I have been writing here and elsewhere about how much the Star Wars Saga is more or less interchangeable as far as what can be considered objectively good or bad about the individual films. However, this just seems to compound the mystery as to why I-III was not accepted wholesale among fans as IV-VI supposedly were and suffered a backlash that continues to this day.
I’m going to elaborate on this point later, but I want to get out of the way early on that every Star Wars film had a fair share of detractors, and every new entry since the first had detractors amongst the fanbase. You wouldn’t know it reading what people tend to say now, but those who were around at the time certainly remember it. But why? If, as I’ve been stating, films I-VI vary very little in terms of objective quality, why are people so vocal about disliking certain aspects?
The television show South Park has never been very kind or very fair to George Lucas. Which is a shame, because their satire has been pretty spot-on about nearly everything else (even if it’s difficult to watch from time to time). Without even realizing it, an early episode I feel completely captures the spirit of why such backlashes in fandom seem to happen.
In an episode revolving around the turn of the millennium, God himself makes an appearance to the town of South Park. As he is speaking, the townspeople are looking on in awe…before revealing that God is in fact some sort of half-hippopotamus half-cat hybrid creature. “That’s God?” the townsfolk ask in disbelief. “Well, what did you expect me to look like?” says God in his deep, calming voice as he snatches a fly out of the air with his tongue. After a beat, the reply is “…well not like THAT.”
That phrase is the key. It’s the idea that when human beings are shown something that deviates wildly from what they’ve built up in their heads for years and think they know to be true, they react with horror. As we all know, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.
A New Hope (back then simply “Star Wars”) had its critical naysayers, but the public by and large ate it up. Everyone and their mothers seemed to love it. So here we have a sequel coming up and…The Empire Strikes Back split the fanbase down the middle with its cliffhanger ending and stunning revelations. Well, what did you expect Empire to look like? “Well…not like THAT.” Fast forward, those who liked Empire were waiting to see how the story wraps up. Return of the Jedi is released, and it once again splits the fanbase with its lighter tone more in line with the original. Well, what did you expect Jedi to look like? “Well…not like THAT.”
Sixteen years later, George Lucas begins to tell us the backstory. The history of what brought us to A New Hope. The tragedy of Anakin Skywalker. These are stories and scenarios that many fans had been writing in their heads for years. Then Phantom Menace is finally, finally released and we see Anakin’s childhood in a tone arguably lighter than Jedi’s. Well, what did you expect Phantom to look like? “Well…not like THAT.” Attack of the Clones shows not only the origin of the Stormtroopers, but mainly focuses on how Anakin fell in love with the woman who would be the mother of the twins. Well, what were you expecting Clones to look like? “Well…not like THAT.” Finally, Revenge of the Sith. The story that ties the threads of the Saga together. We knew the most about it going in, since not only was the Mustafar duel part of Star Wars lore in some form or another since the beginning, but the internet had finally become its modern force to be reckoned with at this point. Even so, some people were sideswiped by how Sith turned out.
Well, what did you all expect Sith to look like?
“Well…not like THAT.”
We’re starting to see the same kind of language in the lead up to VII-IX. Even I’ve been guilty of it, though I do try to stop myself. “This needs to be this way.” “I think it should be this.” I hope it’s this.” People are always building these things up in their heads, and they should know the finished movie will be wildly different from anything they’ve thought up, for better or worse (usually better).
Me? I only had one expectation going into each of the Star Wars films after the first, and I’m trying to keep this one and only expectation going into VII-IX: