Tabula Rasa

The “Sin” of Star Wars Expectations

I recently came across a quote from Frank Oz – the man who brought Yoda to life – where he gave his very direct opinion regarding Star Wars fans who disliked The Last Jedi. Speaking at a SXSW event, Oz states that,

“I love the movie [The Last Jedi]…All the people who don’t like this ‘Jedi’ thing is just horse crap. It’s about expectations. The movie didn’t fill their expectations. But as filmmakers, we’re not here to fulfill people’s expectations.”

How could I, or anyone else, NOT consider what Frank Oz has to say on this point? He is a gifted filmmaker with a perspective and understanding of storytelling which I can only dream of reaching. For a number of days I allowed Oz’s point to marinate in my mind, bouncing around my brain as I reflected on my own expectations for Star Wars, not to mention the expectations of the entire community of Star Wars fans. Of course, I am in no position to speak for the entire Star Wars “fandom.” It is so massive, so diverse, and so damn opinionated that it would be folly to even try to provide any “grand unified theory” to sum-up Star Wars fans. In fact, the ONLY thing that can be said is that Star Wars fans are “unified” around Star Wars, but what Star Wars means for each fan is subjective. It is personal. And because of this, I think Frank Oz is absolutely correct: some fans certainly disliked The Last Jedi because the film did not meet the very personal and deeply held expectations they may have had going into Episode VIII.

The thing is, while I agree with Oz, I only do so up to a point. Beyond that, I fundamentally disagree with him. Why? Well, just as I cannot provide a “grand unified theory” of Star Wars fans, Frank Oz is in no position to provide a definitive answer for why people did not like The Last Jedi. It is a generalization to do so, a fallacy stating that a part (those fans who did not have expectations met by The Last Jedi) actually represents the whole (every fan who did not like The Last Jedi). Logic just doesn’t work that way, and it is important to recognize that a great deal of nuance exists within the Star Wars community precisely because individuals have those deeply personal ties to the decades spanning franchise. And this applies to fans who truly loved The Last Jedi and those who absolutely despise the film, as well as all those who fall somewhere in the middle (which is where I happen to land). My point is: some Star Wars fans didn’t like The Last Jedi because it didn’t meet their expectations, plain and simple, while other fans had a more nuanced reaction and didn’t like it for a trove of entirely different reasons. 

But beyond this  pretty obvious fact, that some fans didn’t like it because of high expectations, the more I thought about what Frank Oz said, the more I was bothered by the implication: that Star Wars fans should have no expectations for the stories which they love. Realistically, how can one NOT have expectations when they go into a Star Wars film (or any film for that matter)? How does one fully set-aside their expectations and experience a story entirely devoid of expectation? Frankly, I do not believe it possible, unless perhaps one ejects every single Star Wars thought from the mind. But going into a Star Wars movie with a “tabula rasa”, a blank slate, is just not possible, at least for me. Maybe someone out there can show me how to do it, how to just sit down with popcorn, Junior Mints and an oversized cup of Diet Coke and watch Star Wars for what it is – just another movie. Me, I cannot set aside my thoughts, and feelings, and ideas about Star Wars because the franchise has seeped into my bones. I live Star Wars, I breathe Star Wars, it infects me like a damn virus. For me, Star Wars is NOT “just another movie,” it is a way of life. And as a result, I am guilty of the sin of expectation, I demand greatness from Star Wars and yes, sometimes, I even expect it to acquiesce to my expectations.

There were a lot of things about The Last Jedi I didn’t like, and some things I absolutely did like, and I lay a number of these out in my post Reflections on The Last Jedi.” But I also know, and can easily admit, that I had expectations for The Last Jedi which were not met. I am not ashamed to say it and why should I hide it? For example, I wrote a post titled The (Mis)Use of Captain Phasma where I blasted writer/director Rian Johnson for not utilizing the First Order villain more effectively in the movie. I absolutely expected her to be a greater factor, especially after a novel and a comic series preceding the release of The Last Jedi built her up as a total badass. How could I not expect more?

Luke and Ben

Many Star Wars fans, myself included, expected Luke to NOT try to kill his nephew given that he threw his lightsaber away at the end of Return of the Jedi. Photo Credit – Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

So yeah, I had expectations for The Last Jedi. But you know what, I also had expectations for The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and Solo. I had expectations for The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. I had expectations for The Clone Wars, Star Wars: Rebels, and Star Wars: Resistance. And, going forward, I have expectations for Episode IX, The Mandalorian, Galaxy’s Edge, and every other Star Wars movie, novel, comic, video game, etc. But I am under no illusion that all of my expectations will be met. Are Star Wars filmmakers and storytellers supposed to meet every expectation of “the fans”? Certainly not. They can’t do it. At best, they can only hope to meet one very basic, very simple expectation: that the fan will be entertained. That is, after all, what the entire Star Wars franchise is, a massive form of entertainment. Right? We all expect to be entertained, to be transported to the galaxy far, far away so that through the experience we will find some form enjoyment.

And, as a fan, the best I can do is manage my expectations. I have to willing and able to acknowledge that everything will not line up with how I want it to unfold. But managing expectations does not mean jettisoning expectations. Rather, it means having an open-mind and giving things a chance, even when – no, especially when – things do not immediately line-up with those expectations. 

Frank Oz, the voice of Yoda, stated that “…All the people who don’t like this ‘Jedi’ thing is just horse crap. It’s about expectations. The movie didn’t fill their expectations. But as filmmakers, we’re not here to fulfill people’s expectations.” He is right, some fans didn’t like The Last Jedi because it just didn’t meet their expectations; others had more nuanced reasons for their dislike of the movie. And he is correct, filmmakers are not here to fulfill everyone’s expectations; and fans, myself included, do have to manage expectations. However, I am not going to give up my expectations for Star Wars. I am going to continue to demand greatness from it, and yes that means holding the filmmakers and storytellers to a high standard and having expectations for the franchise. And the reason I am going to do this is simple:

Because a long time ago I was mesmerized as I watched a small space ship being chased by a large space ship over a desert planet. From that moment forward, my expectations for Star Wars started to blossom and I can’t change that. So instead, I will live in the sin of Star Wars expectation and, if Frank Oz or anyone else wants to be annoyed with me, I will wear that annoyance as a badge of honor.