I have a bone to pick with a certain sect of Star Wars fandom.
This is coming from someone who qualifies himself as a pretty big fan of the space opera, as a kid who grew up fascinated with the struggle of the Rebel Alliance versus the ruthless forces of the Galactic Empire, and from someone whose imagination was expanded forever the first time he saw the ignition of a Lightsaber (I have a Force FX replica of that exact saber on my mantle). I was also 9 years old when the Star Wars Trilogy Special Edition came out in theaters, and 11 years old when Episode I was initially released, and I’ve met more than one Star Wars fan who has attempted to make me feel bad for having the audacity to largely enjoy the original re-releases and (GASP!) the prequels.
Recently, browsing my Netflix home page, I saw a documentary recommended to me called The People vs. George Lucas. It told a rather interesting story of the Star Wars creator’s somewhat problematic relationship with the fans, who at points are so erratic in their feelings for him that oftentimes in the same sentence, they simultaneously laud him for his creation and condemn him for expanding it. While I know that many, many Star Wars fans don’t behave as such, I saw downright childish name calling and excuses from people who truly couldn’t fathom that new Star Wars didn’t measure up to the original films they’d fallen in love with as children and that they’d spent worshipping in their adulthood. How could anything measure up to what you’ve already built so highly and powerfully in your minds?
By this point, you might be thinking that I’m being purposefully condescending to a group of geeks, and that I must not understand their extreme devotion to their property of choice. I assure you it’s quite the opposite, I’ve just chosen to make my “home” with another segment of fandom that seems to be far more tolerant of extreme changes to beloved franchises or even more longstanding characters. Compared with comics fans, these sects of Star Wars fandom look, basically, like crybabies. Do you know what comics fans have had to endure?
To make my point, let’s take a look at the bane of existence for the generation that grew up strictly on the original Star Wars trilogy: Jar Jar Binks. To say I don’t understand why those fans are disappointed would be a lie, I do understand completely. To say, though, that the creation of Binks, a new character whose sole purpose in The Phantom Menace was to provide comic relief, somehow bastardizes all of Star Wars is extreme, shortsighted, and I think pretty off-base. I might think you’d have a point if Episode I featured a young Han Solo as a goofy toddler providing diaper humor, as that would be a catastrophic mistake. “COMICS FANS NEVER HAD TO ENDURE ANYTHING LIKE THAT,” a screaming fanboy might say. “JAR JAR IS WORSE THAN ANYTHING COMICS FANS HAVE HAD TO ENDURE.”
Really? We’ve never looked forward to a movie featuring our favorite characters, and been absolutely crestfallen when they’ve horribly sucked? What about taking a character whose roots are in darkness, whose origin is in an act of violence and who has always had a longstanding portrayal as a “creature of the night,” and he is made campy and comedic, against the very root of everything that so many fans love about him?
My favorite fictional character is the Dark Knight, Batman. He always has been, and I gravitate toward him because of his incredible will, and his unrelenting resolve to make himself into an unparalleled force for good. The darkness in that Dark Knight is attractive to millions, if not billions of people the world over, and goes back to the roots of his creation in 1939 at the hands of Bill Finger and Bob Kane. So, when the movie studio that owns that character, popular because of his status as a nocturnal avenger (and his desire to make criminals feel the fear he felt as a child when his parents were taken away from him), decide to make a goofy, nonsensical film with big Hollywood stars playing like they’re in a world that would make Roger Rabbit gag in disgust, how do you think the Batman fans reacted when they walked into the theater to see Batman & Robin for the first time?
That film is a far larger sin than Jar Jar Binks could ever hope to be, and people knew it. At least Jar Jar was created with the express purpose of being funny. How can you bastardize something inserted solely for comedic effect? Batman was done a great disservice by that 1997 film, and it has it’s legacy as perhaps the worst superhero film ever because by-and-large, people understand that it was created as little more than a 2-hour toy commercial, and the fact that it managed to discard almost everything that Batman fans loved about that character. What’s the bigger crime?
But even then, I don’t hear songs or see t-shirts that claim “JOEL SCHUMACHER RAPED MY CHILDHOOD,” because comics fans understand that such an inherently hyperbolic (and somewhat offensive) statement is blatantly untrue. In the era between Batman & Robin and the Dark Knight’s cinematic saving grace Batman Begins, we largely didn’t spend our time cursing Schumacher’s name because we still knew what our Batman was. We knew that the character and his world was strong enough to take what Schumacher could throw at it, and that he’d come out stronger. And you know what? He did. We also knew that Schumacher’s film didn’t change our childhood experiences with Batman, and we still cherished our memories of seeing a Burton film, or looking at the incredible Animated Series, or excitedly opening up that new Batmobile on Christmas or our birthdays.
Did Jar Jar Binks or the prequel trilogy at large somehow alter your enjoyment as kids of the original Star Wars films? Do you, out of protest for that backstory or of Binks, regret the hours spent watching those films, playing with the toys, or running around your backyard pretending that stick you found was a Lightsaber? Is your first experience of Darth Vader telling Luke he was his father now somehow sullied by the fact that Hayden Christensen woodenly delivered romantic dialogue to Natalie Portman?
No, of course it isn’t. Beyond Batman & Robin comics fans have had to endure the likes of Catwoman, Steel, Superman III AND IV, Daredevil, Green Lantern, the 1990 Captain America, and many, many others. There’s also the fact that bad comics films don’t ever give anything after their release, and the mere fact that the new mythology of the prequel trilogy was able to open up an entire world of expanded universe novels, comics, and games, not to mention the extremely good Clone Wars CG animated series, you guys definitely get the better end of the deal.
From one fan to another, please heed this advice: really examine whether or not the prequels took anything away from you. Really examine the hyperbole that impassioned fandom can so easily ignite. Really examine whether or not you guys got a bad deal, when it clearly could’ve been much, much worse.
From where I’m standing, in more ways than one, Star Wars fans clearly got the better end of the deal, in multiple ways. Now, go watch your theatrical cut of The Empire Strikes Back, and maybe mutter a “thank you” under your breath to the man that, like it or not, still gave it to you.
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