I’ve been pretty firm in my overall dislike of the direction take in The Last Jedi. It would be fair to say that the general mood isn’t positive either. Got me thinking.
Star Wars is a religion. No question there. Prior to Disney, there was an agreed upon canon. A set of rules and history that people flocked towards. Knight of the Old Republic was the foundation for light/dark, how the various empires built the galaxy, how lightsabers were made… everything. The defining moment was the Battle of Yavin (destruction of first Death Star) – commonly referred to as BBY or ABY. Think about that for a second… we use BC/AD for our dates. Lord of the ring uses Ages. Star Wars is big enough, and complex enough, that the dates are referred to by a specific defining event.
ABY brought episodes 5/6 and a significant part of the expanded universe. Mara Jade, Thrawn, Yuuzhan Vong, Jacen Solo… all come after the movies. Even the stories prior to the movies pretty much dictated how Vader came to be. Sure, there were details in the films that didn’t align (the hatred of sand) – but the 3 storylines were written 20 years before the movies were made.
People celebrated Star Wars (May the 4th). They spent 40 years dressing up as them. Not only consuming the product but building upon it. Nearly all of it had the Lucasfilm sign of approval too, which was notoriously hard to get.
Then Disney bought it all and torched it. Significant parts of the expanded universe is now referred to as Legends. I was somewhat cautious of this, since that lore had a significant impact on the story telling. Maybe they wanted more freedom to explore certain characters.
The Force Awakens was a remake of episode 4, with all the telltale signs of a JJ Abrams mystery box. Rey’s heritage, how with no practice she beat a force user who was trained since birth, who Snoke was, how this new empire established itself so quickly. Plenty of promise for future development (if heavy handed).
Rogue One was an interstitial story – we knew how it ended but not so much how it began (in this new storyline). It was a pretty good story. The investment people had in these characters were more archtetypes of the SW cannon. All of them are dead, and no one has ever referred to a single one of them since. Remember the BBY/ABY item, the most important event in all of Star Wars? The film explains how that was setup, then never heard of again.
Last Jedi’s goal was to subvert the established lore. Where the two previous items stretched the imagination, it was still close enough. The stories hit the right notes. You could suspend disbelief with the promise of future explanations. (There’s a LOST analogy here). This movie instead took the baseline rules of the most foundational items and broke them. People can now use the Force across a galaxy. The Jedi code for harmony is wrong. Luke, who managed to convert Darth Vader, was willing to kill his young nephew for the potential of the dark side. That lightspeed can be tracked. That any ship can be turned into a super weapon. Each of these items breaks the previous movies. Why shoot missiles in the Death Star when a Corellian Crusier can just lightspeed and crash into it to destroy it?
Han Solo story. If this wasn’t a Star Wars movie, it would have had much more praise. Square peg, round hole.
It is an existential crisis for the Star Wars fans. They have spent years living in that world. Finding the links between one story and another. Seeing characters come and go. Finding more minute details of a given world that adds life to that world space.
Disney underestimated what Star Wars meant to people, they saw it just as a pre-built story foundation. They did it with Marvel to great success. But Marvel was never about world building – it was about characters with a specific powerset and attitude. Not like we had Wolverine giving hugs and shooting lasers from his toes. In Star Wars the characters are simply agents to the world. Tatooine is a much a character as Leia. The Battle at Hoth is arguably more important that the death of Luke’s aunt & uncle. There are hundreds of those events. Many of it thrown aside and directly conflicting with what happened before.
This is a lore reset event. If somehow LotR was reset and Sauron could teleport anywhere, and Frodo could kill Orcs with his eyes, you’d see the same reaction from fans. Disney has to build an entire world, a new history, a new set of rules, a new set of characters to move forward from this. Then it needs to convince the fan base that this will stick and be worth the investment.
Or, they could simply disown the attempt made here and move back towards the established rule sets. Seems to be a whole lot more money to be made there.
Tangents to Others
Change is certainly difficult. Massive change typically has massive repercussions. There are enough religious and political upheavals to illustrate this point quite well. When we’re talking about fictional stories, then we need to look at things that are simply massive in scale.
Lord of the Rings has a rather tight grip on it’s lore. The Hobbit was an atrocious series of movies, but was not a large afront to the lore.
Star Trek has about 23 days worth of TV shows and Movies to go through… before you talk about any written media. Even with an entire reboot of the timeline, the foundational lore of the series stayed the same. There are 2 stories that did not follow this model – Speed Limit and Threshold – both of which have been disowned. It follows true.
Even Game of Thrones has a set of rules that need to be followed, and it would be hard to argue that the extension through the TV series broke that many rules (except maybe time travel to cross large distances on foot in less than a day).
And World of Warcraft comes to mind here. The time travel in WoD has been practically erased (Yrel who?). The rather ridiculous character arcs and “morally grey” characters in BfA feel like sand in your teeth. Seems they are trying to address that in 8.1 – we’ll see how that turns out.
Point is, when you have a very large audience and a very complicated lore foundation, it is not possible to please everyone. People are willing to accept bits of change, but not large swathes that go counter to years of previous effort. Even less so when you’re impacting the stories that the fans themselves have developed. People become fans because they see themselves in that world. When they stop seeing that, well, there’s not much world left.