Recently, I found myself watching a review of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on YouTube. The young reviewer had never played the game before and made an objective observation about how textures were lazily stretched across polygons rather than tiled, and I almost smacked my phone off the desk in pure, unbridled fangirl rage. How dare he find fault with My Favorite Game! How dare he disrespect my imaginary home turf! I’d show that boy a piece of my mind!
That feeling was the closest I’ve come to what appears to be the deeply emotional motivation behind the Star Wars boycott letter currently circulating around the internet. (No, I’m not linking you.)
Of course, the difference is that I didn’t pen a missive framing myself as the “rebellion” (did… did you not catch that the Rebellion is full of women and aliens and the Empire is not? Like, that’s… on purpose?) and calling on likeminded fans to boycott one of the most powerful media companies on Earth. Instead, I remembered that I am an adult, it is OK for people not to like the things that I like, and, in fact, there are Zelda games that I myself do not like. And then I just went on with my day.
There’s a lot of ground you could cover in this letter, but I have no intention of going full Satellite of Love on it. Let us simply quote Daniel Ortberg and say “you must be so embarrassed to have said that,” and move on to the themes it shares with the efforts of the planned "remake" of The Last Jedi (I can hear Disney forging a golden cease and desist letter far off in the distance!) and other anger about the sequel trilogy’s “audacity” to do things like admit people of color, women, and femmes exist. The idea that the fans’ vision (which is somehow a singular, shared vision) should trump that of the creators, the concept of the original Star Wars trilogy as an immutable and sacred text, and the idea of George Lucas as its champion.
You don’t have to be a fandom-old like me to remember a time when the idea of George Lucas as the stalwart champion of Star Wars was not only laughable, but unthinkable. Lucas, the man who wouldn’t give us the theatrical releases on DVD, who gave us Jar Jar Binks, and who approved The Ewoks and the Magic Sunberries? Lucas, who didn’t even go to the premiere of Star Wars because he was too nervous that it sucked? Lucas, the man who just wants to make his tone poems and special effects thought experiments in peace? People have been complaining about the Powers That Be since The Empire Strikes Back. It doesn’t matter who’s in the driver’s seat; some fans just want to take the wheel and hit the brakes.
Alexandre O. Philippe’s 2010 documentary The People Vs. George Lucas explores this uneasy, tenuous relationship between Lucas and the fanbase by asking one simple question: “Who owns Star Wars?” In the court of law, the answer is, of course, the rightsholder, but that would make for a very short documentary. Instead, Philippe interviews fans, collaborators, and creators, and highlights how the natural affinity Star Wars fans feel towards their beloved films is often enflamed into a sense of ownership (which can then tip into entitlement) by Lucas’ own uneasy relationship to the megalith and insistence on constantly modifying it to suit his vision.
Which, of course, puts the lie to the idea that Star Wars is a static, immutable thing. No text is immutable, since time acts upon both the text and the reader, but when it comes to Star Wars… well, a pleasant way to spend a beautiful day indoors is to look up every minute detail changed in each iteration of the special editions. It’s hard to argue that Star Wars’ inherent nobility and dignity must be protected when that’s not an argument even George Lucas would make. And the idea that they want Star Wars fans in the driver’s seat falls apart the minute you consider that Star Wars is one of the most popular franchises on God’s green earth, and I am the only Star Wars fan who wants me to be cast as Mrs. Captain Phasma. (Dear Kathleen Kennedy: I am very available.)
Look, I get it. For us fans, it can be difficult when our sacred object is so blatantly putty in someone else’s hands, especially if that someone has gone from “beloved and infallible storyteller” to “a regular person” — Harry Potter, anyone? When you love something so deeply that it becomes part of your identity, even the most innocuous changes to it can feel like a criticism of you. It’s easy for me to enjoy the prequel trilogy because I didn’t have the gut-wrenching experience of waiting my whole life to see new Star Wars and having George Lucas remind me that what he values about Star Wars is not what most people value about Star Wars. (Again, let the man make his tone poems in peace!) That’s affect theory, baby—the study of our relationships with the things that we love.
But what are these fans—not only this particular subset of Star Wars fans, but any fan who objects to change and progression in this peculiar way—truly asking for? Once you’ve weeded past arguments like sacred texts and infallible creators and impossible unified visions, it becomes clear.
What they want isn’t something quantifiable, like “more speaking roles for women of color, please” or “let’s have more practical effects than digital effects.” What they want is for things to have never changed. What they want is the promise nostalgia can never deliver on: that we can go back. And they’re trying to achieve it by ossifying a text, by asking that the characters stay static in amber, by asking that it never move forward.
I will never be a 9-year-old leisurely exploring Hyrule at the dawn of the millennium again. When that YouTuber made a calm, objective, and true point about the game, I was tied too closely to it to be able to step back and see it was just a comment on the game, not a comment on that 9-year-old. (Who, quite frankly, could have used a smack up the head and a haircut.) It can be a frightening thing, to feel like we’re being asked to move way from those cherished moments. But it’s important to critically examine the texts that we love and take away from them what’s worth saving and celebrating, not digging in our heels and railing against those with different takes on the material for simply having different takes on the material. Not only can we hold both things in our heads at the same time, it’s imperative that we do so, as empathetic consumers of media.
Or, to quote the great philosopher Rose Tico, we do not find the way forward by fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.