Is it OK to not like ‘Star Wars’?

As if the nation needs another reason to be divided.

Feb 29, 2020, 2:27 pm*

Internet Culture

Chris Osterndorf 

Chris Osterndorf

What’s worse: Liking Donald Trump or not liking Star Wars?

This question probably sounds silly, but think about it for a moment. Both have been in the news lately, and both elicit a strong response either for or against.Many people, Democrats and Republicans alike, can’t stand Donald Trump, to the point where someone created a feature on Facebook that allows you to unfriend anyone who supports the Republican frontrunner.

And now it feels as if not being excited enough about The Force Awakens is a similarly punishable offense in this Star Wars-obsessed world. It’s hard to remember the last time there was this much hype for a single movie. Consider the insane presale records. At the store, you can buy Star Wars fruit, makeup, mouthwash, razors, shower heads, and more. Star Wars is everywhere, everything, all the time, and if you’re not onboard you are profoundly at odds with the culture right now.

It’s time to answer some important questions. Is it okay not to like Star Wars? How should we react when someone is less than enthusiastic about The Force Awakens? Is disliking Star Wars worse than liking Donald Trump?

It does seem that no matter who you are or how you feel about George Lucas’ saga and its evolution, you have to be careful what you say about it online. Even with reviews for the film finally starting to come in, director J.J. Abrams’ carefully curated efforts to keep the plot of The Force Awakens a secret have been so effective, that to even approach the topic of spoilers is dangerous business. Hence the preparations fans are making on Facebook and Twitter to prevent themselves from seeing reactions before they see the movie. Hence Force Block, the Chrome extension that will block spoilers for you. Hence the guy who took on the Disney marketing empire by changing his entire life just to avoid spoilers.

Han Solo himself has not been immune to the ire of fans in this regard. After Harrison Ford dropped some potential hints about TFA in a Twitter Q&A earlier this month, the Internet immediately began to freak out about what he did or didn’t give away.

Yes, it appears that distributing Star Wars spoilers is a worse offense than shouting the entire plot of a Game of Thrones novel before the next season begins. But as Harrison Ford proved, most spoilers aren’t a malicious act, so much as an accidental one. A worse offense by far is when a onetime devotee appears to turn on the franchise altogether.

Self-avowed nerd Simon Pegg found this out firsthand when he dared criticize modern society’s current obsession with nerd culture in an interview he gave back in May, saying, “part of me looks at society as it is now and just thinks we’ve been infantilized by our own taste… It is a kind of dumbing down in a way, because it’s taking our focus away from real-world issues.”

The Internet at large did not react kindly to Pegg’s concerns, and he was eventually forced to backtrack on what he said, clarifying his statements and giving a sort of apology to those he offended.

So at least Pegg wised up and ultimately decided to appease the Internet’s nerd overlords. And luckily for him, especially as a famous Star Wars fanboy, he didn’t go so far as to insult the franchise directly. The same cannot be said for some, such as CNN’s Todd Leopold, who had the audacity to ask the world to “stop forcing” Star Wars on him this week:

“The “Star Wars” universe started taking on this awful weight, and I started sinking under the hype surrounding it. I stayed home from Episodes I, II and III… Since then, it’s only gotten worse. “Star Wars” is more than a marketing phenomenon… Even Lucas, who birthed the whole thing, has been taken aback… In a 2012 Hollywood Reporter interview, he tried to tamp down the fever he’d seen from fans. “Well, it’s not a religious event. I hate to tell people that. It’s a movie, just a movie,” he said.

Leopold goes on from there to conclude: “Listen: We all have our passions, and we all have our religions… And there’s also nothing wrong with blending high art with low, assuming such labels have value… However, in the era of Internet culture, too much is never enough.” He’s right, of course. On the Internet, too much is not enough. If all you see is Star Wars everytime you go online, then Disney has done its job.

But can we really take this man’s cynical opinion seriously? In the article, he confesses to yelling, “Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father!” to audiences waiting to see The Empire Strikes Back in 1980. Surely, this kind of horrible monster cannot be trusted.

“I respect Star Wars’ place in the American cultural firmament, but it’s never quite been my thing.” – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio  

Leopold got off easy though, compared to others who have expressed disdain for the trilogy and its sequels as of late. Fox News contributor Katherine Timpf received death threats after she said, “I have never had any interest in watching space nerds poke each other with their little space nerd sticks” in October. But lest you assume the force can’t unite people on both sides of the aisle. Rush Limbaugh recently called MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry “mentally unstable” after she made the poor decision of trying to discuss racial undertones in the Star Wars saga.

Even New York Mayor Bill de Blasio stepped into the fray, telling reporters this week that he isn’t particularly a fan of the franchise.

“I respect Star Wars’ place in the American cultural firmament, but it’s never quite been my thing,” he said, setting off a wave of disdain across the Internet.  

It appears whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, criticizing Star Wars is one step too far. Which brings us back to Donald Trump. Liberals hate him. The GOP wants to disown him. In last night’s debate, Jeb Bush went gunning for him, declaring, “Donald is great at the one-liners, but he is a chaos candidate and he would be a chaos president.”

But like Star Wars, Trump is also dominating social media in a profound way. He sort of is the Star Wars of politics right now. And he’s still way ahead in the polls. Which means that despite how unpopular he is with many, there are many more who love him. Trump is a great divider– he gets people talking, on the Internet, on TV, and while it’s hard to understand how anybody could support him, the presidential race as it currently stands presents a disturbing but very real fracture at the core of America. Star Wars, on the other hand, is a great uniter. People are either united in how much they love Star Wars, and can’t wait to see the new movie, or united in their scorn for those who would attempt to tamper so much as a drop of their collective joy.

In that sense, not liking Star Wars is worse than liking Donald Trump. The difference is, as time passes, it will once again become okay not to like Star Wars. But branding yourself a Trump supporter is likely to be an embarrassment you’ll have to carry with you for life. 

Chris Osterndorf is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared on Mic, Salon, xoJane, the Week, and more. When he’s not writing, he enjoys making movies with friends. He lives in Los Angeles.

Illustration by Max Fleishman 

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*First Published: Dec 16, 2015, 7:26 pm