The (Fandom) Elephant in the Room
Since The Last Jedi debuted in theaters last month, Star Wars fan reactions predictably split right down the middle. Some fans welcomed the new lore with open arms while others openly despised it. I fancy myself a fairly reasonable person. (However, I stand firmly against so-called Hawaiian pizza and that’s final). I understand that folks dislike movies for many reasons: cheesy dialogue, terrible plot and/or pacing, shoddy cinematography, etc. Sometimes you can’t even put your finger on it, but you know that you disliked it. These reasons, for me, are easily digestible. What I fail to understand are fans who harshly critique new franchise entries because they differ from the original material. This is an unsustainable viewpoint, and ultimately a hindrance to the fandom at large. I am pro-change, and here to argue why evolution is necessary in big franchises.
Let’s Get Callous
I understand that this argument stings the most, but this is the one most relevant to my point. Let me throw myself under the bus for the sake of argument. I taught myself to read with comic books. My earliest memories contain X-Men and Spider-Man comics with a flashlight under my bedsheets while I pretended to be asleep. “With great power comes with great responsibility” has a permanent place in my brain. I was 15 when the original X-Men movie debuted in theaters, and I remember thinking that it could be the dawn of something truly special. I was a first-hand witness to the beginning of an entire new genre of film. Characters I watched on Saturday morning cartoons suddenly had life! This was history!
But after I watched it, I fussed about how movie-verse Wolverine and Sabretooth were not mortal enemies like in the comics. And that they got Mystique’s costume wrong. I was kind of okay with the all-black leather costumes.
Despite my protests, the Comic Book Movie Renaissance began. I whined about how much changed from the comics in each film, but it’s here where I learned my first lesson: movie studios could not care less about Dante Buccieri and his childhood memories about X-Men: The Animated Series. Movie studios care about one thing – a movie that sells, because selling movies is their business. You don’t have to like it, but that’s the brutal truth. Movie execs do not care about you the individual; they care about the fanbase at large. For every one of you that refuses to experience a new entry in a franchise, seven more other fans or new fans (we cover new fans later) will consume it. This is not personal; it’s business.
Evolve or Die
How many times have each of us heard the phrase “This movie would never get made today”? The original Die Hard, pretty much any Mel Brooks movie, The Princess Bride. Audiences tastes change, and so does Hollywood. Yes, I know. YOU still prefer movies/comics/games/music/whatever just like it was in the good ol’ days. However, this isn’t about YOU and your preferences. This is about the fandom at large. The fandom is bigger than your feelings about it. Yes, your feelings matter and are important. To you. To the studios, your feelings are irrelevant and here’s why.
Audiences have no idea what they want.
Search your feelings; you know it to be true. No one, not even the most hardcore Marvel zombies like me, knew that they wanted a pro wrestler in green and red body paint and a walking tree voiced by Vin Diesel on screen. Audiences didn’t know they wanted a high-functioning, eccentric, condescending sociopath private investigator. Who was asking for a show about life in a women’s prison? Did anyone think we should double down and make a sword-and-sorcery TV show featuring frost zombies as a main antagonist?
With such variance in what people do and don’t want, what other choice do content creators have but to pursue their own vision? We are in a “geek chic” renaissance, and we got here by creators taking chances and seeing what resonated. A lot of stuff doesn’t stick, but what does often pushes boundaries into new and undiscovered countries. Be thankful that your franchise has enough studio support to justify reboots and sequels. Just ask a Firefly fan how much they wish some studio gave their franchise a second chance.
Perhaps the most common argument I hear from disgruntled fans is “This is not real [insert franchise here].” This is one reason why 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot failed to launch before a trailer even debuted. People heard “Ghostbusters remake featuring an all-woman cast!” and responded with “Bah! That’s not real Ghostbusters!”
Pardon me for a second while my eyes roll out of my skull.
You don’t get to dictate reality. Hollywood made a Ghostbusters movie with an all-female cast and you have the audacity to state that this isn’t real Ghostbusters, whatever that means. And don’t yell “Not the original cast not real Ghostbusters, harumph!” to me. You are the same people who say that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t a real Indiana Jones movie despite it starring Harrison Ford and Karen Allen. You are not the ultimate authority on what constitutes your favorite franchise. Declaring something “real” or not is arrogant and establishes you as a gatekeeper in your fandom.
And here’s the thing: I get it. I grew up with Batman: The Animated Series, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited. I think these DC Cinematic Universe movies (except Wonder Woman) are terrible, but I know kids that love them. An entire generation of kids will grow up with Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck. It’s no different from my parents growing up with Christopher Reeve & Adam West while I grew up with Dean Cain & Kevin Conroy. Who am I to say that fans of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice are wrong? If these movies generate another Justice League fan that buys comics and goes to conventions, then I can’t complain that much.
But they changed so much!
I used to be a person who complained about how much Hollywood changed in adaptation. Sin City was my gold standard in arguing why they should just lift from the source material. But the simple truth is that Sin City is an outlier, an exception. I have seen all of the modern comic book movies, and read a lot of source material. I came to accept a fact. Storytelling is great because it changes. The history of English literature is ripe with rewrites, re-tellings, and re-imagining of classic stories and tropes. Why are comic books any different? Or Star Trek? Or Sherlock Holmes?
Things change in adaptation to different mediums. Just because your favorite side character in your favorite supplemental product fails to appear doesn’t mean the new adaptation is garbage. It just means the adaptation chose a different direction.
Things change. Deal with it.
The Bottom Line
Here’s the alpha and omega of this argument. If you naysay any new adaptation of a property because it’s not what you grew up with, you should find a better reason. Cheesy dialogue, terrible acting, and low production value are all legitimate reasons to dislike a movie. Because the creative team decided to be bold and forge their own path is not. Don’t dictate what is and isn’t “real” pieces of your fandom. That’s gatekeeping, and it’s a garbage tactic that alienates new fans. Your love of a franchise doesn’t mean you have any more claim to it than I do. The fandom is going to move on with or without you. Either get on the train, or let the rest of us enjoy ourselves.
Dante is the resident comic book savant of The Geek Embassy. He’s been reading comics for as long as he can remember, and now that he’s a librarian he gets to advocate for comics in libraries and get paid for it. He’s also a tabletop gaming fan, especially those that involve cards, with favorites including Sentinels of the Multiverse, Magic: The Gathering, Bang!, Smash Up, Star Realms, and 7 Wonders. Dante is a library professional at Portland Community College in Hillsboro, OR.