To call the Star Wars fandom passionate would be putting it lightly. As one of the most beloved franchises of all time, every decision made is questioned and debated until the cows come home. In fact, there's a rather apt joke that goes: "The only thing Star Wars fans hate more than people who hate Star Wars is Star Wars."
At times, though, the over-zealousness can turn toxic and extreme. From trolling actors for the characters they play to chasing writers off social media, supporters don't always cover themselves in glory. Just look at Star Wars' original creator George Lucas, who's had a topsy-turvy relationship with the fans for decades now.
As the father of this larger-than-life franchise, you'd expect Lucas to be immune to any criticism, but he's found himself in the same firing line as people such as Stars Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. Much like the wind, the public's opinion of him sways with the season.
In the beginning, Lucas was seen as the chosen one. The original Star Wars trilogy redefined science fiction and cinema, establishing itself as an influential and defining piece of pop culture. Lucas received praise from all corners for his vision and breaking new boundaries. In short, he transformed into an icon mentioned in the same breath as such acclaimed directors as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Stanley Kubrick.
With any major franchise, there's always pressure to develop follow-ups to please the audience. While working on the original trilogy, Lucas identified a prequel storyline to explore. He resisted this temptation for 16 years, citing burnout and a lack of advancement in visual effects. Obviously, fans weren't happy about this.
In 1999 — 22 years after A New Hope first hit theaters — Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was released. While the film and its subsequent sequels made ludicrous amounts of money, the fan and critical receptions were divisive. From the mere existence of comedic character Jar Jar Binks to Hayden Christensen's contentious portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, a significant portion of the fanbase found more to hate than love from the prequel trilogy.
As the sole director and writer of the prequels, Lucas was on the receiving end of the harshest criticisms. Many fans questioned if he still had it, while others felt he should've left Star Wars as it was. Showing how reputation isn't eternal, Lucas went from hero to villain in the short span of six years.
To his credit, Lucas was aware of the backlash as early as 1999. Speaking to Empire, he said, "The fans' expectations had gotten way high and they wanted a film that was going to change their lives and be the Second Coming. You know, I can't do that, it's just a movie." He added that he needed "to do what's right for the movie, not what's right for the market."
Comments such as those didn't exactly endear him to the fanbase, who felt entitled to the property. They demanded fan service and to get what they wanted. So, when the news arrived that Disney was acquiring Star Wars, many observers predicted it to be a shrewd move for all parties, as it allowed for other visionaries to take a stab at Lucas' characters and world.
Unsurprisingly, the first Star Wars film under the Disney banner, The Force Awakens, proved to a safe blockbuster. Much closer to the original trilogy than the prequels, it unfortunately felt forced. Nonetheless, it landed well with critics, and polled an average A CinemaScore. Two billion dollars later, Disney was riding high and more Star Wars properties were announced.
In 2017, The Last Jedi hit and proved to be a considerable speed bump for the franchise. Though undeniably a critical and box office success, there's no denying that it divided the fanbase in ways not seen before. The vitriol towards it was on par with that spewed at the prequels—though social media likely amplified the noise—and still stands as a point of contention for many Star Wars fans.
A few months later, Solo: A Star Wars Story flopped badly at the box office and Lucasfilm was forced to take calculated steps with the future of the franchise. The decision-makers realized that the name isn't going to sell itself anymore, and heeded the fan outrage. While Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is still projected to rake in the cash, Disney is remaining cautiously optimistic after The Last Jedi fallout.
The worst part is that snippets of Lucas' negative comments towards the new Star Wars films and Disney have found their way to the public's ears, adding more fuel to the fire. It also doesn't help that it's common knowledge Disney scrapped Lucas' original plans for this new trilogy. All of a sudden, some fans who hated the prequels are behind him again, even hoping for him to act as a savior and "resurrect" the franchise in some way.
In the quintessential "rather the devil you know" scenario, Lucas has now ascended to the pantheon of fan approval once again. Will it last, though? Considering the fickle nature of the Star Wars fandom, don't bet on it. Still, it's a fascinating and often hilarious dynamic to note.