A few months ago Mark White’s Star Wars Survey circulated online and you might also have seen it posted on our Clone Corridor Community on Facebook. Yesterday he presented his results, holding up an interesting mirror to the fan community. Let’s dig into what he found: a forgotten generation of Star Wars fans.
If you read Mark’s analysis of his data and his description of the data he collected then what strikes you first is that we are dealing with someone who 1) knows what he is talking about in terms of analysis, 2) cares about what he is doing and 3) has gone about this in a considerate and professional way even though Star Wars is not his main profession. I think we cannot be grateful enough to people who seek to do real work in order to infuse our debates about the fandom with genuine and new contributions. This definitely is one such contribution.
This post will be the first of two, this one focussing on the fan responses to the existing Saga films and the upcoming episode IX. The next post will focus on the fan responses to political and social issues and their connections to film appreciation.
The fans in the sample
The survey results are based on a sample of just over 5,100 fans. Mark gives quite a lot of detail concerning their age-distribution, gender-distribution and so on. The survey was responded to by 60% by males and 36% by females and the remaining percentage for people choosing other gender identifications. This matches very closely to the data we have on our Clone Corridor Community where it is 61% male and 39% female.
Where our Community deviates most strongly from the survey sample is in age distribution. The survey has 25% respondents with birthdays prior to 1977, 25% after 1993 and the rest in the middle. Our Clone Corridor Community has about 90% born after 1995! Clone Corridor Community is a young audience (yes, you are the future my friends!) and geographically and ethnically much more diverse than the survey audience. So when reading the report that is perhaps good to keep in mind.
Attitudes of Star Wars fans
Where the report really starts to become an interesting read is in the attitudes of the sampled fans. A nice surprise is that the large majority of around 60% identifies them selves as some form of “Liberal” rather than “Conservative”. Not entirely surprising the self-classification as “Conservative” also correlates in the sample to negatively responding to “political correctness” and correlates with support of sexist claims. The results found here are in line with other academic literature on the subject where similar findings are reported.
Is there a fanbase that dislikes certain films?
One of the most striking results early in the report is that it debunks a myth about the existence of a particular fanbase disliking particular movies. What it shows is that typically people who like one film in a particular trilogy are more likely to like all the films in that trilogy. This seems most prominent for the Prequel and the Sequel Trilogy, indicating that torrents of online negativity might very well have fortified these fans in their appreciation of their entire trilogy. But more remarkable perhaps: there is no correlation between one’s appreciation of one trilogy and one’s appreciation of any of the two others. In other words, Original Trilogy fans are not more or less likely to have a particular view on any of the other trilogies. So the myth that Original Trilogy fans hated the Prequel Trilogy is revealed as just a myth in this sample of fans.
There seems to be really just one exemption to this: fans of Return of the Jedi were more likely to also like the Prequel Trilogy. It is always nice to see statistics confirm what is also my own experience.
Who disliked The Last Jedi?
Now this is where the survey becomes actually truly revealing. The author classifies the respondents into three distinct groups based on their responses. One group are the “Last Jedi Disowners” and their gender distribution is spectacularly different from that of the other two groups “Saga Lovers” and “Prequel Sceptics”. Where the “Saga lovers” pretty much have the slightly uneven gender distribution of the whole sample, the “Prequel Sceptics” are slightly more evenly distributed but the “Last Jedi Disowners” are 86% male.
Also in terms of age distribution there is a striking result. What I find interesting are two things: there are two maxima in the age distribution of “Saga Lovers”, one around 25 and one around 50. That seems a perfect representation of my own family as well as my own experiences with those who enjoy the Saga as a whole. The “Last Jedi Disowners” however reveal a strong spike around the age-group of the 40’s. What makes this interesting is that these were the people that were to young to see A New Hope’s original release and that grew up in the interval between Return of the Jedi (1983) and The Phantom Menace (1999). Their childhood Star Wars was the Expanded Universe of books.
Perhaps the most surprising result is this: “Last Jedi Disowners” care more about what other fans think than either of the two other groups! An further very interesting observation that the survey made, by clever use of repeated questions separated by additional information about George Lucas’ involvement in The Rise of Skywalker, is that “Last Jedi Disowners” responded by far the most positively to the news of George Lucas’ involvement in Episode IX. Not surprising the “Prequel Sceptics” responded most negatively out of the three groups.
My own conclusion from all of this is that amongst the people who responded very negatively to The Last Jedi must be a significant body of EU fans who were dealt a hard blow when their childhood Star Wars was seemingly rejected by Disney. The Last Jedi is also the film that departs from, or breaks with, most strongly the EU Luke Skywalker storyline. That suggests that much of the uproar about The Last Jedi was actually an echo of the upset about the EU no longer being treated as some kind of canon. In his work with Dave Filoni on The Clone Wars George Lucas has always shown to be very open to including elements of the EU while remaining fairly loyal to the story-lines and concepts developed there. Dave Filoni continued this in Rebels. The survey did not cover these animation series, but I suspect that if it had then this would have been the pattern behind it.
It seems to me that Disney made a grievous mistake or two early on in their adoption of Star Wars. Cancelling The Clone Wars was a bad miscalculation in my view and the return of the series for a finishing mini-season basically proves that they have seen some light on this issue. I think even many EU fans will agree that a Sequel Trilogy would have needed to deviate from the EU as it was in 2013. But I think that the way in which Disney and Lucasfilm handled that was probably well beyond insensitive and is largely to blame for the discontent that exploded amongst one group of fans following The Last Jedi.
As a fan community we tend to think of ourselves as being divided into three generations, alongside the three Trilogies. In my own experience this was already slightly misplaced as some of the “Prequel generation” are actually “Clone Wars generation” in a true sense. But between the Original and Prequel generations there is another, the EU generation. It seems that a lot of the anger, hurt and upset concerning The Last Jedi comes from that ‘forgotten generation‘.