Category: Original Writing

I Think I’m Done With Internet Fan Communities

I think I’m done with internet fan communities.

This year, I’ve seen two pop culture goliaths – the release of Avengers: Endgame and the end of Game Of Thrones – absolutely swamped by ill feeling both before and after their release.

About a week before the release of Avengers: Endgame, a version of the story was leaked on to the website 4Chan, then migrated its way onto Reddit, where it was devoured by a waiting community. The leak turned out to be correct; I’d been following the commentary, but I went back and read the leaks after seeing – and loving – the movie. But I was one of the lucky ones.

By the time Endgame hit theatres, Reddit was chock-full of anonymous posters who spat pure hatred about the story, based only on the leaked information. It was alarming how many people were willing to pass judgment based on a sparse text description of a three hour film. It tainted the fan community online as fans began to expect the worst. It made no sense. But it passed.

This past couple of weeks has also been challenging as a fan of Game Of Thrones.

While I do think there are legitimate criticisms of how the show ended, it felt like the fan communities online turned into an echo chamber, with words like “bad writing” and “destroyed character arc” resonating around and around.

Take the sub-reddit /r/FreeFolk, a spin-off from the main Game Of Thrones sub-reddit that allows posting of spoilers, swearing, and so on. Before the final season began, /r/FreeFolk was a hilarious collection of memes and commentary on the show – the community there was made up of true fans who really loved the show.

But several things happened seemingly at once (spoilers ahead). First, the Night King was killed earlier in the season than most fans were expecting, and by a character most people were not expecting. Fans were surprised, sure, and some a little disappointed that the assumed major villain was gone with so much time left. But most were optimistic about the episodes to come.

Then, at some point in the week that followed, a number of elaborate (and accurate) spoilers leaked that laid out what was going to happen for the remainder of the season. Fans visited /r/FreeFolk in droves to despair at what they perceived as a betrayal of the characters and the show – remember, all without actually seeing the episodes in question.

The fourth episode came and went, proving the leaks were accurate, and the community went into meltdown. One fan created a petition to rewrite the show which now has around 1.3 million signatures. Everything was suddenly negative. It began to bleed into other sub-reddits about the show. The tone seemed to change on all social media. And by the time a coffee cup was spotted in a couple of frames, the internet had decided what it thought.

I unsubscribed from /r/FreeFolk and /r/GameOfThrones ahead of Episode 5.

If I were to guess, I’d say both of these negative backlashes – the Thrones one ongoing; the Endgame one doused out of existence by how good the film is – came from the same place: a false impression of where ownership of art resides.

The truth is, I think, that art doesn’t belong to the consumer; it belongs to the creator. Blockbuster films and global television hits are still art. And the fans don’t own it.

Creators of mass-marketed pop culture like to say “this was for the fans” but it isn’t. Not really. I’m sure the reaction of fans is a consideration. But we didn’t watch the fans’ version of Endgame; we watched Marvel Studios’ version. We didn’t watch the fans version of Game Of Thrones’ finale; we watched David Benioff and DB Weiss’ version.

As consumers, we can pass judgment. We can dislike the pop culture we’re consuming. These waves of negativity turned foul when those perpetuating it began to see their opinions as objectively correct, and dissenting opinions as objectively wrong. That isn’t opinion. That is arrogance.

These are far from the only examples. You only need to go back as far as 2017’s Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi to find another large-scale toxic and misguided backlash.

Nobody has the right to tell you what you can and cannot enjoy.

If you thought Game Of Thrones had the best ending ever, I’m happy that you enjoyed it, even if I disagree. And if that kind of respectfulness can’t exist in online fan communities, then I’m going to have to withdraw from them.

I like what I like. I’m not going to allow my experience to be tainted by sheer arrogance.

MOVIE REVIEW Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

Fair warning: considerable spoilers follow – read after watching.

In a way, I’m glad I waited a week to write a review of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the latest anthology movie from Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm set in the Star Wars universe. As I walked out of the theatre last Wednesday night, following a sparsely attended midnight screening, I would have told you how much I enjoyed it, how it was a fairly straight-forward action movie, how I enjoyed the performance of leading man Alden Ehrenreich.

But over the course of a week, I’ve slowly started to think less and less of the film. As of right now, a full seven days since I saw it, I’m ready to tell you that I don’t think it’s a good film at all.

Set a decade before the events of 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Solo: A Star Wars Story (honestly, how many times am I going to have to write Star Wars before this review is finished) is ostensibly an origin story for Han Solo, one of the universes best characters, and one of film history’s most iconic figures.

Starting out on the shipyards of Corellia, where Han is an orphaned teen caught up in the local gang culture, we follow the rogue as he is separated from his sweetheart Qi’ra (Game Of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke) and escapes his home, takes on his infamous moniker (spoiler: he got it because he was alone), and joins the Empire as a pilot because he just wants to fly, man. He ends up in a ground battle on the planet Mimban.

From there, he is united with lifelong friend Chewbacca and falls in with pirate Tobias Beckett (played by Woody Harrelson) and his crew (also featuring Thandie Newton and Jon Favreau) on an intergalactic version of The Great Train Robbery – the aim: steal a train carriage full of the valuable hyperspace fuel coaxium.

But the heist goes wrong, leading Han to improvise in front of super-criminal Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany): he and Beckett are joined by Qi’ra and playboy smuggler Lando (Donald Glover) to steal raw coaxium from the planet of Kessel. If you’re at all familiar with Han Solo, the name Kessel will ring a bell – we’re treated to a full display of the infamous Kessel Run (achieved in just over 12 parsecs), before Han double-crosses both Beckett and Vos and hands the coaxium over to an early version of the Rebellion.

Qi’ra is forced to kill Vos, thus saving Han, and reports to his superior, the presumed dead Darth Maul, last seen in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, set prior to this film, in which he was sliced in two by Obi Wan Kenobi.

Yeah, it’s a lot to take in. But it didn’t seem like so much in the theatre last week: we bounced from location to location, enjoying the sights – “hey, it’s the Kessel Run”, “woah, he just met Chewbacca”, “oh, that’s how he got his name” – and taking in a few big action scenes, albeit none on the level of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.

That is the films first major problem: it’s kind of bland.

Solo: A Star Wars Story had its share of drama behind the scenes – original writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were replaced part-way through production by Ron Howard, a director without a distinct visual style who isn’t known for making large scale, effects-heavy franchise films.

The result is a film that just kind of happens. There are no scenes on the level of Rey and Kylo killing Snoke in his chambers or Holdo launching into hyperspace through a star destroyer from Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi; the closest we get is the Kessel Run, which ends up featuring a black hole and an asteroid-sized octopus, and even that one feels a bit anti-climactic since it is over fairly quickly.

The other major problem Solo: A Star Wars Story has is that it feels piecemeal.

There is a lot going on – from the street chase and escape from Corellia, to the Kessel Run, to the final showdown on the planet of Savareen – and it feels kind of muddled, like none of it necessarily connects to the rest. As the week has passed, that is what I am most struck by: it all just feels so disjointed.

The most exciting scene – the train heist on the planet Vandor, seen prominently in the trailers – takes place in the first act of the film when it clearly would have made for the most exciting conclusion to the whole movie. Instead, it doesn’t hit as hard because we’ve not spent any time with anyone; it just kind of happens. It all just happens.

That is the main crime of Solo: A Star Wars Story: none of it sticks, none of it resonates, and none of it is still with me a week later. Instead of an experience, the film is just a series of events that vaguely tie-in to the Star Wars universe and set up an inevitable sequel. And it’s all just bland.

(For those of you who’ve seen it, I can imagine a version of Solo: A Star Wars Story which dispenses with the opening scenes on Corellia and Mimban – they seems like Lucasfilm adding stuff purely to pre-empt fan calls that “we should have seen this or that” – and where Han and Chewie are already established smugglers, leading to his team-up with Beckett. The Kessel Run still happens half-way through the film and features the Falcon and Lando, as per the film, but somehow it goes wrong. The Darth Maul reveal happens here and he orders Vos to kill the crew, but Vos decides to give them another chance – the train heist on Vandor, where the double-crossing occurs, leading to the death of Vos, Beckett and the rest of his crew. I’d cut the Rebellion out entirely.)

It isn’t all doom and gloom. You may be glad to hear that Alden Ehrenreich is actually pretty good as Han Solo, putting his own mark on the character instead of doing a Harrison Ford impression, and his relationship with Chewie is one great element of the film. Donald Glover and Paul Bettany appear to be having fun, but they also appear to be holdovers from the Lord/Miller version of the film, stuck out of place in most scenes.

And I did enjoy the Kessel Run, it has to be said. I love a good giant monster.

Look, Solo: A Star Wars Story isn’t a terrible film. It is a fairly serviceable action film. Heck, if it wasn’t a Star Wars film, none of this would be an issue. But it is a Star Wars film, one with a fairly hefty $250 million price tag.

It should’ve been better. It could’ve been. Alas, we’ll never know.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is directed by Ron Howard (with an assist from Phil Lord & Christopher Miller), from a script by Jonathan & Lawrence Kasdan, and stars Alden Ehrenreich, Woodly Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Thandie Newton, Jonas Suotamo, and Paul Bettany, and the voices of Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Jon Favreau. It is in cinemas now.

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