No, I don’t like Star Wars
One of those things that always sticks in my craw is the result when I mention around people I don’t know that I don’t like Star Wars. Because someone always doesn’t believe me.
There’s a little twitch in the eye, a stare, an odd expression. “Really?” they ask. “Not even such-and-such? Does that mean you don’t like this or that?” It’s a request for elaboration, like there has to be some caveat, it can’t be as simple as just the fact that I would be much happier to live in a world where there would be no more Star Wars.
What I do like that intersects with Star Wars is a very thin list that I generally enjoy in spite of its association, not as a result of it. I would much prefer if Star Wars: The Old Republic was based on literally any other property in the world. I have to consciously distance myself from the name when I attempt to enjoy the original trilogy. I don’t like Star Wars, and I think there’s a lot of good reason not to like Star Wars.
To really explain why I dislike Star Wars, though, I have to explain why I love the heck out of Transformers, which is another franchise for children. And make no mistake, Star Wars has its roots in a franchise for children. This is not an admonishment. The first movie is unbelievably fun to watch, the second one manages to get a lot darker while still hitting all of the notes that a kid could love, and looked at through a child’s eyes even Return of the Jedi is freaking marvelous. There are lots of cool sequences, lots of neat aliens, a bunch of things that seem tailor-made to make nifty toys and without ever facing the difficulties that plagued a lot of Transformers installments. There was a Marvel comic book that happily took things in a whole bunch of wacky directions, and that’s fine.
Calling the two franchises contemporaries isn’t fair; Star Wars predates Transformers and hit the kids right before that generation (i.e. me) while still being accessible and fun for kids my age. I had Star Wars action figures and was excited when I went over to a friend’s house, where I seem to recall a large Death Star-themed playset. (My memories are vague at best, so I might be misremembering that and cede to those with superior knowledge of the history.) But I look at the evolution of both franchises, and it’s clear to me why one of them stuck with me and the other one didn’t.
See, Transformers never stopped being for kids.
At times, it’s flirted with it. There are Transformers things produced that are aimed at adult fans – the IDW comics, the Alternators line in its entirety, Masterpiece toys, and so forth. A lot of Transformers stuff holds a lot of appeal for adult fans, too, with shows like Beast Wars and Transformers Animated telling powerful, moving, and long-format stories that were really engaging to audiences of any age.
But they were still for children, first and foremost. I can watch through all of Beast Wars and get a lot out of it as an adult, but the show is still aimed at kids, and as a result it doesn’t ever feel like it’s ashamed of its source material. By contrast, over the years Star Wars feels like it’s still trying to market to the people who saw the first film at age seven who are now pushing 40. People complain about how the new trilogy was all kid-friendly stuff, but the fact of the matter is that Star Wars has been kid-friendly since its inception.
I’d be the last person to say that the prequel films are great movies, or even good movies. But I think more of that came from the inherent struggle set up by trying to appeal to the adult fanbase as well as the kids who made for the heart of this franchise. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire was published in 1991, and that sure as heck isn’t a children’s novel, but it works out pretty well for the guy who’s 21 and wants to start seeing a version of his childhood heroes that are acting all grown-up and stuff now too.
Unfortunately, this leads to the same problem with any franchise that’s marketing itself to the same core over the course of nearly forty years. The fandom winds up eating itself. The people in charge now are the ones who were writing fanfic in college, people who are more concerned with keeping what they love than they are about bringing in anyone new. It’s the cycle of disappointment you see that’s feeding DC Comics right now, where people are still in love with the characters but ashamed to write what they see as stories for children, of all the people in the world.
So the expanded universe plowed ahead, writing fiction for people in their twenties still based on movies for eight-year-olds and still using the exact same fundamental progression. I look at Shadows of the Empire, the whole useless interquel that was a big deal when I was younger (because we were told it was a big deal) and I see an entire franchise trying its best to be mature and edgy while still marketing the hell out of itself to kids. Here’s a franchise which aims itself at people old enough to care about a green guy trying to mack on Princess Leia while still putting up new ships designed to say “buy me!”
I commend the decision to throw the entire EU out the window, but at the same time I think the damage has already been done. Watching the original trilogy and purging your mind of stupid peripheral material makes it clear that half of the accepted tenets of the universe not only were not in place during the original films but aren’t even compatible with them. The whole idea of emotionless Jedi and passionate Sith is the exact opposite of what we see over the course of three movies. We’re treated to an image of a galaxy wherein the Jedi were crumbling and nearly gone by the time Anakin Skywalker was involved, that he was more like the last straw that pushed them into pieces. Watching the original trilogy and then watching the prequels is a sobering picture of what happens when people spend years writing fanfic about something and that gets taken as gospel.
But it’s that core underlying shame that really feeds into my dislike. It’s that sense that everything becomes an extended fanfic riff, because what are the hallmarks of bad fanfics? Lining up minor background characters in convoluted plots to satisfy pet theories? Sloppy romantic pairings of characters? If it wasn’t canonically what happened, would you say that Leia and Han having a bunch of Jedi kids while Leia herself becomes a Jedi sounds like someone’s silly fan story? For that matter, celebrating something for children while trying to take it away from children, a trick the toxic portions of the Transformers have been hoping to see happen for years?
There are some fans that are marvelous just the same, of course, including people I count as friends. And there are islands that I do like despite the franchise as a whole; I make no secret of how much I love Knights of the Old Republic, for instance. But it’s an uncomfortable thing to be around, something that sits awkwardly on the shoulders. There’s a reason I’m reluctant to tell people how much I love My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, because there’s an association with a whole unpleasant and awful culture implied by that fandom. But saying that you don’t like Star Wars is met with incredulity, like you must be faking it, or you have some overarching point you’re trying to make.
Star Wars, at this point, is uncomfortable and unpleasant fantasy that crouches in science fiction trappings and tries to convince everyone it’s very mature. I don’t like it.