Chances are if you’re a fan of anything entertainment related, you’ll have a personal favourite thing in said entertainment sphere. The chances are even stronger that you would consider yourself a super fan of said favourite thing. Once bullied and made fun of, fandom culture is now taking over. Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Stranger Things… the list goes on, the super fan is now the norm and geeking out over your favourite movie franchise is now pretty much a pastime. Unfortunately however, with global domination for the fan comes a large number of problems, whilst it may be at its most popular, fandom is becoming more of a detriment than it ever has been before.
In the 21st century, there is no greater testament to this than the Star Wars fandom. Back in 2015, the highly anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived in cinemas and instantly a fan base was torn in half; in the one camp, people loved The Force Awakens and saw it as a re-invigoration of the franchise and the perfect remedy to the much maligned prequels; Star Wars was back and had captured the elusive Star Wars atmosphere once again. But on the other hand, there were heartbroken fans who saw it as nothing more than a copy of A New Hope, featuring bland new characters, a whiny villain, corny moments and the death of a beloved hero. This was made even worse by the film’s $2 billion box office haul, the third highest take of all time, and high praise from the critics. It was fan vs fan and just like that, the problem of fandom strikes.
Fast forward to present day and we have Star Wars:The Last Jedi equally as divisive. Some love it for its unpredictability, character development, visuals and performances, praising director Rian Johnson as a visionary who wasn’t afraid to take up the Star Trek mantra and boldly go where no one had been before. But then some hate (and I mean HATE) it, criticising it as un-Star Wars like, an insult to their favourite characters, featuring irrelevant plotlines and a dumb central plot. Add in an even more positive critical response than that of The Force Awakens and it only gets worse for the Star Wars fandom.
— dafinsrock (@dafinsrock) December 16, 2017
Whilst this is just one example, it highlights the key issues with fandom perfectly. Firstly, the expectations. As soon as one instalment ends, fans start to anticipate the next one. Eager to have their lust for more satiated, they begin to speculate and predict what happens next. With The Last Jedi, the disappointment comes in that many did not see the movie they expected to see, their fan theories failed them and for that reason they disapproved. In their heads, they’d already experienced the movie and seen the perfect film to satisfy them. If anyone enters with astronomical expectations then they are bound to be let down in the worst possible way. Entertainment culture does little to help this, Star Wars mega fans in the online circle such as Collider even made official expectation and prediction videos on the film, going back to mark their predictions after they’d seen the film. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE sites like Collider, but in what world does that stimulate healthy fan expression?! Admittedly these films set us up to theorise a whole movie, so fans aren’t wholly to blame, but expectations being set at a particular level or in a particular way are ALWAYS going to be shattered.
Going hand in hand with the problem of expectations is the next issue, fans thinking they know best. Whilst this was still a problem with The Last Jedi, more so this past year it has been an issue with Game of Thrones. As Thrones entered its penultimate season, storylines began to come together and climax in different ways to what we have seen in the show before. Admittedly Thrones is a different beast to what it once was, formerly a political thriller set in a fantasy world, the show is now much about the war for the Iron Throne and the actions of its significant players. The expendable side characters are falling by the way side and now much more is essentially happening.
But it was disappointing to a lot of fans. Despite the fantastic acting, excellent action sequences and powerful chemistry between the cast, fans have bemoaned the show as a shell of its former self for taking such an event-heavy and climax focused route. Gone is the slow burn political plotting, it’s time for the action. But given how Thrones garnered its audience over a number of years and drew them in with political intrigue, fans can’t cope with the idea that it is now changing. “Generic” and “cheesy” are terms that have been thrown around far too often. Much like with the issue of expectations, fans put down the showrunners and act like they are above the product – the ideal is in their heads and, whether they realise it or not, they’re acting like they know what’s best. Now I’m not saying that Thrones Season 7 was flawless, nor am I saying I’m above the criticism or that I know what’s truly best, but dismissing the fantastic work of a talented group of actors, writers, directors and other personnel just because the season wasn’t seven episodes of Tywin Lannister and Littlefinger playing chess is daft.
But this leads nicely into the final problem, and it’s a big one: personal attachment. We love these products so much that they have become an integral part of our lives; escapism, enjoyment, fascination, entertainment has the power to stir up all of these. So our reaction to the product is much more passionate either way, if we love it or hate it, because we have grown so personally attached to it. It’s like a relationship; there are wonderful moments where we feel unconditional love, but then there are moments when something doesn’t go our way that we flip out and get angry.
I’ll contextualise this a bit, there are fans right now petitioning to both remove The Last Jedi from the Star Wars cannon and remake the whole film before the release of Episode IX. If you were to get in an argument with your partner, would you go to them and instruct them to re-do everything they’ve just done? No, because you would get slapped, but I digress. We’ve become, if you’ll pardon the pun, at one with these products, so when they kill Han Solo off some of us do get angry because it’s more than just a piece of art to admire and critique, it’s part of our lives now. This isn’t to say that fans can’t love things, but it is to say that love is dangerous when it manifests in certain ways.
Ultimately though, fandom isn’t going anywhere. It’s a big, ugly beast that’s in the prime of its life, despite all of its ailments – it’s contradictory, hyperbolic and impulsive. There’s a saying that has been floating around for the last few weeks, no one hates Star Wars more than Star Wars fans, and if that doesn’t sum up the many problems with fandom then surely nothing can.