The Last Jedi Problem

7 Nov

I was going to write this as part of a bigger essay, but it probably does better as a singleton.  Normal commenting rules apply.

The Last Jedi proved to be a highly controversial movie when it came out and several years (and a pair of underperforming follow-ups) have done nothing to redeem it.  The movie is both objectively and subjectively terrible, with widespread character assassination, shrilling and – bluntly – a complete disregard for the factors that made Star Wars popular in the first place.  However, that alone is not enough to seriously damage a franchise.  The far more dangerous aspect, and the one that did serious damage, was the response to criticism.

There were essentially two groups that criticised The Last Jedi.  One group felt that it was a poorly conceived, poorly written and poorly directed movie that laughed in the face of previous canon (and expanded universe/legends canon).  They had legitimate complaints.  The other group was composed of misogynists and racists.  Their complaints were not legitimate.  The response from the film’s producers and supporters, however, was to smear the first group with the second.  The bad apples in fandom were used to attack the rest of fandom.

This is a cunning tactic, in the short term.  If you regard your critics as misogynists and racists (and homophobes, transphobes, xenophobes (etc, etc)), and insist this is true regardless of all evidence of the contrary, you can delegitimize their complaints.  This absolves you of the responsibility to listen to their complaints, let alone act on them.  Who wants to give even the slightest hint of legitimacy to misogynists and racists (etc, etc)?  No one. 

It’s easy to see why someone would feel that this is a reasonable tactic.  The Last Jedi was not cheap.  Disney invested a hell of a lot of money in the franchise.  Delegitimizing the critics, at least in theory, saved the producers from having to admit they’d made a serious mistake.  In practice, it undermined the franchise by making it clear that the producers simply weren’t interested in listening to criticism, let alone improving upon their work.  It’s possible to argue that The Last Jedi, Solo and The Rise of Skywalker made money and therefore the producers weren’t too far wrong.  However, the franchise significantly underperformed after The Last Jedi.  Given the sheer magnitude of the fanbase, this should worry anyone with an eye to the bottom line.

The producers and their supporters argued that the fans were over-entitled.  There’s some truth to this.  However, it is also true that vast numbers of fans kept the faith from the moment Return of the Jedi rolled the last credits until Disney produced The Last Jedi.  Those fans purchased books, computer games, toys, endured the prequel trilogy … in short, they were emotionally invested in the franchise.  It is not unreasonable to feel that one has a right to expect a reward for such investment, even though – objectively speaking – the fan has no claim on the producers.  Nor is it unreasonable to feel personally insulted if you’ve been called a misogynist, a racist or one of a dozen other things you know you’re not.

This touches on something I’ve mentioned before.  A good-faith attempt to address the complaint, by accepting it is valid or explaining why it is not, would have gone a long way towards solving the problem before it got out of hand.  It might not have satisfied the critics, but it would have convinced outside observers that the producers were taking the complaints seriously enough to write a refutation.   Bad faith responses – calling someone a racist, for example – simply undermine credibility.  It suggests, very strongly, that there is no good answer to the complaints.  And once you start insulting people, any hope of a peaceful solution goes straight out the window (not least because it’s impossible to prove a negative.)

The Last Jedi is just a movie.  Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter what happens to Star Wars.  But what happens when this approach is taken to … well, everything?  Over the last few years, we have found out.  It isn’t pretty.

It is not easy to see things from someone else’s point of view.  A very rich and powerful person, with all the trapping of his wealth and rank, simply cannot grasp how carefully a poor person must manage money.  He can very easily push for supermarkets to stock only expensive foodstuffs because, to him, they are not expensive at all.  He cannot understand that he’s just made life harder for the poor person, who now has to somehow find the money to pay for food or starve.  Said rich and powerful person might push for criminal justice reform without thinking through the consequences, because – at base – he does not have to face the consequences.  The man who lives in a gated community, with a private security force, doesn’t have to deal with criminals on the streets.  He cannot understand why the poorer people would sooner lock the criminals up and throw away the key.

And because he doesn’t understand that, he doesn’t understand why the poor hate him.

People are not generally selfish.  But they are motivated by self-interest.  If you fail to take someone’s self-interest into account, and to accept that their feelings are valid, you should not be surprised when they come to hate you.  If you delegitimize their feelings, and effectively delegitimize them, they come in turn to delegitimize you.  And then they don’t pay any attention to you.  Why should they?

Going back to The Last Jedi, the producers were attempting the impossible.  They wanted a movie that would both appeal to the fans and the general public.  To do the former, they would have had to assess what made Star Wars popular in the first place and do more of it (the thinking that led to the Thrawn trilogy).  To do the latter, they would have had to streamline the plot as much as possible.  Instead, they ended up with what was once called – quite aptly – a beautiful disaster.

This could have been avoided.  A clear-sighted assessment of what viewers – both fans and the general public – wanted could have been done.  (As Marvel did when it started creating the MCU.)  It would have required, however, an understanding of their fanbase – and what the fans wanted – and this was verboten.  Instead, they drove away their fanbase without bringing in replacements.  They chose to attack their fans instead of accepting they’d made a mistake and trying to fix it.

But, in this day and age, admitting a mistake can be fatal.

9 Responses to “The Last Jedi Problem”

  1. Doc Sithicus November 7, 2020 at 10:24 pm #

    I used to love Star Wars. I think I’ve watched the original trilogy close to a hundred times.
    I still own over 150 Star Wars books. I think I’ve played pretty much all Star Wars games.
    I used to be what you might call a devoted fan. I’ve personally met David Prowse, Peter William Mayhew and Spencer Wilding.

    I’ve grumbled a bit when the prequel trilogy arrived. Despite all the hate (I’m looking at you Jar Jar Binks) eventually it was accepted (by most).

    The sequel trilogy… killed the franchise for me. If you didn’t like the shit pushed down your throat you were called toxic, racist, misogynist etc.

    What happens when fans turn away in disgust from what they used to love? The franchise dies a slow death. Fans won’t spend their hard-earned money anymore and merchandise rots on the shelves.

    The same happened to Star Trek. It’s happening in MCU. It’s beginning to happen in WH40K.

    Hollywood has declared that SJW, diversity and gender-swapping in movies is more important than entertaining stories. Critics rave about movies that check all the right SJW boxes; praising homosexuality, feminism, and minorities while trashing straight white men.

    I almost forgot about James Bond. I own 25 movies and once every couple of years I enjoy a James Bond movie marathon. I don’t think I’ll see the 26th in the cinema or purchase the DVD. They can replace 007 with a black female but they cannot force me spend my money.

    I used to go to see a movie every weekend. Now I see one maybe every month or two (pre Covid). Used to play tabletop/pen and paper RPGs in the 80s and 90s but now I only buy manuals for sentimental value/collection.

    I find my escapism/entertainment these days in video games, books of indie authors and
    fanfictions. I can easily afford to spend thousands on hobbies but with each year there is less and less things that I find exciting.

    • Allan D. Mitchell November 7, 2020 at 10:45 pm #

      What?? Don’t understand why this was posted. Seems to be wrong board or a few years late…

      • MADness November 8, 2020 at 12:22 am #

        Seemed relevant to the post to me. Or did you mean the initial post?

      • Allan D. Mitchell November 8, 2020 at 8:51 pm #

        Didn’t see the original post – sorry. But original post seemed odd to me.

    • andy November 9, 2020 at 11:15 pm #

      Completely agree. Jar Jar Binks came about back when everything was about creating the next line of must buy dolls and action figures. Was just a few years after Atlanta came out with the idiotic Izzy for the ’96 Olympics. Both were complete failures and black eyes for the ones that came up with the ideas…
      Meanwhile, I do think Disney took a step back and reinvented their plan with The Mandalorian — an A+ show.

      as an aside, can’t stand what they did to 007!

  2. ragna November 8, 2020 at 1:16 am #

    did you guys see the last episode of the mandalorian s2e2 Where the had to make a journey to another sector at sub light speed. Well start wars is more of a fantasy series than star trek this breaks the series like the hyperlight run in last jedi. I think these writer need a lesson on the hows and why of there universe

  3. PhilippeO November 8, 2020 at 6:56 am #

    – Since Gamergate, Racist and Sexist critique has exploded in Internet. They might be not largest part of critics, but certainly loudest. So its understandable how many would treat them as only and biggest part of critics.
    – Star Wars, and other old franchise, suffer seriously from Nostalgia problem. People remember original trilogy with “golden glasses”, they remember youth and excitement when it first out and become cultural moment. Its nearly impossible even for “good sequel” to succeed.
    – like so many other movies, sequel movie would just be “average movie”. Great Movie arrive at right time in history, its probably only one from dozens movie published in same year to be remembered. In most years, sequel or not, majority of movie is just “average movie” and would never be Great Movie.
    – Only very few number of fans read “expanded universe”. And they are most devoted of fans. Book such as thrawn trilogy, despite popularity among devoted fans, is not guaranteed to be popular among ordinary fans and first time viewer.
    – My private strategy is to never watch any decades-old reboot, blue-ray DVD, special movie, etc. You have become different person from “you” that watching decades ago. It would never be as enjoyable as first time.

  4. Les Barrie November 8, 2020 at 10:41 am #

    Stopped caring about star wars decades ago,if rather read a good book.

  5. Avon November 9, 2020 at 5:28 pm #

    A great read, you have this ability to some up into words what so many feel, but don’t know how to say. I hope you are doing well, the world needs minds like yours

    Cheers!

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