Talking about Star Wars in 2021

I love Star Wars.

It’s good to start with a straight forward declaration like that, because when I get into some of my criticisms of the franchise, I’ll remind people to look at the first sentence, because everything I have to say about this fixture of our culture comes from a good place.

I considered starting by ranking the movies, but that’s not the greatest way to engage in a productive conversation about Star Wars on the Internet. Some of the fans have definite favorites, and the discourse dissolves as soon as we start arguing over which one is the best. I have a favorite flavor of ice cream, too, but if you offer me a bowl of vanilla, I’m not going to be upset. My favorite ice cream flavor is mint fudge, by the way. It’s a flavor that is hard to find now and is distinct from mint chocolate chip.

It is better to talk about why I love Star Wars. Usually, it’s the characters. I say usually because some Star Wars movies do a better job giving us characters that are memorable and fully realized. I like Rogue One just fine, but I still can’t tell you the names of half of characters.

The spectacle also draws me in. As maligned as The Phantom Menace may be, it gave us Darth Maul and the best lightsaber duel we’ve ever seen on the silver screen. Other lightsaber fights come close, but Ray Park gave us a physical presence and performance that no other Star Wars actor has matched. More than just lightsabers, I love the space combat, and the unique locations, and the vast, vibrant universe. The Star Wars world is at its finest when its a little bit dirty and lived in, because it feels like a real place that I could visit and enjoy. That’s all part of the spectacle.

I like how most of the Star Wars stories are put together. Many classes on story structure include Star Wars for a reason, because it gets the structure of the story right, most of the time.

There seem to be exceptions to all of the nice things I have to say about these movies. It’s almost as if I don’t like all Star Wars movies equally.

If we were talking about Star Trek, that would be fine, right? The rule of thumb used to be that every other Star Trek movie is good. Diehard Star Trek fans know in their heart that Wrath of Kahn is the best, Search For Spock is kind of terrible, and the one with the whales kind of rules. It’s not as easy to be so cavalier about the quality of Star Wars movies.

Star Wars fans are allowed to say that Empire Strikes Back is the best. Note that when Empire came out, it was not universally loved. A number of people didn’t like the idea that Luke’s father was Darth Vader. People that shipped Luke and Leia after the first movie couldn’t stand seeing Leia paired up with Han. Also, it ended on a down note. Han’s fate is uncertain, Luke was defeated by Vader, losing both his hand and his lightsaber, and the rebellion is floating homeless in space.

Critics panned Empire as well. It wasn’t until much later that a large portion of the fan base began regarding it as the best of the original trilogy. But they were all considered good, and no one got too upset if someone said the original movie was their favorite, or Return of the Jedi.

It’s difficult to be a Star Wars fan on the Internet and praise less popular aspects of the franchise. The level of rancor and toxicity grew to the point where it created a petition to declare The Last Jedi non-canon, and it bullied Kelly Tran so hard she killed her social media presence. Kelly Marie Tran was the biggest Star Wars fan getting to live her dream for a while, and other so-called fans tried to ruin it for her.

Worse, it appears this toxic fandom influenced the production of the final Star Wars film. Kelly Tran’s part was effectively deleted from the trilogy, John Boyega’s character reduced to mostly running around screaming Rey’s name…

Rey. Rey Palpatine. Another place where the toxic fans got their way, because they really couldn’t live with the idea of Rey being unrelated to any of the characters from the original trilogy.

I really didn’t like Revenge of the Sith. It came loaded with spectacle, but it did a lot of characters dirty. We could point at the plot and how it doesn’t make sense, but the reality is that you can tear apart the plot of any Star Wars movie with a little bit of effort. Even Empire. At their core, they’re whiz-bang adventures with characters we love doing cool stuff. Revenge of the Sith is the only Star Wars movie that went out of its way to go against the grain of the characters in order to serve plot. But since the plot was dumber than a bag of hair, it served nothing and no one.

If you loved Revenge of the Sith, I’m not going to yuck your yum. I’m glad you had a good time with that movie. I did not, and even after all this time, it still bothers me. If you enjoyed it, I wish I could see that movie through your eyes and enjoy it, too.

I’m not going to bully you for liking Revenge of the Sith, or tell you that you’re dumb, or that you have bad taste. I’m not going to do the things the rest of the Star Wars fandom has done online. I don’t believe those people are actual fans, by the way. Fans celebrate of art with other people that share their passion.

Star Trek fans, for example, walked out of Star Trek 5 and knew immediately that they’d watched something kind of terrible. Those fans spent a little bit of time lambasting it, then moved on to watch Undiscovered Country and start celebrating it again. Star Trek fans don’t really talk about The Final Frontier, or Insurrection, or Nemesis, because (for the most part) they’re too busy talking about Wrath of Kahn or First Contact or The Voyage Home.

I haven’t really touched on Solo or Rogue One. I thought both of those movies were mostly fine. Solo had some outrageously dumb and shallow fan service in it, but I still had a good time with it, and I would have liked to see more stories in that series. Rogue One had a really strong plot and some memorable sequences, even if the characters themselves were not particularly memorable. Solo and Rogue One were fine.

What about Mandalorian? I loved it, though it had a few problems. The first season felt like 3 hours of content spread over 10 hours. The second season was better than the first, but still felt a little thin in places. The look and feel was perfect, though, and it felt like good and proper Star Wars storytelling.

I haven’t watched the Clone Wars or any of the cartoons. I understand those are really fantastic, and I’ll watch them eventually. I suspect that some of the rehabilitation of the prequels comes from the cartoons being really excellent, lifting the source movies by association.

I love Star Wars, but I do not like Star Wars fandom. I hope we get some more great Star Wars movies in the future.