I sincerely have one hope for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
I hope that it is good.
As silly as it sounds, I hope that is a good movie. Not just good in the it’s a movie with the original cast and has the words star and wars in the title so it has to be good sense, but rather the knock your socks off even if this is the first thing you’ve ever seen in the franchise and even Siskel and Ebert would have given this thing four thumbs up and more if they could find more hands sense.
My reasoning is pretty simple. There were sixteen years between Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, and no matter how good the first prequel could have been, I don’t think it would have mattered. There was too much hype, and too many expectations among fans of the original trilogy. I grant that The Phantom Menace (and by extension the prequel trilogy as a whole) did not meet its true potential. It could have been more, and I fully acknowledge the faults. But, it was by no means as bad as the original trilogy fandom would have the world believe.
As The Phantom Menace and the rest of the prequels debuted, original trilogy fans took to the internet in droves to tear the films apart. Many of them waved their “I watched the first Star Wars (with no bloody Episode IV or A New Hope attached to it) in theaters so I know what makes a good Star Wars movie” privilege in the face of new fans. Critical reviews, both professional and otherwise, took the movie to task by addressing fandom, citing how real fans would disavow the new films, and how those who liked them should move out of their parents’ basement. The Red Letter Media reviews are particularly venomous, but are celebrated among the crowd dominated by bitterness even ten years after the last prequel debuted.
Of course, that’s after The Phantom Menace made $431 million domestically. That’s a lot of multiple viewings for a film that supposedly sucks so bad, but I digress.
Star Wars has become a generational fandom, and each new set of fans is usually kids: There was a set of fans who came to the franchise in 1977-1983, a set who came to it with the heyday of the novels in the late ’80s and early ’90s, a set that joined with the Special Editions and prequels (1997-2005), and a set that came of age with The Clone Wars. The Force Awakens will usher in a new generation of fans who will likely be kids as well.
I don’t want the prequel generation to develop the same bitterness about their fandom that their OT and novel era counterparts have.
Prequel fans deserve better than they have been offered. Sequel era fans deserve a fan community based on fun and love, not venom and hatred.
I’ve talked and written at length about how, first and foremost, fandom should be fun. No matter the franchise, this is all entertainment, not life and death matters. Being critical about the content and execution of the material is important, but being bonked on the head for the things that you love by self-instated gatekeepers is not fun.
Critical analysis and review should be limited to the material and never extended to the fandom. It is ironic that a fandom built around geeky exploits and adventures, a community that has long lamented and fought against bullying by others like the stereotypical “jocks,” should in turn bully their own for not walking the right way. I’ve fallen away from Star Wars fandom in recent years because of the way that older fans treat younger fans. Star Wars has lost part of the innocence and excitement that it once had, and not because George Lucas violated childhoods, but because time and again the fandom has forgotten Wheaton’s Law in their critiques.
I don’t want the prequel generation, the group that opened their eyes to the franchise with The Phantom Menace, the group that knows what it feels like to be bonked on the head continuously by older generations, to fall into that darkness. They need to remember that “real” Star Wars fans are anyone who loves the magic of Star Wars. They need to remember how it feels to be told that their opinion “can’t be trusted” based on what they like.
I’d like to think that my generation and the first generation of Star Wars fans can be brought back from the brink of bitterness, but I don’t hold much hope for it. I believe that many of them are beyond redemption for sacrificing their own for the honor of being right on the internet.
I want The Force Awakens to be so good that fans can look on it in admiration and joy, basking in the happiness and escape that fandom should embody. I want prequel fans to avoid the fate that befell the generations that came before. I want them to be critical without feeling the need to attack their own tribes. I want them to remember that it is okay to not like things.
I want them to remember what it means to be a fan and not a self-appointed savior of the franchise.
I want them to remember the feeling they felt when they heard the Star Wars theme in theaters for the first time.
I want them to remember what it means to be a Star Wars kid.
Most importantly, I want them to help new fans to find that moment as well.