In June I had a great time attending Denver Comic Con, with but one slight exception. I attended seventeen panels that weekend, only one of which was Star Wars related (I know it’s kind of shameful for a Star Wars blogger, but I opted in favor of the writing-focused panels over the Star Wars panels). And it was that one Star Wars panel that ended up being the most negative experience I had in all the three days of the con. The panel was titled “Origins of the Force,” and the panel description read thus:
“Before Star Wars was a cultural phenomenon, it was just a dream in the mind of George Lucas. Drawing from such diverse sources as samurai sagas, Westerns and sci-fi serials, the legendary auteur fashioned a modern-day myth that changed Hollywood forever. Co-presented by filmmaker Alexandre Philippe, and Denver Film Society Programming Manager Ernie Quiroz, this series will explore the films that influenced Star Wars, itself among the most influential film of the last 40 years.”
-Denver Comic Con 2016 Programming Guide
Sounds great, right? I thought so too, and I felt very fortunate to have arrived in time to snag a seat in a VERY full panel audience. The panel wasn’t off to a great start with Mr. Philippe arriving 10-15 minutes late and Mr. Quiroz filling the time by talking about the Denver Film Society and his own projects. But once Mr. Philippe arrived, introductions were made and the two panelists started on the material. But what I had been expecting to be a pseudo-academic presentation turned into something much more…uncomfortable. Almost immediately Mr. Quiroz made derogatory remarks about the Prequels – his tone suggested he was assuming everyone in the room held the same opinion.
I understand that, while I like the prequel trilogy, many don’t. And that’s fine. But I had hoped that the panelists at least would be more sensitive to those in the audience that actually DO like the prequel films. I was thrilled that there were a couple vocal prequel lovers in the audience that pushed back against the negative sentiments of Mr. Quiroz, but there was this bizarre mob negativity in the audience that became more and more oppressive as the panel progressed – and with it, my discomfort.
As it happens, Alexandre Philippe was the director of the documentary The People vs. George Lucas, a film that explores the love-hate relationship many fans have developed with George Lucas. And when presenting the material for this panel, Mr. Philippe took a similar approach, posing a difficult question: “Where does an homage end and plagiarism begin?” While Mr. Philippe took a fairly neutral approach to presenting this question, the pervading mob negativity had the whole audience laughing at the comparisons between corresponding film clips from the 1955 film The Dam Busters and the first Death Star run. (You can see the video on YouTube for yourself here.) It was as if everyone around me with each chuckle and guffaw were berating, even condemning, George Lucas for borrowing from this film to help create the original Star Wars film. This had nothing to do with the prequels, and yet, the scorn directed at Lucas was palpable. It boggled my mind to sit amidst the tangible derision directed at a man who is just as human as any of us and without whom we wouldn’t have even gathered in that room. To Mr. Philippe’s credit, he tried to pull the audience back to make them consider more objectively the questions he was posing, and he did manage to bring the panel to a close on a positive note. (Mr. Quiroz, however, didn’t have anything positive to contribute to the whole affair.) But sitting in that room, I felt completely alienated while both the panelists and audience members all but mocked films I enjoyed and the man who made them. I should have felt right at home amidst all those Star Wars fans, but I was anything but. And those feelings of discomfort and intimidation I experienced have stuck with me even to now. I thought I was going to a panel to learn about something I love, and instead I was met with a wall of negativity that, had I known about, I would have skipped-it altogether.
I wish I could say that this is the only time I’ve encountered this kind of off-putting negativity in the Star Wars community. But you know what? This experience is reflective of many of my encounters with the Star Wars community. On social media I see people getting so angry about Star Wars, whether it’s the retirement of the old Expanded Universe (EU) from canon, the creation of a new EU, the prequel films, Episode VII, the reintegration of Thrawn into Star Wars canon, complaints about Kylo Ren, on and on and on… and for what?
I am so tired of all the animosity coming from not just the online community, but even from the mouths of my own friends. For years I was made to feel ashamed for liking the prequels. I was embarrassed and so I pretended that I felt the same as those around me. It wasn’t until I joined The Cantina Cast family that I found it was okay to say, I liked what I liked. Now I tell my friends straight up that I like the prequels, and for the most part they respect that (though I still have to suffer through the occasional jab.)
Look, I can sympathize with those for whom Star Wars is more than just a passing interest. Indeed, it has affected some in profound and extremely personal ways. For me, Star Wars was something I shared with one of my best friends, Racheal. Since she passed four years ago, believe you me I can get very emotional about Star Wars. I get it, it’s special. And personal. But why must we spew derisive disparagement at the content and each other? Can’t we just enjoy it?
Star Wars is a living, growing, changing thing, now perhaps more than ever. It’s a unique phenomenon that people enjoy in all sorts of mediums from board games to video games, to comics and books, and both the small, and silver screens. George Lucas didn’t destroy anything when he made the prequels. And while it may seem outrageous to some to set aside the old EU, all that’s been done is making room for a NEW story. (How many times have our favorite Marvel and DC superheroes been rebooted? This is no different.)
George Lucas gave us new Star Wars. Authors like Chuck Wendig and Claudia Gray are giving us NEW Star Wars. Dave Filoni and his team are giving us NEW Star Wars. Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson and more are giving us NEW Star Wars! It’s growing and changing, and you know what, you may not like all of it. And that’s OKAY. But you know what else is okay? It’s OKAY for people to like things you don’t like. And there’s no need to be angry about that. If you only like the old Star Wars movies, or if you only like the new Star Wars movies, or if you only like the old EU, or if you only like the new EU – that’s okay. Just don’t be a jerk about it. K?
Agree? Disagree? Thoughts, arguments, commiserations? Feel free to comment below, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit me up on Twitter @ErrantVenturer. Until next time, mata ne!
The Cantina Cast
The wretched hive your Jedi Master warned you about!
Featured image source: Soletopia blog via pinterest.com