“The Force of Star Wars Fan Fiction”
By Michelle Wittlich
I was a Star Wars Original Trilogy (OT) generation kid who was young enough in 1977 to have no memories of life pre-Star Wars. I also REALLY love the Sequel Trilogy (ST). I love it a lot. One might say I am obsessed. One would not be inaccurate if one used that term. I love “The Force Awakens” (TFA), but Holy Hello There, do I adore “The Last Jedi” (TLJ). I have no qualms calling it a Star Wars masterpiece.
However, am I EVER disgruntled with the current rift in fandom and the oft-discussed toxicity problem. We all know about that big ol’ “The Last Jedi”-shaped sinkhole that sadly opened up beneath us on or shortly after December 15, 2017. Most fans ended up on one side or the other of that sinkhole. I have close Star Wars friends who were also OT generation kids who simply do not understand how I can love TLJ with the passion that I do having been raised loving the OT. They feel differing degrees of betrayal for most of the same reasons other fans felt that way….Luke Skywalker’s character development and death, Canto Bight being a waste of time, a lack of Snoke’s backstory/importance, Rey’s lack of significant lineage, Yaddle, Yaddle, Yaddle. I have had a general theory on our divergent opinions on TLJ since the first times we talked following our first viewings….in my opinion, it was all about how they had expectations to which they were unable to let go and a sense of entitlement vs how I was able to let go of my expectations and had no sense of entitlement. What expectations I had (mainly, that Rey HAD to be a Skywalker), I was more than willing to let fall by the wayside in acquiescence to Lucasfilm’s and Rian Johnson’s engaging storytelling.
How can this be? Why am I so willing to let go of my expectations while my friends were unable or unwilling to do so even to the detriment of their Star Wars enjoyment?
I know what my friends think of me….I’m an OT traitor. They look at me like I am gleefully stabbing them in the back while I go on and on about my adoration for Rian Johnson, his carefully crafted script, his artful direction, and my favorite feature of all….the character developments of Luke, Rey and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. Honestly, I know they would feel justified in revoking my Star Wars card for actually being happy about and grateful for Luke’s arc.
Let me start to get to the point. There is a thing in TLJ that really got me. It got me BUT GOOD. The surprising development of the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren, ie Reylo, stunned and delighted me. Shamed I will not be for “‘shipping” Reylo, so useless the attempts are. That is a defensive statement because I have found that for….reasons, Reylo, like other features of TLJ, bothers some people. If you happen to be one of those people, don’t be too deterred about continuing to read because, really, this is not about Reylo, per se. It is more about Reylo fans, our expectations, and our solution for disappointment.
Reylo fans have been around since TFA. However, I didn’t get on board until Rian “Reylo” Johnson told me to. He seriously looked RIGHT AT ME and said, “Reylo is an actual thing I’m doing, and it is your new Star Wars obsession.” “OK, Rian.”, I answered. “I am ready, able and willing to drive this Reylo train to the ends of the galaxy!” I can talk about Rey and Kylo for hours. I can talk about how, together, they are the will of the Cosmic Force. How they will bring perfect balance to A Galaxy Far, Far Away. How only together can they achieve the balance that the Force has been striving for the entirety of the Star Wars saga. How, as the kids say, “Reylo is endgame.” How I believe Ben Solo will be redeemed through his love for Rey, with a Cosmic Force assist, and once and for all will close the circle of Anakin Skywalker’s and Padme Amidala’s tragic story through the selfless love between their grandson and his Force-chosen equal, through forgiveness, atonement and hope for the future (ie, Reylo babies). Beautiful, isn’t it? I think so.
But, wait. I just wrote that I am sure that the underlying reason my friends and a lot of fans are dissatisfied with TLJ is because they went into the theaters married or at least betrothed to theories and expectations about everything from Luke’s predicted badassery, Snoke’s backstory, Rey’s lineage, etc. So, then, why would I walk purposefully into the same trap for Episode IX? Am I not setting myself up to be a hater? Am I not going to be outraged and making YouTube videos about how J.J. Abrams ruined the entire saga by not following my carefully constructed head canons?
Full disclosure time….I would be disappointed if Ben Solo is not redeemed and Reylo fails to happen in some capacity. I understand that I might momentarily raise my fists to the sky and bellow, “WHYYYYYYYY????”. I might even be temporarily sad enough to binge on gluten-free cupcakes.
But I can also promise that I would NOT let that ruin my Star Wars joy for long. And here is the secret (It’s not a secret. Literally, huge numbers of people know about it.) that will keep me from contributing to bitter toxicity…..STAR WARS FAN FICTION.
Go ahead and make faces of skepticism. Look down your nose at me. Snicker. Chuckle. Eye roll. I’m used to it, and I’ll wait.
But here’s the thing. The fan fiction readers and writers that I know all agree on this. If one ever has feelings of disappointment with canon, fan fiction is a soothing balm for those feelings. It’s actually kind of magical. Deep within the safe confines of the internet lie thousands of fan fiction stories at archiveofourown.org. Some have blissful endings. Some are riddled with angst. Whatever kind of story you prefer (alternate universe stories, stories that stay true to canon, stories that are in the Star Wars universe but veer off into a whole other direction than canon) someone has probably written it. And if one had an idea but felt unsure about writing it, one could actually commission a writer to write that story. It is a glorious world of boundless Star Wars imagination. I am not exaggerating at all when I say fan fiction is the reason that I will not become a grumpy, Episode IX-hating ogre if Lucasfilm and J.J. Abrams decide that Reylo isn’t a thing after all, and Kylo Ren is just a run-of-the-mill villain who should bleed his own blood and die unredeemed and evil. I know many Reylo fan fiction readers who feel the same, and I think we would all cope with any Episode IX disappointment just fine by delving into any number of literally thousands of Reylo-centric fan fictions.
Why do I and others seem to catch a lot of guff because we very much enjoy Star Wars fan fiction? I have my theories on that. I think some people assume that fan fiction is not good quality writing. That is false. I have whipped through 30 chapter fictions like a crazy person because the writing was so wonderful. Often, I have been blown away at the writer’s creativity. I also think some people assume fan fiction is nothing more than gratuitous, romantic “‘shipping” stories. Granted, there is a lot of that if that is one’s jam, but there are all kinds of stories. I also think critics and skeptics assume fan fiction is only written by women and for women. I’m not a man, so I can’t say whether a man would enjoy any of the fictions I have enjoyed, but I would be interested to find out what kind of fictions men DO enjoy.
Am I saying if more fans enjoyed fan fiction, the backlash to TLJ would have been lessened? The split in fandom wouldn’t be so gaping? Well, yes. I guess I am theorizing that if more fans were accustomed to reading/writing many various takes on Luke Skywalker, fans may have had a less entitled and proprietary attitude towards that character’s arc and fate, and therefore may have been less angry and bitter when TLJ didn’t fulfill the fantasies in their heads. They may have grumbled for a bit, but then perhaps sat down to read or even write a satisfying tale where Luke is a Jedi god and lives so long he starts to resemble Master Yoda, and as a result, may have felt less hostile towards TLJ.
Also, guess what? Reading Star Wars fan fiction is just a fun, fun time. It’s fun to talk about with other readers. It’s fun to imagine all the alternative “what-ifs” in the vast Star Wars universe. It’s fun to discover a great, new fiction and recommend it to others. And it is super fun when a favorite, ongoing fiction finally posts a new chapter.
Speaking of which, enough writing for me for now. If you’ll excuse me, I have some fan fiction chapter updates to devour. May the Force be with you all.