So, Star Wars: The Last Jedi made some $450 million around the world last weekend, its first in release. Disney is pleased, of course, as their $4 billion investment in Lucasfilm continues to pay dividends. Critics are thrilled, at least judging by the 93 percent Rotten Tomatoes score.
**Spoiler alert: This story contains spoilers**
But audiences… well, that seems to be a different story. CinemaScore, which is a theater exit poll service, has The Last Jedi at a solid A, but on Rotten Tomatoes, it's at 56 percent. Listening to the chatter on social media, fans either love some of the choices that writer-director Rian Johnson made in this chapter of the continuing Skywalker Saga, or they hate them with the white-heat of twin suns.
"Finn is pointless. Rey's parents aren't Jedi? Why did they do Luke like that? But Snoke?"
There is a sense of betrayal embedded in some of those complaints: "Why isn't this my Star Wars, the way I remember it?"
Here's something that I know is hard to understand, especially if you've grown up with Star Wars as part of the fabric of your life: Star Wars does not belong to you.
It doesn't belong to me. You know how I know? Because my name isn't on it. Simple, schoolyard rules, sure, but I get to put my name on things that are mine.
Art belongs to the artist, forever and always. They can choose to share that art with the world — if it's mass art, it's almost required, so that people can keep making art — but it still remains the work of the artist. The $15 you spend on the movie ticket doesn't imply a transfer of ownership, right? Of course not. It simply grants you access. Same with the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars you might've spent on Star Wars over the past 40 years. Being a devotee doesn't make you a shareholder.
Again, I understand. My concepts of good and evil, of heroism and sacrifice, were fired in the Star Wars kiln when I was 10 years old. While I might not go so far as to list "Jedi" as my official religion or give my kids midi-chlorian vitamins (surely, they must be a thing, right?), I consider Star Wars my first fandom. I love the OG Trilogy and, with scant exceptions, loathe the prequels. I keep a laserdisc player connected to my TV on the off-chance I want to watch the unadulterated cuts of A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, or Return of the Jedi.
But my love is a passive one. It has to be, because that is simply the nature of the relationship, and to expect more is simply setting one's self up for heartbreak. Star Wars will never be exactly what you want it to be, it will be what it is. It will change depending on who is telling the story. George Lucas had stories he wanted to tell and he told them. Dave Filoni had his stories, as do Rian Johnson and J.J. Abrams. The gift of Star Wars is that it can stretch to accommodate those various perspectives, while still being Star Wars.
And if it was always what you expected it to be… how sad would that be? You'd never be surprised if you only got what you wanted.
Fandom is a harsh mistress. Just ask Arthur Conan Doyle, who devised the perfect death for his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes, until fans harassed Doyle so much that he brought him back to life. Or George R.R. Martin, who has to endure endless pleas to get back to his computer and write, despite the fact that he doesn't owe us more A Song of Ice and Fire. If we get them, we get them. And if he decides to never write another book, that would suck but be completely within his rights as the author of the work. Because his name is on it.
Does an artist have a responsibility to the fandom? Sure. To tell the best story he or she can. To not s*** the bed. But to do what the fandom wants done? Nope. We're not the captains of the good ship lightsaber, we're passengers.
If you were thrilled by The Last Jedi, great. If it angered you, I get that, too. There's no right or wrong way to love Star Wars because that's not a determination we, as the audience, get to make. Because it's not ours.