This Jedi’s Reaction to The Force Awakens: An Autoethnography in Fractured Fandom

I didn’t go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it was released in theaters. I couldn’t bring myself to. And this is coming from someone who saw — willingly and enthusiastically — each of the prequels in midnight openings. I saw Phantom Menace numerous times in the theater — even while doing an internship in New York City. On my walk to Nickelodeon every morning, I would pass by a Toys-R-Us with a Phantom Menace window display. And I would be so happy to see that huge face of padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi. I continued to like the series, and even wrote a slash fanfic about Obi-Wan and Anakin after Revenge of the Sith.

But I could not bring myself to see this latest movie in the theater, even a discount theater.

I wrestled with it. As I want to experiment more with autoethnography as a form of public scholarship, I wanted to capture these thoughts. And as I am apparently the outsider to this fandom now, it is an autoethnography that reflects my experience with fractured fandom. So here is my reflection on the movie after having finally seen it at home, where I could liveblog my experience and thus understand my moment-by-moment reaction to it.

Before Watching the Movie — Upon its theatrical release (Written 12/18/15)

This is a bit of a rant, bit of a ramble, bit of me trying to work things out; but I mean by the end to bring it back to my thoughts on fractured fandom, and how I am experiencing it right now.

Because…I don’t know — Star Wars has always been hugely important to me. This one, I just don’t care. And I feel the need to justify myself and explain why not. I feel defensive because people keep asking me why I don’t care, why I am not seeing it opening weekend. It’s like they are accusing me of not being “fan enough.”

No, wait, that’s not fair. I should not assume anything about them and attribute their questions to accusations. If I am being defensive, that is my fault, not theirs. I’m defensive because I feel split on this.

On the one hand, I do want to see a Star Wars film, because I am all about Star Wars. Always have been. One of my earliest memories is playing with Star Wars toys when I was like 4 or 5 in the basement of my grandparents’ house in Yuma, Arizona, at Christmas. My favorite stuffed animal is an Ewok that I obsessed over so much that I had to buy the same one during my first visit to San Diego Comic-Con after my parents sold mine at a garage sale. I named my first car Jedi, and I have often thought of myself, spiritually, more in line with Jedi teachings than with the teachings of any other world religion. My parents like to say I was conceived on the night they saw A New Hope, so Star Wars is in my DNA.

But, on the other hand, I just am not that interested in seeing this Star Wars film, this Star Wars: The Force Awakens. And I feel weird seeing so many people so hyped for it and being all “meh” in response to their enthusiasm.

I can give them lots of reasons, I say. I don’t like J. J. Abrams after what he did to reboot Star Trek. This movie feels like a reboot, which I am against. I don’t like that Disney disavowed the expanded universe I grew up with. I don’t like that the Empire is still so strong after so many years. I don’t have the time. I don’t feel like dealing with crowds. And I know the main spoiler, which is interesting to me, but only interesting in an academic sense. (Academic Aside: adaptation theory could be used to analyze this film. It would be like the first time that an indie film spawned an enormous franchise and brand that included an expanded universe in books that was later disowned when that brand was bought by a multinational conglomerate only for a key part of that expanded universe to play a key role in the revival of the film franchise.)

The first reason is perhaps irrational, but I really dislike J. J. Abrams after what he did to Star Trek, which is another big fandom of mine. And I know I should not let that emotional reaction to this man cloud my response to this film — which I know people say is good, but people also said his first Star Trek film was good, and I thought it was horrible — and I will see this film at some point. But right now, I just cannot bring myself to possibly have my heart hurt again as it was with his Star Trek.

This film probably feels like a reboot because of his involvement, but also because of how much fan service I have heard is going on. I do worry, what with the capitalist nature at the foundation of most pop culture, that we are getting more and more into an ouroboros moment, where we will reach a singularity as pop culture collapses in on itself under the weight of reboots, reimagining, relaunches, remixes, sequels, franchises, expansions and the lack of anything new. (See Devin Faraci’s review at Birth, Movies, Death for more on this idea.)

My colleague at Dominican University, David Perry (Professor of History), makes the argument for the film’s success in being able to use the familiar to advance more progressive messages. He argues that this “fan-fictionalization” of American pop culture is a good thing if it can accomplish this. We are going to have to agree to disagree on the whole idea that originality is overrated — or even what originality is.

Yes, there has always been riffing and remixing, but often that leads to new characters, settings, stories, messages, themes, etc. Fan fiction is not about that type of originality. Fan fiction is just about familiarity — sometimes it gets to new ideas, but not enough and not often. If this one got to new ideas in the characters — especially in the representing women and minorities — then great. But to say that we should encourage the fan-fictionalization of American pop culture is sad, especially for all those people who have far more original ideas and are not having those ideas heard because the capitalist structure of American pop culture prefers the familiar and the slightly original over the far more original and groundbreaking.

Because having originality matters because having diversity matters. We do not want a homogenization of American pop culture where several big brands and big companies rule. We do not need our pop culture to be governed by the WalMarts and Targets of the world. We want diversity of voice to come through, and we get that more by having more original media products out there for people to choose from.

Also, there is something off about Disney being in control of it all now. I do not like how they disavowed the expanded universe canon that I grew up with, but more on that later. I first want to address the political economic criticism I have.

Star Wars started as an indie force against the big studio system, and now it is the big studio system. It’s like it has become the Empire or something. And this is coming from someone who was excited for the prequels, and will still defend their importance to the franchise. But that was back when George Lucas was in control, and the expanded universe was there, and everything felt tied together. This feels like an interloper, like not real Star Wars — just a Disney cash grab.

Once I heard that Disney plans to essentially never stop telling Star Wars movies, they no longer feel special. The first trilogy was special because they were unique — this contained thing that had so much cultural and social and economic clout. Even the prequels felt special because they were the first return to the universe on a massive and more mainstream scale that were intended to further the story of the characters from the first trilogy. And I get that this new film does that too, but I don’t get a sense now of where it will all end.

If Disney truly wants to bring out a Star Wars film every year or every other year, the films are no longer special things. They just become cash grabs for a large company that has admitted it needs to attract more boy consumers to balance out how they have traditionally attracted more girl consumers. It feels like this movie is not made out of the love of Star Wars, which, for all their faults, the prequels were made out of love because it was Lucas’ project. Now these movies are just being made to make Disney more money — or at least that is how it feels, and I don’t like that feeling.

It seems like everyone thinks it should be a foregone conclusion that everyone should be interested in this film, even if they have never seen a Star Wars film before, and I find that weird. I don’t know why, but it feels weird to me. Maybe it’s because there was no social media out in 1999 to know how people were getting hyped and hyping each other for the first prequel, but having it now and seeing how much people are talking about it makes me wonder how much the hype is real, or how much people are just going along with what they see other people doing. I don’t think that is the case — I know there are passionate Star Wars fans who are excited for this movie — but then there are other people like my mother who is not a Star Wars fan who is hyped for this film. Is it just because the original stars are back? Is that what is doing it? Then what happens with the next film, when that is not the case?

Now about the expanded universe issue…

I loved Mara Jade. She came into my life at a time when my love for Star Wars had waned because those movies were so in the past. I was in junior high, trying to understand what type of woman — what type of person — I was. As is the case with identity development, I was looking for role models to emulate, and Mara Jade became one for me. She also allowed me to remember my love for Luke Skywalker, and their romance helped me better understand how I could see myself — this ungainly, not very feminine person — having one.

Those books — until the Yuuzhan Vong storyline got too long — became my passion and helped fuel my interest in the release of the special editions (which, yes, have some big problems) and the prequels. All of the things that happened after Return of the Jedi seemed well explained in those books, and to me they seemed canonical because they were authorized stories (if they were not authorized, then they would not have been published by big corporations and would have been hunted down by Lucasfilm, who was rather notorious for silencing fan works.) Mara, the Solo kids, the New Republic, and the New Jedi Order seemed enshrined as an integral part of the Star Wars universe to me.

Devin Faraci, confused by the context of the new film, did some research to try to understand how what happens in The Force Awakens relates to the new Expanded Universe. And the new Expanded Universe canon to explain the new Star Wars movies only barely aligns with the Expanded Universe canon that was dissolved when Disney bought the brand. But from what I’ve heard in the spoilers, this new Expanded Universe doesn’t seem to explain everything happening in the movie, and they seem to have cherry picked things from the old Expanded Universe.

So perhaps here is one place where a fractured fandom comes in — those who only know the movies may not see a problem with this new trilogy of sequels not depicting what was in that Expanded Universe. Mara Jade wasn’t in those movies, so she wouldn’t be important to the fans of those movies. But this might not be much of a fracture, because I know others who did read those books who are not bothered by these sequels. Maybe I am the fractured one because of how emotionally connected I was to that universe that no longer exists (except, yes, I know they do, they just don’t matter anymore, it seems.)

And maybe it is a little bit of that fan aspect where I did like the prequels and others didn’t, and one reason they didn’t was because there was no Han Solo, but now because he is back everyone is all happy for Star Wars again. It’s like they think Han Solo was the most important thing of the original trilogy, and my fandom was more about Luke Skywalker — so, heh, maybe its my own fractured fandom thing coming in again.

I don’t know — I just know I don’t care to see this movie any time soon.

While Watching the Movie — Liveblogging the experience (Written 4/29/16)

I decided to marry research on minutia reception studies to fractured fandom. So I was inspired by this Storify to liveblog my moment-by-moment reaction to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I rationalized that as the reason for why I would wait so long to see the movie. I had read everything I could about it — especially the stories when people had questions or criticized its penchant for nostalgia or fan-fictionalization or fan service. Reviews questioning the interesting nature of the film and just what happened in it.

I say all of this to provide the context for my “interpretive baggage” — or the thoughts, feelings, and expectations I have built going into this viewing experience. I tried to be aware of these potential biases going into the situation, so that I could be objective or, at least, open-minded to the possibility that what I had read was not the truth behind the film and how I would respond to them. Because, as I said, I have been divided on this whole thing — part of me did not want to like anything Abrams did, and part of me wanted to like something Star Wars. But, well, here is what happened.

Okay, time to liveblog this Star Wars movie thing. Or you can just skip to my overall thoughts after watching it: Afterwards…

Still love the silence into music thing. Just always a good thrill.

Wait, was Luke the only thing keeping the First Order at bay?

So it starts with a planet and a space ship going over the planet…

Father Merrin! Good to see Sydow, but who is he? Young pilot gets help from old man on desert planet.

I wonder if Jakku genders BB-8, all Ex Machina style…

And he gives the droid the special information…so so similar…

Did that stormtrooper not realize they can die? Has he never seen one of these movies?

Lens flare! It’s the JJ drinking game!

Um, all this heavy foreshadowing — anyone who did not see who Kylo Ren is could not have been paying attention.

“Didn’t we just do a song together?” Kylo to Jakku.

Shiny and Chrome! Phasma is from the future!

BB-8, even more emotional than R2D2. Okay, seriously, Wall-E is BB-8’s parent, right?

I love how the world is Tatooine/Not Tatooine. Jawas/Not Jawas. Easter Egg — Gonk!

I will admit, the movie looks nice — for the most part, the physical and the CGI are well blended together.

I am curious how much input Henson’s Company had in the creature designs.

Yearning to leave a desert planet. That’s new. (sarcasm)

Hey, in this one, the British accents indicate the good people!

Who is the Resistance resisting?

Shit, I thought the pilot’s name was Jakku. That’s the planet. My bad. Sorry, Poe Dameron.

“My name is Luke Skywalker and I’ve come to rescue you.” Also, I can totally see why they are shipping these two guys.

Oh, but still British accents for the bad guys — how shall I ever tell them apart! Also, the first Wilhelm scream!

Male bonding over shooting things. Poe/Finn shipping. Yep.

I will be curious to find out why everyone cares/knows so much about Luke.

Evil Weasley!

Now, remember, at the time of the original trilogy of movies, the Empire was no longer relying on the clones from the prequels for their armies. People were actually joining the Empire. But, Finn is a clone. Apparently the First Order sucks at recruiting.

Okay, loving that Rey doesn’t need no man to save her. Also, Rey just referred to BB-8 as a male — that the jacket belonged to “his master” — gendering robots! I can also see the Finn/Rey shipping. I think Finn may just be easily shippable.

Are you f-ing kidding me? Falcon (or some other Corellian freighter) is off-screen, you call it garbage, and then you reveal it? Oh my living goddess.

I am watching this chase sequence and thinking how it is a way to demonstrate how far we have come in having CGI, especially for the camera work. I can also see why this was seen as thrilling, especially in 3D. We just went from the trench sequence to the enter the Death Star sequence…Also, they were amazingly lucky that the ship no one has flown in years was in perfect condition for being in such a fight.

Kylo has anger management issues.

That’s pretty stupid. Why wouldn’t you design masks to filter out toxins? Do we really want them all to die so easily?

Oh, Harrison — my poor old Han. Lol, how did Han Solo let his ship get stolen? Also, why did Finn think this was the First Order that swallowed the ship?

Did Han and Leia split up? Why is Han back to being a smuggler? Has Chewie’s family died? Is that why he is still with Han?

Wait, when did the First Order let the bounty hunters/criminals know they are looking for the droid?

And there we have it — the first bad feeling, and it had to be from Han.

There is even a Raiders of the Lost Ark reference!

It’s like the Sarlac has become mobile.

Easter Egg — the practice droid!

Ooh, Starkiller…and a giant apparently… He looks like a Watcher who has seen a bad day.

Seriously, who is the Resistance resisting? The Republic, made after the downfall of the Empire? Why would they be called the Resistance to take on the First Order?

Ah, so, let’s just put it right out there through exposition who Kylo’s father is. I thought that would at least be this big emotional reveal. Guess not.

Finn is the comic relief, right? So far this movie is really driving home just how much the franchise is meant for children. Which is fine — they need imaginative things to help them get through their lives — like how the original movies helped me.

A planet that is not Naboo. We promise.

So I am guessing that Kylo’s killing Luke’s padawans and going all Darth made Han and Leia split up.

The catina meets Jabba’s palace.

And other people know that the Resistance is looking for this droid? Does no one keep secrets that are classified?

Oh, there is still good inside him. That’s new.

So, um, how big is the First Order that the whole Republic cannot squash them? Or is this supposed to be an Al-Qaeda / ISIS metaphor?

So I am guessing that the references to the original movie are meant to be heuristics in character development so that this movie didn’t have to spend much time doing it — allowing for the complicated story to be jumped into faster.

Okay, Finn just said he was taken from a family he would never know — so then he isn’t a clone? I thought Evil Weasley said they were using clones.

I can see BB-8 going down stairs — how does he get back up?

So Rey heard the noises of kids, goes down these stairs to find an old chest, and discovers Anakin’s/Luke’s old lightsaber. And then has visions… That Force sensitivity seems to have come from outta nowhere. Also, “you see what you take with you” dark underground place from Empire Strikes Back. This movie exemplifies remix culture.

Female Yoda. When you are a thousand, look as good you will. Ooh, Rey doesn’t want to embrace her destiny, too focused on the past she is.

It would have been good to have shown how the New Republic works to see if the First Order is lying or not.

Oh, so this was an actual planet they made into a huge weapon…where the beam can traverse lightyears?

It’s like they are rushing through things, not setting up things, and not really going anywhere — unless Luke is somehow the key to stopping the New Order. But like in the first movie, the threat was the Death Star that needed to be stopped — and it was stopped, in the first movie. There was a real perceived need and tension to doing so. Seriously, what is Luke supposed to accomplish?

Also, why would Female Yoda not tell how she got it? It was on Bespin. What is the big secret? It was important in the Expanded Universe. Just saying. Also, if it is a mystery box JJ BS, then it is a bit too on the nose to but it in a mysterious box.

Yes, you have a melee weapon that requires you to get really close to people and supposedly needs someone to learn how to use it. But, sure, Finn can do swordfighting right away, why not. Poor, Luke, he had to learn how to wield the lightsaber — why learn when you are just good at it?

Okay, so Poe’s alive. How the hell is Poe there?

Seriously, she is Luke’s daughter, right?

So if this is Han’s movie, and he dies in this one, then will the next be more Leia’s movie, and she dies, and then the third will be Luke’s final glory so he gets to die? I mean, you gotta spread out the big deaths, right?

There’s my girl! Leia!

Why does Threepio need a red arm? OMG, is R2D2 dead?

That would’ve been a better moment for the reveal, when Han said he say their son. That would’ve been a punch in the gut moment.

Honestly, I don’t even care how Poe got there. It doesn’t seem to matter.

Oh, R2D2 is pining for Luke. He’s like a Norwegian blue. Lovely plumage.Wait, why didn’t you have Ben train with Luke? That would’ve been the smartest thing to do.

Snoke. Dooku. Snicker.

Why does Kylo wear the mask? Just to honor Vader apparently. Cause he doesn’t need one like Vader did. Emo Vader!

Or Rey is Leia’s and Han’s but she was born after Han left? Gotta be in the family line somehow?

Is Snoke like a clone of the Emperor that got really out of hand?

Where did Shiny and Chrome go?

Shouldn’t Kylo’s fear just make him stronger, since it is the path to the Darkside?

How do they move the plant to aim it? Thermal oscillator, standing in today for an exhaust port. It’s always about heat, ladies and gentlemen.The music is really trying hard to make me care.

And now once more Han has to be on a planet to take down the shields to allow a fleet to destroy the big weapon.

Did they amp up the power on the bowcaster, because it did not have that big of a kick before.

Ooh, Finn works sanitation just to reference the garbage chute.Seriously, did the New Republic not know they were building this? Because everyone seemed to know about it. Why was the New Republic not deeming these people a threat? No way to know because the movie decided explaining that was not necessary.

Also, Rey understands all languages?

It would take a miracle to save us now — i.e. Han Solo again to the rescue, just in the nick of time.

Okay, I am all for girl power, but is there anything this girl can’t do? Does she have any flaws? Luke was naive, and Anakin was cocky. What is Rey’s flaw?

Ooh, here comes the Obi-Wan meets Darth Vader sequence of the movie. Except Obi-Wan had no misgivings about Darth. Han still expects goodness in Ben. But like overly gravitas that has not been earned.

How long has Ben been Kylo? How long has Luke been missing? How long has the First Order been massing power? Because this all seems weird. Like it wants to be complicated but it does not understand its own complicated nature.

I do not get this kid. Honestly, it feels like the only reason Han died was because Obi-Wan did. Only with way less emotionality to his death — like we are only supposed to be sad because we knew him from the previous films.

How does Kylo recognize the lightsaber that was lost on Bespin? Did Luke go back for it?

So does stormtrooping academy now include swordfighting techniques?

See, I think Rey is Luke’s daughter because she is stronger than Kylo in the Force, like Luke was stronger than Leia.

Trench time! Because of how much the movie repeats the old movies, there is no tension. There is no suspense over will or won’t things work. We know they will work because they worked before. And I think the movie realizes it, because it does not do a lot to build the tension. Or maybe I just feel that way I because of how well I know the original ones.

Lol, I do like how Kylo’s sword looks more like fire.

Ooh, now he has a reason to wear the mask.

Quick, get Finn to the bacta tank!

I don’t think I smiled once during this. But, again, I don’t know really how much that is due to my knowledge coming in to this, and how much it is due to the movie itself.

Leia’s theme! When they hug? That is significant, right? Fan theory time!

Now, I was honestly afraid to watch this because I was worried I would like it, and that would make me hypocritical given how I talked after it was released. But apparently I was never in danger of liking it.

Yeah, R2D2 is alive! And somehow he can lead them to Luke — but he was being a dick to not help them until now! R2Dick2.

Why is Leia sending Rey to Luke? Why doesn’t she go to Luke? Does she know something about Rey?

So, no big scene as a funeral or memorial ceremony or quiet moment of reflection for Han? That sucks for Han. Even Vader got a funeral scene.

Wow, lightspeed must be faster now — they get to places a lot quicker. Of course, this whole movie has felt like it was on lightspeed, so there’s that.

It’s like Rey has gone to Tibet to find her master.

Oh, but there is my man. My first love. With a more mechanical hand for some reason…

And it just ends…


After Watching the Movie: Reflecting on the experience (Written 4/29/16)

Well, now that I have seen it — it was not as painful as JJ’s Star Trek, but it also wasn’t that great. At least for me. I know the prequels are not as competently made movies, but I had more of an emotional connection to those than I have had to this one — perhaps because of Obi-Wan and my love of McGregor.

It remains to be seen if the rest of this trilogy — with my big love of Luke/Hamill — can draw me back in. But this one, I just didn’t care much. Nothing was built up and was instead just build on nostalgia. Hopefully with this as the foundation, they can actually build something good, but I am worried. I think if Rey does turn out to be Luke’s daughter — and, hell, if somehow a Mara Jade like character is involved — then they will have my heart completely. But it remains to be seen.

Everything just felt like it was on lightspeed in this movie, and not really going anywhere important. I had so many questions — some of which the movie (kinda of) answered, some of which I imagine the rest of the trilogy would answer, but some of which I think needed to be addressed in this movie.

And these characters — while I love that the cast is more diverse, and I would love Finn/Poe to be canon — these characters were bland. Why did Finn freak out the way that he did? Finn told Han towards the end that he worked sanitation — all so they could reference the garbage chute, flyboy! — so it could have been his first day, but the movie never took the time before his freak out to address that — we were just supposed to think it was cool that one of these anonymous guys finally woke up — and yeah it seems to counter the idea that he had been programmed this way since childhood — but then there was also a contradiction in the idea that the Firs Order was still using and programming clones versus Finn’s story of remembering his real family.

But, how did Poe escape? What is Rey’s flaw? None of them seemed like well developed characters that could exist if you took them out of this universe. They were completely emotionally attached to these legendary characters — it was like they were fans meeting the people they are fans of. So I kind of agree — they felt like Mary Sues.

My brother just said there is a theory/spoiler going around that Rey is the reincarnation of Anakin. Which makes me hope that the midichlorians decided it was time to try a genderbent Vader. But she was the epitome of the Strong Female Character who could do everything perfectly and had no flaw. Hell, Luke was naive and Anakin was cocky. Rey is just strong. That is not exactly a fleshed out character.

I know I was more emotionally invested in the prequels. I think this movie was a more competently made film, but it did not do as much to advance the universe because things were not explained (and, yes, that was a fault of the prequels, all the explanation). Now, that is me saying so after just one movie, in comparison to the three prequels. So we will have to wait and see if JJ stepping down at director, similar to Lucas stepping down after the first Star Wars movie, can help. But, after seeing this, I still have no real enthusiasm for Disney’s Star Wars era.

Maybe I will get it back, maybe I won’t. But I am glad to see people being so happy again with the franchise. Hopefully the series will evolve to be worthy of their love.

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