Another day, another podcast. This time, two entertaining chaps were discussing the pointlessness of Rogue One and the forthcoming Han Solo movie. One of them said Rogue One did not need to exist because all we ever needed to know about the stolen Death Star plans was in Episode IV. Telling us how the rebels stole the plans and got them to Leia is of no significance - all that counts is what happened after that. Rogue One makes a movie out of a macguffin, a plot catalyst. What's the point in that?
This got me thinking about how we define fandom. To my mind, a true fan wants more stories in that universe, regardless of their content. We want to go back to that place, to return to the galaxy far far away and see more of it. The story that takes us there is only a problem if the finished product doesn't feel right. If the new story still feels like it's taking place in the world we love, then bring it on. I felt this way about the Hobbit movies. The first one was a bit ropy in places - lots of places - but I didn't care. I was just glad to be back in Peter Jackson's Middle Earth. It looked and sounded and felt like the rendering of Tolkein that I fell head over heels for back in 2001 with the first Lord of the Rings movie. I could forgive the flaws in Jackson's Hobbits films because I was a fan - though the adaptation left a lot to be desired, it was enough to be back in that place, going on this adventure.
Problems occur when we return to the same characters or the same world and something is wrong. What happens if it somehow doesn't feel right any more? I'm sure we can all think a movie universe where this has happened, where there is a new movie in a familiar universe but the vibe is all wrong, the plot is too clumsy (or absent) or the characters too thin. It might look like the world we know, might sound like it too, but there is something missing. There is too much to forgive, too many flaws to overlook or to not bother us. This connects, I think, to an earlier blog I wrote about nostalgia. We want to go back to that place but the place has changed, become a gaudy, empty version of the world we once loved.
This is what made Rogue One work for me. There was no real risk of compromising our experiences of the other movies because, by and large, our emotional investment was in a whole new set of characters. The the way the universe looked and sounded was right and, yes, there were some details that took me out of it - Darth Vader's oddly swishing walk, for instance - but the film didn't act like some old friend who has reappeared after years, much changed, but pretending they're still the same old pal.
It's for the same reason, though, that I worry about the Han Solo movie. Now there is a character who carries a lifetime of emotional investment for a whole generation.