Fans and Fandoms
or, "How to make a Star Wars movie that makes everybody happy".
Short answer? You can't.
Little background, here. I don't consider myself an Expert on Star Wars - mostly because I'm not really paid for that - but my history with that franchise is pretty substantial. I saw the very first movie, back when it was just called "Star Wars", when I was 7 years old. 1977. I was there, man (if you can read that in a "I was in 'Nam" voice, that'll be perfect. Thanks.). George Lucas had attended my high school, I grew up a block away from where he'd grown up, blah blah blah. For years, Star Wars was my oxygen, the Force was my faith. I was a pretty adorable little nerdling - now I'm just a middle-aged nerdist. And though I've mostly grown out of breathless adoration for a science fiction movie franchise, I am still deeply fond of the films, and, with their addition of two new ones, I have become even more appreciative of the scope and breadth of the movie's cultural and entertainment impact.
Oh, I lived through the whole thing - the original trilogy and the shock of Vader's identity; the re-release of the original films with the enhanced CGI content, the prequel trilogy, the books, the cartoons, the new movies... and each time, the vocalizations reverberated across the galaxy with the ripples of a blasted Alderaan.
People screamed at or about George Lucas, and these angry voices just got louder and louder.
And then, of course, there was the internet.
Like, I remember those old monster movies - especially, like Frankenstein, where you had literal torches and pitchforks carried aloft in a visual demand for justice. I thought that was just a "then" thing, but now.... well, if people figured out a way to tangibly raise those things across the net, I'm sure we'd see them all in bulk.
And now the latest Star Wars film has come out - "The Last Jedi", which has shown me a peculiarity in fandom response. When "The Force Awakens" was released, there were two general camps of dissenters: those who didn't like that the main character was (gasp) female, and those who complained that it was too reminiscent of the original Star Wars (now called Episode 4: A New Hope). Somehow, this second group has failed to recognize that the movies thus far have been an intentional exercise in poetic symmetry, right down to the titles, etc. Don't know how they missed that, but oh well. The funny thing is, with the newest film, the director took some liberties with these patterns and deliberately played against expectation. Where the second movies have been about dramatic revelations, this movie was about an intentionally non-dramatic revelation; where the second movies are typically about the discovery of a more potent villain, this one was about the development of a new villain and his struggles to live up to his (and others) expectations. This film knew what the expectations would be, and specifically turned in different directions. It took mythical characters and showed them as mere mortals. It showed that the heroes' journey is not one taken by a lone, single person, but is potentially pursued by any who seek the courage to succeed.
In short, it recognized the formula, knew its audience expected that formula, and used that knowledge to surprise us.
And of course, people screamed about it. Not a lot, but the few who screamed did the best they could to make their voices heard.
Which made me think.... why should they be angry? If a film isn't what you expected it to be, whose fault is that? Is it ANYONE'S fault? It's a movie. Go see a film, be entertained - that's the deal we make, yes? But we're seeing a movie with potentially millions or billions of other people - do we get to insist that the movie conform to our lone expectations? Have we that right?
You go into a restaurant, you order your food, and you expect the food be made to your expectations - but you're not eating the same food as everyone else - and if you were, do you have the right to demand that they all eat the same food as you? Of course not.
As an author, I think about this all the time - I worry that my books, my characters, my little stories are told in a way that delights and surprises you. I want you, yes, to like my books. But I know not everyone will. Maybe you won't like that so many of my characters are female. Maybe you won't like that so many are "people of color". Or you don't like zombies. Or steampunk, or giant robots. Maybe you won't like the subtle political and philosophical threads woven throughout the pages. Who knows? I mean, I really hope you'll like them, and I do try to write them in a way that they'll be enjoyed - though of course, I don't expect you to agree with me all the time. That's totally cool with me, and I actually like that.
But at the end of the day, I have to write stories that I like writing. I must try to write good, entertaining and enjoyable books, but at their heart they are stories I want to share. And for all authors, all songwriters, all moviemakers and artists of every time - at the end of our chapters, we must create what is created out of our toils and footsteps. The ink is our blood, the winds are our words, the rainfall our tears, the pages our flesh. We hope you'll enjoy the journeys as well, but please kindly remember - we loan these visions with you, but they are always ours first.