I’m gonna be crystal-clear on this: being a fan is a market-induced mentality. The word is derived from “fanatic“, which is an early-Modern Latin derivative referring to religious zealotry. Late Modernity, having removed religion from the public square, substitutes devotion to entertainments as simulacra to the epics and sagas of old. That’s why they’re using “epic” as an adjective to the new Jurassic Park film, that’s why George Lucas spent the 1980’s saying the word “saga” to everyone who would listen about his Flash-Gordon/Kurosawa mashup.
Calling Star Wars that is not really an insult to Star Wars. All artists steal; good artists add value to what they steal. Adding a samurai ethos and some Nazi aesthetics to Planetary Romance enhances each element: they play well off of each other. Star Wars is a good movie. You have only to watch it to observe this.
But that’s all it is. I’ve said dumb things about that “saga” here on this blog, expressions of a devotion that was already dying. I’ve called out Lucasfilm for exploiting its product rather than making art. Which is true as far as it goes. But the reality is that the mistake was mine, and everyone else’s for believing that anything else would happen.
Last night I went with my wife and kids to see The Bad Guys, a Dreamworks animated film about a gang of animal thieves struggling to go straight. It was light fun, nothing more than it should have been. The art style was surprising and pleasant, and the use of anthropomorphic animals as lead characters meant I didn’t have to look at too many CalArts beanmouth people. I give it a thumbs-up. I liked it better than Encanto.
I was, in short, entertained by it. That’s all it promised, and all I expected.
But I and everyone else is aware that Dreamworks will do everything possible to enhance revenue from The Bad Guys if it’s a hit (which it’s looking like, so far). There will be toys. There will be a sequel or three. There will be a TV show, a video game, a web series, and everything else under the sun. It was entertaining, and now it won’t stop.
In short, Dreamworks wants to create fans. As I’ve written before, A fan may like the next product, or a fan may dislike it, but a fan always shows up to buy. The Internet has given us the illusion that the Suits will a) hear us out, and b) care what we think. All the evidence points the other way. They will keep pumping out Bad Guys content until the Eschaton, so long as the ROI holds (how many Despicable Me/Minions movies do we have? How many will we get?). It doesn’t matter if they’re any good.
In fact, it’s almost better if a few of them aren’t, so that a Renewal Narrative can take hold, with some jabber-jaw about “making the fans happy”. Disney milked that for all it was worth for it’s Star Wars films. By definition, everyone who complains about a product, is a customer. A fan is a customer who can’t stop buying a product.
This is why you won’t see this blog or the Twitter feed filled with moaning about the new Amazon LOTR series. I’ve said it was going to suck. Nothing I’ve heard suggests that it won’t. I’m not going to pick it to pieces to prove my case to you. I’m not going to watch it. Problem solved. I’ve done this with the Terminator movies; it works.
Once you understand that popular entertainment has devolved from making mass art to exploiting past successes at making mass art, you will no longer drive yourself bonkers figuring out how they can so cavalierly treat narratives, characters, and themes. They do this because they aren’t artists seeking truth but brain-proletarians making mental widgets in a factory. The reason the Picard series is trash is because no one who’s writing for it cares about Star Trek. They’re hired hands pushing out product for the corporate conglomerate who owns the property. You’re an idiot for thinking it would be good.
You might argue, it has always been thus. And you may be right. But taht is all the more reason not to take their works seriously, not to give them more thought than they deserve. The Buddhists teach that attachment is the cause of suffering. Fandom is nothing but an attachment. And once understood as such, it is an attachment to an unworthy thing. You will not miss it.
In that respect, The Last Jedi may be the only honest Star Wars film made since 1983. It managed to sneak in a new idea. It is time for the Jedi to end. Let the past go. Kill it if you have to. Destroy all Fandoms.