Editor’s Note: If you are unaware of it, Star Wars author Chuck Wendig went on an extended tirade online against Star Wars fans for being racist, bigoted, white supremacist, misogynistic, illiterate, masculinist, mediocre, and possessing an overabundance of earwax. Okay, that last part was made up, but it and the kitchen sink was probably in there somewhere.
Ann Lewis, of pre-Disney canon, decided to weigh in. Ann is also the author of the excellent Sherlock Holmes book Murder in the Vatican (which you should read), among other titles. ~ MB
An Open letter to Chuck Wendig
by Ann Margaret Lewis
This isn’t a bashing letter, just a thoughtful one. I wanted to state that at the outset, so you don’t skip over it. You’re in a rather peevish mood lately, and I’m hoping to start off my discussion here with a calm base. Further, this is going to be longer than your average blog post, so I beg you to bear with me as I make my way through this.
First, about me – I am a former Star Wars writer of long ago (and far, far away). Star Wars was my first big professional sale. While that may seem odd, my background was in licensed publishing, and up to that point, I’d written small projects for DC Comics licensed books—Little Golden Books, a book and audio, a children’s comics and fiction magazine, coloring and activity books, etc. Because I knew Star Wars well, the DelRey editor asked me to pitch a non-novel book for that line and to my shock and surprise, it was accepted. I did the job, got paid, and went on to do other non-Star Wars things. I tell you this not to toot my own horn (because it is a tiny, plastic one), but so that you know I understand what it is to work for a licensor, and I know what it is to answer to the licensor’s dictates. It is a harrowing job, and it is one that you appear to be doing to the licensor’s satisfaction since they’re giving you a lot of work. I’m happy for you and I hope you continue to succeed.
The one thing I also know is that working for a license like this, you have to deal with the fans that come with it. I’m a fan, too, as I’m sure you are or you wouldn’t be writing their stuff. But you and I both know the fans you write for have expectations that are often impossible to meet. The hard-core Star Wars fans are really, really tough.
Which gets me to where we’re going here: the fans, and their reaction to the Star Wars films and other materials now coming out of Disney. There are two narratives coming from Disney’s direction. One is that Solo is tanking because it stars a white male protagonist. The other is that fans were so angry by the “SJW”-diversity nature of The Last Jedi that they boycotted Solo.
While there might be a small group boycotting Solo for these reasons, I’m going to state that for the most part, neither are in fact the case, despite the social media postings of a few minor crackpots. I don’t know what happened to Kelly Marie Tran, or other actors and actresses who left social media platforms. I wasn’t witness to any of it. But you must realize the viewing audience for these films is much, much larger than a small cadre of angry, juvenile voices making that fuss. The Solo tank and the lackluster sales of other Star Wars related products post-TLJ really has very little to do with them, despite how loud their voices seem.
The real money of the film viewing audience comes from people more like myself: folks who enjoy good stories and who follow sci fi or action adventure series as good family entertainment. We have kids, we have jobs, money to spend, and we like to share things as a group. These aren’t the hard-core fans on social media or going to cons. They are people who will spend money on a good film romp and even do it more than once if the film is good. They may even buy a novel or comic or two, depending on their level of interest. This is the broader Star Wars audience. Now, the hard-core fan group has grown larger due to social media, etc, but by and large that broader audience has the meat and potatoes film viewership and product buying power. This is the group of people Disney lost on Solo. And I am going to explain why.
The number one rule for any entertainment venture, be it film, play, book or comic is this: Do not waste the audience’s time and money. They are there to be entertained. Your job is to entertain them. If you don’t do that, they will not give you money in the future.
The Last Jedi broke this cardinal rule. It really is that simple. The Last Jedi did not entertain, but wasted my, and much of the broader audience’s, time and hard-earned cash. Only hard-core fans saw it more than once (which gave them more to complain about on social media). Now, I have seen Solo. But I will tell you that I did not want to initially. I had to be cajoled into it by my husband, who was willing to try it. I was one of those who felt burned by The Last Jedi and it had nothing whatever to do with the diversity thing. I was angry because my time and money was wasted the last time, just as it had been with the prequels. No, it didn’t ruin my childhood. My childhood was my childhood and it will not change. I wasn’t angry about the old characters being misused, etc. I was angry that the whole thing was a time suck beginning to end and not worth what I paid to see it. In fact, my comment on leaving the theater after TLJ was this: “For what they spent to make that film they could have fed a third-world country and the money would have been better spent. They couldn’t pay a decent screenwriter to give them a well-structured story?”
I know that I am not alone in this (perhaps not the screenwriter comment, but certainly the wasted money issue). Ergo, when Solo popped up, I did not want to see it. Not because I don’t like Han Solo. I love him, honestly, and somewhere in my heart I kind of wanted to see it. But I did not want to waste hard-earned money on something that wasn’t worth it.
To my relief, it wasn’t half-bad. I enjoyed it. Cardinal rule achievement unlocked.
But let’s go back to diversity in The Last Jedi, because that is the current narrative that you appear to be endorsing, along with Disney.
Disney made a huge deal about the diverse cast they had in The Force Awakens: strong female lead, black guy, Hispanic guy. Awesome. I liked these characters. I believe most people, like myself, had great hopes for all of them. Finn was promising as a growing hero. Poe was a fun guy who seemed ripe to jump into the Han Solo devil-may-care hot-shot pilot role. Rey was cute and I generally liked her. Kylo was whiney, but hey, so was Luke. While TFA’s plotline was an obvious re-tread, I was fine with it. I hoped they’d grow and we’d see more.
But that is not what happened with TLJ. The storytelling in the film failed each and every one of these characters. Let’s go through what happened to our diversity cast in TLJ, one-by-one:
- Finn – the one black character, who wants to be heroic becomes the bumbling, loser sidekick to…
- Rose – the one Asian character, who gets easily hoodwinked by a con (pulled by the other Hispanic character, because of course, Hispanics cannot be trusted), fails in her mission and ends up lovesick.
- Poe – the primary Hispanic character, engages in epic fail because he isn’t told the truth and gets slapped around (because he cannot be trusted) by …
- Vice Admiral Holdo – who was, apparently, gay. (Though honestly in a kid’s movie who cares about that? But I digress.) She was a horrible leader and a terrible strategist. I mean, when they said they had a lesbian military leader chick I was looking for this:
Boy, was I disappointed. I got a pink-haired runway model with the leadership skills to match. God help us.
Then you have the two white women, Leia and Rey. Leia sleeps through most of the film (which I’m sure was a blessing to lovely Carrie Fisher, may she rest in peace). And Rey—well, she actually does something that matters in this film, for what it’s worth.
That leaves the two white guys to do things: Luke and Kylo, and they were two of the most compelling characters in what remained of the film.
Diversity? If you give us a diverse cast, please have them do something meaningful, have them win, achieve a goal, beat the bad guy or actually die trying. That is one thing that Solo got right because at least Lando did something that mattered. Even with Empire, which was a calculated loss for the good guys, we were concerned about our characters and rooting for them because what they did meant something. Nothing that these diverse characters did really mattered in TLJ. It was a poorly constructed story with nothing to root for or cheer for and that is where it failed and wasted the broader audience’s time and money. Thus, having been burned, they did not return.
All that being said, I want to finish with this—it’s not worth it to fight the fans. You have books and comics to write and sell, so you can’t be doing that. You’re wasting time and energy doing it. You need to concentrate on the cardinal rule of entertainment and do what you’re being paid to do: entertain. Write good stories. Step back from social media if you have to. If you concentrate on producing well-constructed space opera story arcs with heroes to cheer and villains to boo—be they black, white, brown, or somewhere in between—the fans will by and large spend their money to be entertained. It’s all up to you and Disney to make that happen. I hope you do.
Wishing you all the best,
–Ann Margaret Lewis