The Apathetic Audience

Glenn Criddle

glenn criddle | cynical celluloid | jan. 2020

There's a New Star Wars and I just don't care.

As I write, it's two days to go until “Star Wars Episode IX" hits the screen after one of the reportedly most troubled productions I've ever If there's a single lesson to be learned by the studios this year, it's probably that genre films need to be treated as more than simple properties with which they can do as they please.heard of, even more so than 2016's “Ghostbusters," and I'm not exactly champing at the bit to go see it. Reports of extremely late and extensive reshoots, up to six different endings having been screened to less than enthusiastic receptions and doubts about the futures of directors and senior executives behind the course of the franchise have been circling the final part of the Skywalker saga. After the audience reaction to the final episode of “Game of Thrones" saw a devastating backlash from fans, I'm imagining there's some deep anxiety in the Disney offices as their over-priced purchase of Lucasfilm looks increasingly questionable with the flop of “Solo" and an agitated fan base who may stay away from this major film or, if they do go, be encouraged to stay away from the franchise going forward.

Having actually enjoyed Episode VIII the first time around, I have since heard the complaints of the more hard-core fans and frankly, there are so many compelling arguments against the movie that while I can still enjoy it, despite the widening holes in it, I do have to acknowledge TLJ as being a very heavily flawed film that made some seriously bad decisions, most importantly regarding the classic characters. If there's a single lesson to be learned by the studios this year, it's probably that genre films need to be treated as more than simple properties with which they can do as they please.

As it happens, I may not get to watch Episode IX at the cinema, and it'd be the first Star Wars film I haven't seen at the cinema on its first run. I was there for all the others right back to the first one and the sad thing is, I'm not even that concerned about that idea — I've cooled down on Star Wars now. What's even sadder than that is that genre audiences are becoming so apathetic about major studio genre films now that this year has seen bomb after bomb of highly recognizable titles that have simply failed to generate interest or have been so poorly handled that it disgusted the built-in audience the studios needed to turn up. To list a few films I, a genre film fan, didn't care to see this year: Charlie's Angels, Terminator: Dark Fate, Dark Phoenix, Hellboy, Gemini Man, Doctor Sleep, Child's Play and Godzilla: King of the Monsters amongst others. All big, expensive films that should have had me sat in the cinema and yet I couldn't care less about a single one of them. Looking at the future, Marvel films, a cinematic universe I care about, looks patchy to say the least and about half of them I don't feel much excitement about.

Is it fatigue? The studios would like you to think that and certainly Star Wars is taking a break, but to be frank, I don't think that's the case. Genre films, particularly those with an attentive fan base and extensive history, are tricky beasts to handle and there's a documented history of studios approaching these things with a lack of respect for what they're dealing with. Critics, myself included, can miss the details that particularly hardcore fans expect and this is clearly the case with studios, too — often mixed with a careless lack of regard for the place these things hold in the fanbase's hearts. The fans aren't tired of genre films; they've been pushed away by them. The worlds they became involved with moved away to more mainstream pastures, altered and repackaged for a general audience at their expense.

Another indicator of what's wrong can be found in the successes of the past few years, in particular, “Logan" and this year's huge hit “Joker." Both films were made with stories in mind first, they were films that respected the characters as being more than potential merchandise, they were lower budgeted, director-driven films that used the ideas in very different ways to how they'd been used before and they had an important primary purpose: to tell a compelling story. “Logan" wove itself into the lore of the X-Men while being a film that wasn't intended for the kind of wider audience a studio wants to cater to and the “Joker" story was one that didn't rely on the DC universe very much at all for its center but managed to use that backdrop of what fans know of Gotham City to contextualize the birth of a future career criminal. Both films use their sources differently but effectively and Joker's heavy deviation from canon is accepted by DC fans because it's both respectful and worthwhile and the fans responded with love and their time and money.

The apathetic response of fans isn't down to inherent negativity, though it is being slapped into them by the corporate approach the studios are taking. The apathy for a lot of films is far more down to the lack of respect for the properties and fans that the studios have shown and continue to show. Sure, Episode IX could be a perfectly enjoyable film in its own right to a more casual viewer but the lore is gone, the history has been rewritten and the things that fans have held dear — like the original characters — have largely been disposed of, marginalized or turned into space giraffe-cow milk chugging hobos.

The takeaway message to the studios is this: These “properties" only exist because the fans love them. Treat the fans and the stories with respect if you want these expensive investments to pay off. It remains to be seen how well Episode IX does, I suspect it'll make money but the future is uncertain and this film will likely define if anyone cares about Star Wars any more.

He's British so forgive the extra U's and the use of the letter S instead of Z. If there's one thing that typifies Glenn's writing it's the 'Video Nasties,' a long list of movies that offended all and sunder during the 1980s in the UK. It's those seemingly offensive fringes of cinema that informed his writing on cinema and the more political area of censorship with a more sympathetic approach to those films that push the limits of taste. But don't worry, he does talk about normal stuff too and isn't likely to go off on a horror movie fuelled rampage.

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