Expectations vs. Reality

Last week, I went into Star Wars: The Last Jedi knowing nothing save for the scenes included in the two trailers. Sure, after three viewings of The Force Awakens in 2015 I had concocted some theories about what was going to happen in the next installments. Though I’ve never been an active member of the fandom (as in, I don’t participate in any discussions online, but I am a big-time lurker on forums and such) I had a general knowledge of some of the more intense fan theories, and had a few ideas of my own rattling around about Rey’s parents, Supreme Leader Snoke’s true identity, what the return of Luke Skywalker would entail, and all the other questions that have been plaguing both die-hard and casual fans for the last couple of years.

Though some of my theories were wrong, a couple were confirmed, and some remain unanswered, I genuinely loved The Last Jedi. I had a couple of quibbles with it as far as the plot goes (no spoilers) but all in all, I felt that it was a strong film with excellent performances and some moments and scenes that I consider the best to ever feature in a SW film.  So, when I broke my social media ban and discovered that a vocal part of the fandom had major issues with the film (to the point of making a petition to have it struck from the canon, apparently) I was surprised. I mean, last I checked, the RT score for the critics was hovering in the low 90’s, but the audience score is in the 50’s, even lower than all, or most, of the prequels. Reading through the litany of complaints and the diatribes about all the things that “went wrong” with the film, I do see and understand how folks didn’t like it. Obviously not everyone is going to love a film – I know folks who didn’t like TFA, either, so I’m not trying to invalidate those who genuinely didn’t like TLJ. But with such a polarizing reaction to a film with such a passionate, dedicated fan base (for the better and the worse) behind it, It leads me to wonder; how much do our expectations of something color our opinion of it once we experience the reality? Does over-hype and rampant speculation lead to lukewarm reception?

I mean, I may not actively participate in the SW fandom, and my experience with the media outside of the films (novels, comics, the EU stuff, etc) is limited, but I am invested in it nonetheless. But there are folks out there (not a criticism, btw – I admire people with this level of dedication so long as it doesn’t interfere with life) who spend a lot of time to crafting theories or speculating about what is to happen next in a galaxy far, far away. So obviously, these die-hard fans might have crafted some theories or grown attached to ideas about TLJ and the new characters and plots in the SW universe that Rian Johnson and the creative crew behind the film have effectively taken a lightsaber to.  But just because it isn’t what fans expected, does that necessarily mean it’s “bad?” Or is it just a jarring contrast between expectations and reality that sours the experience for some fans? And while that perspective is valid – and people levying criticism at the film are justified – I think it’s important to separate folks who simply didn’t like the film from people who claim TLJ is “bad” because it didn’t go the way they thought it would.

Game of Thrones is another prominent fandom that suffers from this expectations versus reality mentality, and it makes me dread the reaction to season 8, which is pretty much guaranteed to debut before GRRM releases the final book. Fans of both the show and the books have grown so invested in the character journeys and the overall story and for years have come up with countless theories about “Azor Ahai” and who will marry who and who the “valonqar” is that I cannot fathom an ending that will satisfy everyone. There will be backlash, no matter what, because folks are attached to certain pieces of speculation that, if proven false, might affect the way viewers will perceive the ending. I think there are so many theories that if none of them turn out to be true (as unlikely as that is, a good number of them are going to turn out to be nonsense) a certain strain of fan will be incredibly disappointed. But it’s the nature of the fandom beast.  I know how I want the story to end, and which pieces I want to fall into place, but even if it doesn’t go the way I’ve theorized it would, that doesn’t mean I’m going to write it off as “bad.”

The closest I’ve come to this mentality this year was when Justice League came out a couple of months ago. After the resounding success of Wonder Woman, I was all in for JL, expecting the DCEU to finally turn itself around and prove that it can produce a well-balanced, engrossing ensemble film… which didn’t exactly happen. I did make the mistake of looking at the RT score beforehand, which dampened my excitement. I still enjoyed it, and it had some compelling strengths, but my expectations definitely weren’t met; and yes, that’s disappointing. That’s not the easiest thing to stomach, as a fan who is attached to the characters and the lore. But there’s nothing else to do but accept it, appreciate the good parts, and continue to have optimism for the future.

Honestly, the more popular something becomes, the more passionate and dedicated the fanbase is, and the more disappointed fans are bound to be with the outcome of the next installment, whether it be a book or film or episode. It’s the double-edged sword of popularity and fandoms, and the intrinsic nature of the idea that “you can’t please everyone.” But “different” doesn’t have to mean a “let down,” and “unexpected” shouldn’t automatically equate with “disappointment.” Unless it’s the finale of How I Met Your Mother, because that was straight up garbage and I literally can’t even watch reruns anymore without the shadow of that disaster looming overhead.

That’s why I’m more grateful than ever that I went into The Last Jedi with virtually no expectations and no idea what to expect, because I had no preconceived notions or outside opinions of the film to color my experience while watching. I may have had some theories kicking around in my head, but I was not so attached to any particular outcome or potential theory confirmation that I was disappointed when the reality strayed from how I’d imagined it would go. I have hopes for the future of the franchise and Episode IX, a spark that will not be snuffed out, but I don’t let my hopes get so high that they will inevitably come crashing to the ground and shatter when the outcome is unexpected.

This is my last post of the year; we’ll kick off January with a new Manga Monday!

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If you’re in need of a new read, or need something to spend your holiday money on, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

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