Nostalgia Turns Some Star Wars Fans to the Dark Side
The imminent release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens has sent shockwaves through the Star Wars universe. Hundreds of existing Star Wars products set after Return of the Jedi are no longer considered canon, and a new sequence of books, written to be compatible with the upcoming film, are now hitting the shelves. Many fans are suspicious of any changes, which is something author Alexandra Bracken saw firsthand in the response to her new novelization of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.
“People thought that we were genuinely rewriting those original movies and were not particularly happy about it,” Bracken says in Episode 168 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And then once it was explained that these are really for young readers as a fun, different way of introducing them to this material, I think people really ended up digging them.”
Author Chuck Wendig was tapped to write Aftermath, the first novel in the new Star Wars canon to be set after Return of the Jedi. The book hit The New York Times bestseller list, but also faced an avalanche of 1-star reviews on Amazon. Wendig has heard of disgruntled fans organizing “raids” to pummel the book with negative ratings. It’s a side of fandom he finds discouraging.
“There’s kind of this weaponized nostalgia for things,” he says, “where we assume everything was better back then, and nothing can be new, and everything has to be a certain way. And sometimes that purity that you think you want is occasionally related to more toxic ideas.”
In his case the inclusion of a gay protagonist in Aftermath attracted particular vitriol. Wendig took to his blog to challenge those who don’t think LGBT characters belong in a galaxy far, far away, and he says he feels such attitudes are more characteristic of the evil Empire than the heroic Jedi.
“If you think that Luke Skywalker is sitting around in those films being like, ‘Oh god, there’s a gay guy next to me,’ then maybe you have mis-watched those films,” he says, “and maybe you misunderstand the awesomeness of the light side and the awesomeness of the Jedi, and what maybe these films are trying to get us to think about.”
Bracken, whose father collected Star Wars memorabilia, has been attending Star Wars conventions her whole life. To her the recent hostility isn’t representative of the positive and supportive Star Wars community that she knows and loves.
“It just seems like such a vocal minority spoiling other people’s fun,” she says.
Listen to our complete interview with Alexandra Bracken and Chuck Wendig in Episode 168 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Alexandra Bracken on the new Return of the Jedi novelization:
“Tom Angleberger, who some people might know as the author of the Origami Yoda series, wrote the Return of the Jedi adaptation, which is called Beware the Power of the Dark Side. And he has such an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe that he’s utilized footnotes to cram as much information into it as possible. … Tom really felt like he needed to rehabilitate the Ewoks—the image of the Ewoks—so he made the very valid point that at the end of Return of the Jedi, what are they feasting on? You just see all this empty stormtrooper armor, and [the Ewoks] are the apex predator of Endor. So he sets them up as fierce warriors. It’s really fun. … Things you don’t think about when you’re watching the cute bears dancing around.”
Chuck Wendig on his character Mr. Bones:
“The battle droids were sort of terrible. They were the most inept fighting force in all of Star Wars history. I mean, stormtroopers are notorious for literally not being able to hit anything, but the battle droids were even worse. But there’s something aesthetically fascinating about the battle droids. They sort of look like a human skeleton with a vulture skull on top, and there’s something really cool there. So I thought, well, OK, here’s a kid who’s a little bit of a prodigy, and he’s capable of putting parts together really well, and so he engineers this battle droid, who everyone will underestimate, given the nature of battle droids. … So he’s got this terrifying murder droid who’s helping him out.”
Chuck Wendig on politics in science fiction:
“Science fiction is notoriously political, even when it’s not overtly political. It has a great value and advantage in being forward-facing. Star Trek has been very political and very progressive in many ways. It’s puzzling to me that there’s a sudden surge—sort of represented too by that Sad Puppies Hugo Award controversy—of people who look back to a time of science fiction that actually maybe never existed, or at least not in as big a way as they think. They want rocket ships and ray guns, they say, and then it’s like they don’t really want writers who are women, and they don’t want characters who harken to political ideas, and they don’t want ‘agenda-driven’ fiction. Which is very strange to me when you don’t want that in your science fiction.”
Alexandra Bracken on female characters:
“I felt like with the Legends, formerly known as the Expanded Universe, we lost a lot of really strong female characters that were multi-dimensional. If you think about it, in the original trilogy we really only had three named female characters—Mon Mothma, Baru, and Leia. I don’t think any of the other female characters actually have stated names, let alone personalities really, which is sad. And I think that’s maybe why Zahn created Mara Jade, because he felt like there was a need for a really good, juicy female character that wasn’t necessarily just a type. So I was really sad about losing Mara, and I was sad about losing Jaina Solo, but it seems like a lot of these new characters are strong females, so I feel hopeful and not so sad about it anymore. I’ve definitely fully gotten on this train going forward.”