Last month I read an enlightening article which considered the philosophy of Irish Philosopher and Political Theorist Edmund Burke. The piece looked at Burke’s body of work advocating its applicability to today’s modern world. Buried within the article was the following interesting quote:-
“echo chambers on social media leave people unprepared to deal with views other than their own. The result is a culture that is increasingly narcissistic and unable to form broad alliances.”
I have been reminded of this phrase again and again over the last few weeks as the online reaction to what should be a relatively trivial matter, The Last Jedi, has increasingly spun out of control. Grown adults take to social media to argue about this subject in the nastiest of fashions; advocating both the “for” and “against” of the film.
The correct answer of course is that no-one is objectively right about The Last Jedi. I adored The Last Jedi, and found it to actually get better with every viewing. My love of the film, does not, however, mean that it becomes an objectively “good” film, just as someone who hated it does not have the ability to make an objective statement that it is “bad”.
One would have thought this fact would be easily accepted given the levels of choice afforded by today’s society. Why then do some fans feel the need to “convert” others to their view of The Last Jedi? The evangelism in some quarters is notable. Is it a case, as the quote above states, of social media leaving people unprepared to deal with views other than their own? Is our Star Wars culture online becoming increasingly narcissistic? Are we as Star Wars fans no longer able to form broad alliances with other fans celebrating a common love for the franchise? If so we have reached a sad state of affairs.
I am a fan of The Last Jedi, but as time passes I find myself increasingly sympathetic with the people who didn’t enjoy it. I don’t share their view. I do however vehemently support their right to watch a film and express a view. I also feel that people speaking in favor of the film need to understand that those who didn’t like it are not, and shouldn’t be classified as, “alt-right bots” or “sexist fan-boys”.
A number of people I respect online simply do not like The Last Jedi. Likewise the majority of people I have asked in real life (colleagues, friends, neighbors) actually haven’t liked it and found it “too strange” or “different”. While I don’t share that view I can sometimes see what they are trying to articulate. I felt there was some stunningly original artistic and creative work in The Last Jedi. Despite this, deep down, I still retain a slight preference for The Force Awakens. That’s because of the rather arbitrary fact that The Force Awakens gave me more of a warm glow inside and, in my view, preserved a greater degree of mystery.
With regards to the impact of recent disputes, a really thoughtful person engaging on Twitter put it this way, “what disappoints me even more than not liking The Last Jedi is the fact that many people still are condescending towards people like me…its still sad to see how much generalization and shade gets thrown around on both sides. One of the reasons I don’t want to engage in further discussions about The Last Jedi”. This was followed by another fan stating, “I ended up unfollowing almost all Star Wars bloggers and podcasters because of that very reason. The condescending tone from these folks crossed the line…I used to follow a bunch of Lucasfilm employees but now I’m down to two. I thought the film was okay but I didn’t like how folks that didn’t like it are being treated”.
I found this profoundly sad. If fans, who just want to exchange views feel dismissed like this to the point where they no longer want to express their views then something is wrong. If some fansites, blogs and podcasts drive fans away from the franchise and fan-base they are supposed to represent then that’s unhealthy. Collectively is there a question that arises over how Lucasfilm employees engage online? Is this a case of people – who are no doubt lovely people in real life – falling foul of the Twitter medium? Do Lucasfilm need to manage this interface better to prevent it being counterproductive?
Star Wars is now so big that all of us, at some point, are likely to dislike one part of it or another. We all, therefore, need to accept that if there is to be a collective engagement then accepting others views will be an important part of that. It isn’t “gatekeeping” to suggest that there should be certain standards in the way fans, websites/podcasts and people who work for official Star Wars outlets engage about creative work. I include myself in this – we all have a duty to do our best to engage in a positive way.
This is a great saga, but one thing the discussions of late should have made clear is that it doesn’t really belong to any one group, nor any one company, director, actor, website, or fan; it is the modern mythology of our age gifted to the world by George Lucas, and we need to find away to experience it together. I’m not despondent though, if there is one thing Star Wars has taught us, it is to travel in hope.
Editor’s Notes: All images subject to copyright. Can be removed upon request.