There's something tragic about falling out of love with a story you've enjoyed. Sometimes you can see this disillusionment coming from a mile away---as I did with Game of Thrones---but other times the breakup happens slower. The shift can be so incremental that you don't realize it's occurred until new content comes out and you don't have the appropriate reaction to it that you're supposed to.
This recently happened to me with Star Wars. For people who know me well, this will come as a huge admission. My history with Star Wars is long and involved, as I've been a fan of it since I was a little girl. I got my first industry job because I couldn't stop blogging about it. Yet even with The Mandalorian scheduled for Disney+ and The Rise of Skywalker set for December, I'm struggling to stay excited about the franchise.
Beyond the general malaise that comes with this realization, I've begun to wonder why I can't get excited. I took a year-long break from the fandom to recharge, thinking that burnout was the culprit. It didn't help, and I'm still bored and detached.
So what killed my interest? Is it an overload of content? Or is it the draining fan battles that poisoned the community and my overall tolerance for this situation?
Not Enough Time, Too Much Content
The idea that content overload was to blame occurred to me when I read the news about a franchise entirely unrelated to Star Wars. I'm not a Marvel fan by any means, but I've seen a good chunk of the movies and I was looking forward to catching up with the franchise once Endgame officially wrapped up. Then Marvel announced Phase 4 of the MCU: "ten movies and Disney+ series," as reported by The Verge, with Black Widow, Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and The Eternals to start off 2020.
Immediately, this news completely and irrevocably zapped my interest. I decided to ditch the glut of superhero movies for good.
This is not to say that superhero films can't be good, or that no enjoyment can be found in a mega-blockbuster series. I can't stand film snobbery, and I'm glad that fans can enjoy these films when they come out. But I equally loathe the peculiar phenomenon of a franchise putting out so much content that I don't have time for anything else.
When I took my break from Star Wars, weaning myself off a previously-unknown dependency was scary. I didn't want to be hooked to the franchise 24/7, but I'd been doing nothing else for so long I didn't know who I was without it. This shouldn't happen with a fictional space opera.
Lucasfilm has been marginally better with their release schedule than Marvel. Even still, they're putting out a lot. There's the upcoming movie with David Benioff and D.B Weiss of Game of Thrones fame, scheduled for 2022. There's also the yet-unnamed trilogy by Rian Johnson, director of The Last Jedi. There's the ongoing Star Wars Resistance TV series; the aforementioned Mandalorian, set for November. This list of upcoming content isn't even touching on the books and video games and additional properties slated for release over the next few years, and there's so much media I once again feel like I'm drowning in it. Not willingly this time, either.
Perhaps it's because I have to read and watch so much for work I've become pickier about what I spend my time on.
I Don't Want to Be Stuck in One Fandom Forever
Star Wars is an excellent franchise, and I love the worldbuilding inherent to it. Even now when I think about its universe---about all the aliens and planets and ships and history that it involves---my mind lights up and I want to go digging for random factoids. I want to speculate, and the depth and scale of the series is inspiring.
But taking a break from the franchise has shown me how stifling it can be: how the absolute overload of content can create a bubble between you and the rest of the world. Do the creators of this series want to give me a warped sense of reality, where everything in my mind is only ever Star Wars? Do they want my entire identity to be built up around this product?
I don't know, to be honest (and doubtful they'll ever tell me), but I will say that basing your entire identity around a singular product makes you more likely to spend your money on it. Adam Curtis has an excellent documentary called The Century of Self which talks about this phenomenon in-depth.
There are also other series out there with better writing than Star Wars; other movies that deserve the same recognition and eyeballs. Perhaps it's time we rewarded them instead. To be frank, these series and books speak to me in a way that Star Wars still struggles with. Like many women who consider themselves a Star Wars fan, my relationship with the overall fandom is highly contentious, in that we've struggled for years to be allowed to interact.
Toxicity Spreads Like a Rot
No matter how many meaningful contributions myself or other women have made to the fandom---whether it's essays, podcasts, cosplay, or fanfiction---there have been countless occurrences where we've been told that we don't belong. We've been driven out of fan spaces, time and again, both implicitly and explicitly, and no matter how stubborn you are in your love of Star Wars, eventually this sort of dynamic will get to you.
"The more this attitude is fostered, the more it is allowed to grow and become irrevocably empowered, particularly in online communities where harassment and abuse is euphemized as 'trolling,'" writes Kayleigh Donaldson for SyFy when talking about fandom toxicity. "We're now at the stage where fans sending vile abuse via social media is not only expected but quietly excused as 'just what happens.'"
I don't think I'll ever stop being sad about this fact.
You may want to love a thing---as I loved Star Wars---but when there's a low, constant murmur of "you don't belong" drumming away, eventually you'll step to that beat. You might think, "well, I may love this thing, but the thing doesn't love me. Nothing is being done to stop it."
And it'll feel a bit crazy, to be honest, to keep on putting yourself through that.
I don't think anyone can be blamed for disconnecting and breaking free from a situation like this to move to somewhere healthier; to engage in a franchise and fandom that does want you, or at the very least doesn't actively try to drive you out. Maybe I've reached the inevitable end in a fandom lifecycle, where instead of flaming out my interests take me along another path.
But even if you manage to stay in this less-than-perfect fandom; even if things get better; you will not forget that drumbeat, and you will not forget the negative things that were said and done in the name of "preserving" a franchise. The bitter taint of that protracted situation will sink so deep that any victories you do gain will feel pyrrhic. Good things happening will no longer be about enjoying those good things; instead, they will be about vindication, and retribution. If that vindication does not match the cost you put into it, you'll think "I fought for this?" I know I did.
That's one of my greatest fears, to be honest: that Star Wars will become a memory of strife, rather than one of solace.
The Tangled Web
In the end, I don't really know how to get around this lack of interest. The best I can hope for is that The Rise of Skywalker will give me a second wind. And while I doubt that I'll ever be as active in fandom as I once was, maybe I can enjoy this franchise as a casual fan: one that likes to tip-toe through the fields of nostalgia on occasion.
On the other hand, maybe this is a genuine case of "letting the past die," as Kylo urged in The Last Jedi. Maybe I've permanently fallen out of love with Star Wars because that was an old era of my life, and I have to acknowledge that I'm in the new. I'm a very different person than I was at the start of the Sequel Trilogy, and this isn't necessarily a bad thing: I would like to think that this growth contributes towards me being a better person.
But I don't want to have fallen out of love because I could no longer separate my bad memories from the good. I don't want my engagement with Star Wars to end on a sour note: to fall to the Dark side, as it were.
It seems antithetical to the message of hope that this series brings, and maybe that's why I'm so scared about falling out of love, in general. I just want my own happy ending in a feel-good space adventure, too.