Why should film franchises listen to fans?

When Star Wars: The Last Jedi was released, the critics praised it. The fan base though was deeply divided. Some (like me) really liked it and others lambasted it for ruining the franchise, the story, the characters, what JJ Abrams had done with The Force Awakens etc, etc, etc. I went to see it twice in cinemas and I enjoyed it more the second time I saw it. I don’t think it is a misstep, I don’t think it ruins the franchise forever. It’s not a perfect film, you could cut out about half an hour, get rid of Benicio Del Toro’s character and not lose anything. But, for me it does raise the question of whether studios behind big film franchises should actually listen to the fans. And whether we as fans should actually form any expectations and theories whatsoever.

It’s become an awful lot easier for moviegoers to voice their opinions, and to review movies, there are whole YouTube channels devoted to reviewing, discussing and debating them. There’s far more speculation videos around as well, many post Reddit threads with fan theories, entertainment news around big franchise releases can be simply be to summarise the prevalent theories that are making the rounds in the run-up to release day. And I think that there may be a issue there. Not in having thoughts and opinions about where it could and should go, I would never tell someone to stop doing that. That would be stupid and ridiculously arrogant of me. No, the problem is in holding so tightly to those theories and preconceptions that you dismiss the actual product out of hand.

One reason I think there was such a violent push-back from sections of the Star Wars fan base was that The Last Jedi didn’t match their theories and expectations. They were expecting Luke Skywalker to be the wise mentor, immensely powerful, in the mold of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Instead, he was sullen, moody, hadn’t used the Force in decades. Rey’s parents were not revealed to be Luke and his wife, or to be descendants of Obi-Wan Kenobi. Snoke was killed off rather easily. All this ran against what fans had speculated and predicted.

And I really liked that it subverted my expectations. I liked it that Luke was a cranky old man who had lost faith in himself and the Jedi as a force for good. And it actually follows a precedent of the Star Wars franchise and something that I think is something most films should look to do, especially with major box office franchises like Star Wars and the Marvel movies or the Bond franchise, which is to do the unexpected. That’s what The Empire Strikes Back did. The three main heroes spend barely screen time all together, they’re always being chased by a far superior enemy and they end up with one of them in prison, their cause in tatters and another seriously maimed, with a horrific family revelation weighing on their mind. That cannot be what audiences were expecting. They must have been expecting more of what they saw in A New Hope. Family fun where the good guys beat all the odds to take down the evil enemy. It was essentially cowboys and monks versus Indians in space.

Now sometimes, doing the unexpected can come across as hackneyed, or sometimes completely pointless. It can affect a film negatively, and make you question what the hell happened. But that negativity is entirely subjective and may surprise and please another audience member. I’ve talked a lot about The Last Jedi in this piece and that’s because I can’t think another film in recent times where there has been such opposite reactions. Very rarely is reaction to a film so split between ‘I love it’ and ‘I hate it’. And I think there is a lesson to be learned from this.

Ultimately this is just some entertainment for you to consume. So have your theories and ideas about things should and could go. But if they don’t, do not immediately dismiss the overall product as worthless, rubbish, a disgrace etc. Put your conceptions aside and view what you’re getting. How does it all work together? Because if you let all theories and speculation and preconceptions go, you might find something you can really enjoy.

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