfully, while the media does tend to focus on the worst we have to offer the truth is that most superfans are not that way. We're merely passionate about the thing we love.

 

Superfans are different from ordinary viewers, what I joking call normies. I consider myself a "normie" when it comes to Harry Potter. I loved the books. I loved the movies. I will read them to my son eventually. But I don't have a broom mounted to my wall, and I haven't spent time figuring out which house I'd be in, or who my Hogwarts crush would be, or what spell I'd learn first. 

 

Millions of people have.

 

Harry Potter is serious business to HP Superfans, and if you come onto their forums you'd better have your game face on. I am the same way about Star Wars. I've read over 30 Star Wars novels (Thrawn, Republic Commando, and the X-Wing series are my favorites). I've played Star Wars Galaxies, and KOTOR I & II, and SWTOR. I get that the last sentence is likely gibberish to most people, but here's the takeaway. I've sunk thousands of dollars and three times as many hours into a fictional universe where I could pretend to be a Jedi.

 

If you use the wrong curse in Harry Potter I will have no idea. I won't notice. I will enjoy the heck out of the movie, oblivious to the fact that it somehow disrespected the source material. I neither know nor care.

 

Superfans do.

 

When the Last Jedi came out the movie broke a number of "rules" with things like the Holdo Maneuver. For four decades the fandom had come to understand how Jedi were trained, and what relative strengths in the force were, and how hyperspace worked. We knew lightsaber forms, and obscure battles, and every planet used. 

 

We were puzzled why the capital wasn't Coruscant, as it was in the prequels. We were puzzled by the First Order, that seemed to make very little political sense. We didn't understand why Leia wasn't the chancellor of the New Republic. There was a lot we didn't get, but it was cool. That we could roll with. Why? Because Rey was a badass we could get behind, and the magic between Poe and Finn, and Finn and Rey is some of the best Star Wars I've ever seen.

 

Enter Ryan Johnson, the director of The Last Jedi. A man who unapologetically states that he'd like to make a movie that 50% of fans hate.

 In Star Wars the Jedi represent justice, hope, and the struggle to remain virtuous no matter what life throws at you. Jedi take the hard, just path, while Sith do what is expedient, and what feels good. To a superfan Jedi have taken on an iconic religious significance, and who is our archetypical Jedi? Who is the man who's struggle we witnessed? 

 

Luke Skywalker.

 

To an average fan the idea that Luke is a washed up old hermit who retreated from the galaxy is an interesting plot twist they did not see coming. To most superfans it is un-foreshadowed barely explained character assassination of our mythological hero. We respond not as an adult, but as the tiny child who first encountered that mythological hero. 

 

Superfans are happy to open their wallets. We will tell our friends, family, dog, cat, mailman, and social media all about the things we love. When you introduce things in your movie that break our suspension of disbelief our faith is shaken. We saw this back when the prequels came out, the first time there was a schism in the Star Wars fan base.

 

Superfans are the type of people who take our entire family to theme parks. We throw Star Wars themed birthday parties, and teach share our fandom with our kids. We buy merchandise and toys and video games and novels and dice and shirts and books and action figures. 

 

The majority of Star Wars revenue comes from merchandizing and secondary sales, not from the movies. This is also true of everything from Marvel to Minions by the way. Merchandizing is where the money is. The superfans are your bread and butter. 

 

After The Last Jedi I didn't see Solo in the theater. I didn't buy Jedi Fallen Order, the first Star Wars game I haven't purchased in 2 decades. I didn't see Episode IX on opening day, nor did most of my former superfan friends. I still haven't even seen the Mandalorian. Why? I'm not boycotting Star Wars. I'm not punishing Disney. 

 

Star Wars was a religion, and Disney effectively excommunicated a huge part of their audience. That included me.

 

They disrespected the source material by not knowing the rules. When superfans nerdraged, as we do about everything, we were told we were the problem. The Last Jedi was an amazing movie, they said. So amazing it had a 94% critic score, versus the 45% audience score. But fans are wrong for disliking it. We were Russian bots, or incels, or alt right.

 

They pointed to the extreme superfans, which is easy to do when there are millions of us. Every group has bad apples. But in their haste to stem criticism they insulted millions of true fans who simply didn't like The Last Jedi.

 

The people running Star Wars have no idea what the emotional resonance superfans were seeking, and now that evidence is inescapably clear to the point where Bob Iger, the CEO of Disney, owned up to the mistake and put all current Star Wars movies on hold. They chuffed up SW so badly that they can't profitably make movies. Let that sink in.

 

I haven't seen Episode IX yet. My son is going to be with us very soon and I've been getting ready. Sadly, Star Wars is no longer a priority for me. After 4 decades I'm no longer a superfan. They've lost me. I'm sure I'll see the movie at some point, but even after my father-in-law told me it was his favorite movie since Episode IV I'm just not excited. 

 

I could have been a cash factory for Disney for decades to come. My son could have been a cash factory.

 

Whether you love or hate the new Star Wars movies there's no denying that they've been a financial disappointment for Disney. You don't stop making movies because they've been wildly successful. As an author I can't imagine deciding not to release my usual slate of books next year.

 

I'm just going to "slow down" because my readers are "fatigued"? Our readers are demanding more content, not less.

 

You make a movie about Asokha Tano and fans will stampede the theater. We're not fatigued. Every last hardcore superfan friend I have is telling me to check out the Mandalorian, because it honors the lore. We're hungry for more Star Wars, not nihilism that tears down the lore because its a "cool plot twist". Having ninjas assassinate Dorothy would be a plot twist, but it would leave fans standing on the Yellow Brick Road, just as lost and alone as Toto. 

 

This kind of fan backlash is not unique to Star Wars, by the way.

 

We saw the same thing recently with Game of Thrones, who cancelled a prequel series because they feared it would anger fans. All sorts of IPs are going through this. Super fans are obsessive. We're nitpicky. As a storyteller we must treat our work with care, and realize that in the unlikely event that we blow the doors off in the way that J.K. Rowling has that our work will transcend us. Like it our not mythology can eclipse its creator, and if we do not honor that when adding to our lexicon fans will none too gently take us to task for it.

 

-Chris

 

 

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