To understand “Star Wars” fandom, consider this: Millions of devoted fans have spent their entire lives marinating in the story and are looking forward to “Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker” for one reason: so they can hate it.
Many “true fans” detested the previous movie, “The Last Jedi,” for every possible reason — a stupid side quest, annoying new characters, incomprehensible military tactics, political overtones and, most of all, Grumpy Uncle Luke, the last Skywalker. We’d waited decades for the character’s return, and he turns out to be a bitter coot slurping space-cow teat juice.
Are you mad right now? Do you disagree completely with everything I just said? Good, good. Let the hate flow through you, as that prune-head dude in the robe once said. Arguing about “Star Wars” is now essential to the fan experience. Sides must be chosen. Standards must be upheld. Jar Jar Binks must be defended. Well, no, everyone agrees on that point.
If you would like to have an argument with a “Star Wars” fan but don’t quite know where to start, here are some statements sure to launch a debate.
“Return of the Jedi,” the third movie in the original trilogy, is overrated. Again with the Death Star? Seriously, guerrilla teddy bears? That Muppet Show at Jabba’s crib? Surprise, Luke, the Princess is your sister! It should have popped and sparkled; after all these years, it feels a bit tired.
Counter argument: C’mon, I loved those little bears when I was 9. I had Ewok sheets.
The military tactics look cool on the screen, but make no sense. The attack on the Death Star looked cool, but maybe swarming that poorly shielded exhaust port en masse straight on gave them a better chance to drop something down a tiny hole than running down an interminable trench inexplicably defended by turrets.
In the opening battle of “The Empire Strikes Back,” the spindly legged top-heavy tanks walking slowly on the snow looked cool, but there had to be better ways to destroy the rebel base. The AT-ATs — All Terrain Armored Transport walkers — had how many guns? Four. That’s it.
The hyperspace attack in “The Last Jedi” looked cool, but no one ever thought of that one before? Now that we know it’s possible, you wonder why everyone didn’t do it all the time. The destruction of the Death Star would have been easy peasy — load up the X- and Y-wings with R2 units for pilots, send them all at once and ka-boom.
Counter argument: C’mon, it looks cool. Isn’t that enough?
The argument can stop here, unless you bring up the gravity bombs in “Last Jedi,” and then there’s pure nerd rage over how haters totally mischaracterized them. LET ME EXPLAIN IT TO YOU.
We didn’t need Darth Vader’s back story. “Why is Space Hitler so mean?” was not a question on the lips of the general public after “Star Wars: A New Hope.” It was enough to know he was bad and relished his cruelty. Perhaps your view of the story is given richness and depth when you consider that this pitiless, sociopathic mass murderer was once a moppet on a sandy planet who said things like “Yippee!” when he was young, but it’s like learning that Genghis Khan liked to play with puppies when he was a tot. So what?
Counter argument: Learning the back story makes Vader’s redemption all the more meaningful. He was twisted by his inability to save the ones he loved.
OK. That might have worked if he wasn’t a sullen teenager who creeped on his babysitter and slaughtered children when he got in a bad mood. Bad writing and bad acting ruined the chance to make Young Vader interesting.
By the way, what did we know about Darth Maul? Nothing. Fantastic character. Imagine if Vader had never said anything in the first two movies. Imagine if the first words he ever spoke were, “No. I am your father.” And then nothing more was explained.
The more we learned of Vader, the less he became. Who cares about his redemption? Luke’s babbling on about how he knows there is still good in you, Father. Dude: BASED ON WHAT?
“The Last Jedi,” a big important “Star Wars” movie, is completely overshadowed by the far superior “Rogue One,” a “Star Wars” story fill-in movie that showed what the franchise could do when it went beyond the core story. It seemed like “Star Wars for grown-ups. No happy ending, no hugging, no revelation that Adm. Ackbar was Luke’s uncle twice-removed — plus, Darth Vader reminded everyone who has his likeness as a Christmas tree ornament that he was really a pitiless murderer.
Counter argument: “Rogue One” was good, but “Last Jedi” made us wonder whether Rey will go to the dark side because she’s in love with Kylo Ren!
Kylo is a flawed, pathetic character. He will either die in “Skywalker,” probably with a gasping last speech, or he’ll cross over to the sunny side of Force Street and fiercely wield his lightsaber for great justice. Whatever happens will reflect well on Rey, because she can do no wrong.
Tatooine is a dull place. Why would anyone live there? Who picks up and moves across the galaxy to a planet where people have jobs like moisture farmer?
Counter argument: Well, you’ve just shown how little you know. Tatooine may look dry and useless, but it’s actually an important point along the Corellian Run hyperlane, the freeways spacecraft use to get around quickly. If I may quote from Wookieepedia, the online “Star Wars” authority:
“It began at Coruscant, going around the Deep Core while passing through Ixtlar, Wukkar, Kailor V, Xorth, Vuma, Leria Kerlsil, Perma, Lolnar, Rehemsa, Sedratis and Rydonni Prime, to reach Corellia, where the Corellian Trade Spine branched off.”
At this point someone who is not steeped in the lore and history may get a blank look: What are you talking about? What movie is that?
Ah, no movie — which brings us to our last argument.
Disney’s decision to kill off the Expanded Universe was correct. “Star Wars” was not confined to the movie. According to some counts, there were almost 400 “Star Wars” novels. The ones released before Disney’s acquisition of the property were redefined from “canon” to “legends” — meaning, whatever happened in those stories doesn’t count. Clean, the wiped slate was.
Counter argument: The demolition of canon was a catastrophe that ruined the fan’s pleasure in knowing a story much wider and deeper than the tale of the Skywalker clan. Now, everything we knew about the Old Republic is useless?
Well, it was always useless, in the strict sense of the word. But just because it’s not the “official” history anymore doesn’t mean you didn’t enjoy it at the time. Besides, if “Star Trek” fans can deal with a new branching timeline that has no planet Vulcan, “Star Wars” fans can adjust, as well.
It’s just a movie. Right? No. It’s a cultural touchstone for millions. There are AARP-eligible people lining up to see the next one because they saw the first one — six times — when they were young. There are fans who were zygotes when the original trilogy ended who grew up on the prequels. There are young folk for whom the sequels are their “Star Wars.” Arguments aside, it’s one of the few cultural events that still brings us together. We may disagree on a kaleidoscopic array of issues, but when it comes down to it, we’re united on two things.
1. For all its flaws, we can’t help but love it.
2. Han shot first.
James Lileks • 612-673-7858 • @Lileks