'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' Is a Victory of Fiction Over the Worst Parts of Fandom

The release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi caused a great imbalance in Star Wars fandom. In fact, [...]

The release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi caused a great imbalance in Star Wars fandom. In fact, some fans are so disappointed in the film that they are calling for it to be stricken from canon.

"Canon" is a particularly appropriate term here. Star Wars fandom has reached the point where many fans treat the movies like sacred texts. They study them like disciples of numerology, seeing patterns everywhere. They shave off rough edges to force the story into the mold of the hero's journey or ring theory.

In the time between the release of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Star Wars made the next step: prophecy. Fans started to believe that they could use the patterns they observed in the past to predict what was to come. They examined the apocryphal expanded universe of old for hints. They even broke down extratextual materials, like posters and standees, searching for signs.

Is it any wonder then so many have recoiled at Rian Johnson's message, which asserts that there are no patterns? There is no prophecy. Star Wars is not a math problem that can be definitively solved. It's art, and art changes and evolves over time.

The best example of this is the gray Jedi theories and the first time Luke sees Rey use the Force. The concept of a gray Jedi comes from the old EU. As pertains to Luke Skywalker, it mixed into the plot of the Dark Empire graphic novels. Luke would pursue true balance in the Force by mastering the light side and the dark side.

That this theory became so pervasive shows how fans have bought into Lucasfilm marketing. The light side/dark side gimmick is big for selling toys. But the Force doesn't work like a video game morality meter, not even the one in Knights of the Old Republic.

Fans too often conflate light side and dark side with good and evil. Nobody talks about the light side of the Force in the original trilogy. There is no balancing light side and dark side. The "light side" is the balance. The dark side is the imbalance. You can't be "too light side" any more than you can be "too perfectly balanced."

This is the idea Luke tries to knock out of Rey's mind during training. She reaches out to the Force and expects to wield great power. Luke shows her otherwise. He reminds Rey -- and fans -- that being a Jedi isn't the same as being a superhero. It's about balance, not fulfilling a power fantasy.

But too many of ideas like this have been codified in the unofficial catechism of Star Wars fandom. Fans feel personally affronted by Johnson cutting through these assumptions because a lot of time and energy has been investing into building them. Consider the reaction to The Last Jedi compared to the reaction to The Force Awakens. Sure, some fans felt The Force Awakens was almost too familiar, but no one called for it to be removed from canon because, despite its flaws, at least it wasn't blaspheming against the established Star Wars orthodoxy.

By tearing down the established doctrine, Johnson has opened up Star Wars to be something more than a science fantasy formula with each new director filling in the pre-established blanks. Creators are now more free to preach their personal Star Wars. There is no more "what Star Wars is," only "what Star Wars is right now."

Fans may be uncomfortable with this, but it's a good thing. The ability to adapt and change and provide a variety of perspectives, interpretations, and points of view, to tell many different kinds of stories, is the sign of a healthy franchise. Consider some of the other pop culture franchises that have been around for decades and how much they've changed over the years.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a major victory to the ability of storytellers to tell the stories they want to tell. Fans should absolutely have the right to love or hate those stories, but their sense of ownership is false. Fans need to learn to walk away, or that they can love some parts of a franchise and not others. It's okay to like some entries in a long-running series and not others. You'd think the prequel trilogy would have taught Star Wars fans that by now.