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Why actors are no longer silent about criticizing their own franchises

By Kayleigh Donaldson
john Boyega Star Wars poster

When Harrison Ford was recently asked about the possibility of Han Solo being a Force ghost in the Star Wars franchise, he responded in his own unique manner: "A Force ghost? I don't know what a Force ghost is. Don't tell anyone. I'm not talking loud enough for your recorder. I have no f**king idea what a Force ghost is. And I don't care!"

Bless you, Harrison Ford. Shine on, you cantankerous diamond.

If you're in any way familiar with Ford, how he talks about arguably his most famous character, and being part of one of the biggest and most beloved film series on the planet, none of this will be shocking to you. He's always been candid and grouchy about his involvement with Star Wars, mocking the way that fans take the mythos so seriously and happily admitting he was happy for the payday when he returned for The Force Awakens. Frankly, I think most fans would be disappointed if he suddenly started spouting bland platitudes about how it's such an honor to be part of geek history and all that jazz. Ford's broad cynicism about his own movies isn't just par for the course now: It's something that audiences expect and kind of love.

Ford has never been unique in this regard. Pop culture history is full of stars, creators, and associated people criticizing their own franchises, properties, and beloved work. Arthur Conan Doyle could barely hide his disdain for his own creation, Sherlock Holmes, while Elizabeth Taylor famously called Butterfield 8, the movie she won her first Oscar for, a "piece of sh**." Typically, however, this is considered unwise behavior. Rule one of Hollywood: don't bite the hand that feeds you.

Things, however, have changed a lot in recent years, and now some of the industry's biggest stars are speaking out in interviews and on social media about the faults in the franchises that made them famous. It's been less than two months since the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. The internet has shared its opinions multiple times over, but surprisingly, the most outspoken voice in the conversation is John Boyega. Over the past few weeks, he's clearly been having the time of his life trolling Reylo fans, bragging about waiting to get paid for the movie, and generally acting in the kind of giddy, carefree way one can only do when no longer under contract to a major media monopoly. Some fans have expressed displeasure at Boyega's attitude, but others highly relate to his mood.

This wasn't limited to Boyega or his Twitter account either. Many fans picked up on how utterly over the entire franchise many of its stars were, with Oscar Isaac looking ready to tap out in every interview.

Outside of a galaxy far far away, Bucky Barnes himself Sebastian Stan took to Instagram to share his seeming displeasure over the Marvel Cinematic Universe and its treatment of Barnes and Steve Rogers' relationship. Boyega even welcomed Stan into his new little club of franchise stars who have had enough, a group already heavily populated by half the cast of Game of Thrones.

Once upon a time, it would have been utterly unthinkable for any actor to so openly mock and deride their own projects in this manner. Careers have been killed in this business by loose lips and moments of brutal honesty that irritated the people in power. Remember when Megan Fox talked about the nightmare of working with noted creepy misogynist Michael Bay and got fired from the third Transformers movie for her troubles? Coincidentally, Shia LaBeouf, her male co-star, never faced the same sort of repercussions for his own derision of the franchise. At the very least, people getting this candid are usually forced into a PR mandated apology cycle where they claim they were misquoted or had a bad day and that they were eternally grateful to the mega-corporations for keeping them on the books. Now? Well, some people just don't have the time for that.

Some people have always been able to speak out in such a manner, and it's usually white dudes. White male privilege is one of those things that can make arrogance and general jerk behavior seem "charming," even when it's clearly not. I do think it's worth differentiating between actors just being jackasses and those who are clearly frustrated and feel somewhat smothered by their experiences on a property like Game of Thrones or Star Wars.

The behemoth of geek culture and its many fandoms is a heavy cross to bear for any actor who just wanted a job. Being in a series like Star Wars or Marvel comes with near-insurmountable expectations and the never-ending attention of millions of fans and critics. Arguably more than even the filmmakers and studio powers crafting these stories, it's the actors, the public faces, who carry the weight of that attention. They're the ones who by and large face social media wrath over unpopular decisions. It's the actors who have to deal with the over-emotional and over-attached fans, some of whom are often extremely rude in settings like conventions. They have to be the marketing face of an almighty brand that demands everything from them in terms of talent and emotional energy, and they have to do it with a smile. It's no wonder some end up overwhelmed by that.

I'm not suggesting that this sort of pressure gives anyone permission to be a jerk. Far from it. What we're currently dealing with is, I believe, more complex than that. Nowadays, what we are seeing from people like Stan, Boyega, Emilia Clarke, etc., is the personification of fan frustration made flesh through those figures that publicly embody those beloved properties. When Clarke, Kit Harrington, Peter Dinklage, and seemingly the entire Game of Thrones cast expressed their obvious disdain and cynicism with the direction of the final season during their promotional cycle, it felt like the fans who pushed back so ferociously against its many egregious faults were being legitimized. There was a sense of freedom in seeing someone as sharp and professional as Tyrion Lannister himself look utterly over everything. It wasn't just us who had a problem, see?

It can really suck to see the show or movies you love make disappointing or flat-out stupid creative choices. Fandom is now so corporatized and appropriated by businesses that it seems as though speaking out in any form is tantamount to treason. "Real fans" don't see the fault. "Real fans" are blind in their total allegiance. Fandom is not life or death, but it's often made to feel like that by studios and producers who demand a level of loyalty that borders on insidious. Even separate from that mess, fandom can be all-consuming in wonderful and terrible ways. We get the best and worst of ourselves from that. So, when I see Harrison Ford or John Boyega reminding us all once again that Star Wars is just a movie, they offer a sense of proportion that I and many fans often keenly need. That's not to say that such an approach is for everyone. I fully understand why some people would feel hurt by the seeming glibness of this behavior (although let's not forget just how much racist abuse has been leveled at Boyega for the past few years, often by Star Wars fans). I think it's important for these actors who have to deal with so much from these franchises to occasionally let the world know that it's OK to just see these beloved properties as nice gigs with some fun benefits. This is a business, after all.

Frankly, it's a good thing to see actors not feeling constrained by the threat of repercussion from these mighty corporate entities who seem to own everything in modern entertainment. Just because you're an on-screen hero doesn't mean you should be honor-bound to live up to an impossible image that no mere human could maintain. Besides, in the grand scheme of things, no matter how many jokes John Boyega cracks about Star Wars, Lucasfilm is and always will be fine.