Now that the dust has settled, many people have discussed their feelings about Star Wars: Rise of the Skywalker. Many people have conflicting feelings about it. However, some watchers feel as if it wasn’t crafted to be the best possible movie story for the newest sequels. Instead, for many people, it felt as if there were significant conveniences that may cater to a certain audience over just general movie coherency and more agency in the movie. That is not by mistake. Disney knows that there is very little reward for them in catering away from the people that truly are invested in Star Wars. More importantly, they know that these fans feel a sense of ownership stake in the property, and there are consequences for that happening. This particular catering to the feelings of ownership can cause havoc. This conundrum showed up something in various fan communities, but not for this large of an entity. Anime already predicted the negative scenarios happening above with a case example of Kannagi.
Kannagi: Crazy Shrine Maidens details the story of the main character Jin Mikuriya carving out a female figure from wood when the goddess Nagi appears from the figure and recruits him for various adventures from removing impurities to competing for popularity as a goddess around the town. During an arc in the Kannagi manga, it was a reference on the internet that Nagi, a shrine goddess, had a former boyfriend before Jin. For many readers, this is a benign fact that may develop into character development. However, some fans did not take it well when revealed (not safe for work). A fan actually decided to take the manga rip it up as shred it and posted up on 2chan (not safe for work). Many people who seem rational would think that this is completely nonsensical. However, the anime community, as well as other fandom communities have known for quite a while, that this type of scenario is possible. This particular issue would be symptomatic of many fandom‘s issues, ownership of property.
Artwork, in whatever form, is interpretable. That interpretation leaves for concept projection. For fans, their ideas, their needs, their wishes reflect on these works in multiple ways. Cosplay, fan art, conventions, discussions and most importantly for companies, through purchases, produces vectors for these ideas. Understanding that artwork can become interpretable, for some it becomes more than that.
As people consume more art and “content” their relationship changes. The numerous stories of how these artworks saved their lives, changed their lives, made their lives better, or at least became an embedded part of their life routines exist plenty. While seeming cute for many people, this scenario also leads to some to a sense of ownership. Throwing so much energy into something that feels like it reciprocates feelings and emotion to you the feeling of actually wanting some say, some ownership becomes more apparent. I mean, if you’re reading the books, playing the games, doing all of the interactions, of course, you should get a say. I mean, of course, the customer is always right, right?
Artists are responsible for themselves first and foremost. When they work on any medium they want to make something that they can say they are proud of. Something that even with its flaws, they can go back and remark at their efforts paying off. These feelings drive art to its form regardless if it’s avant-garde, mass consumption, or something in between. Many people should know about these feelings as it makes looking at the artwork interpretable and may even push for better ideas. The Otaku in the did not know that with Kannagi, and many fans of Star Wars and other properties do not. That idea died with the mass development of artwork through the transformation of engagement interactive properties (EIP).
EIPs serve to bring the most engaged people what they want while trying to rope in as many unaffiliated or less engaged people to the property as possible. Companies knowing about EIP and Disney literally being the marquee of EIPs listened to the base. This base consumes and breathes the property wants things geared towards them. With many voices in the room asking for catering as one could possibly imagine, they demand that their wishes and ownership of the property are met. So for these fans to have something go against their wishes is to go against their particular ownership of the material that matters. So chaos ensues, through Twitter posts, Youtube videos, tactical negative bombing, and even more negative aspects such as harassment against actors such as Kelly Tran. So with that in mind, Disney knew what to do with the final Star Wars, call in the person who gave into these whims in the first place, J.J. Abrams.
Reducing Rose to a one-minute cameo because she represented something that the fans weren’t vibing with? Done. Making Rey a chosen one, good. Glorified fanfiction movie, why not? For many fans of art and movies, this seems preposterous. Yet, J.J Abrams and Disney indulged it.
The bank shows why.
Neglect the box office numbers, the ratings for a second, and think about everything else that extends to the Star Wars universe. There are video games, comics, books, TV series, podcasts, figures, decals, tattoos, etc. All of these works depend on an audience to consume it, and those are the people paying their bills. That’s what Abrams knew, that’s what Disney knew, and that’s what we should know too. The people that have enough money to drive these entities producing values and cannot be too rattled. The only movie example that seems to satisfy everyone without having to rattle too many cages is Rogue One (disclosure, I have not watched Solo). Rouge One was a self-contained story that had characters you didn’t need too much investing into and at the end of the day gave off an extended universe without having to be mainline. The Mandalorian seems to take on that mantle too with its overall reception to people (again, disclosure I have not watched all of Mandalorian).
If you are Disney, you need people to sign up to your platform, to consume your content, to buy the extra stuff and lock them in. Ownership of property is not only exploitable but necessary to survive as it brings in money. Doing what you can to cater to these bases on most stuff while trying to bring in new blood takes hard work. When you’re down luck or look at the bottom line, who will you rely on: the people that will go to the paint to defend everything that grants them their ownership wish, or the people that may simply see it once and feel distant from it? Disney knew the answer to that question and many more people will need to soon know that answer as we navigate through the platform and live lockin by big players that want you in their ecosystem forever.
Why challenge those who “secure” you?