Star Wars Overload – Better to Fade Away than Burn Out?

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Mike: A couple months back, Disney CEO Bob Iger gave a public update on the status of the Star Wars franchise, confirming that The Last Jedi isn’t being altered in response to the death of Carrie Fisher, making his oft-misinterpreted comment that the Han Solo movie will depict the title character “getting his name”, and much less reported but no less consequential, stating that discussions were underway for “another decade-and-a-half of Star Wars stories.”

This brief burst of newsiness was followed soon after by Celebration Orlando, which was of course followed by weeks of speculation on the new teaser and Luke’s fateful closing line. But while there’s been no shortage of new material this spring to go with the news, things at ETE have been pretty dry for the last few weeks. Speaking for myself, as a news junkie it’s been hard to devote much mental energy to Star Wars with so many major political developments going on here in the US—even as I slowly work my way through Thrawn and, currently, Rebel Rising. And while I didn’t attend Celebration myself, it’s not uncommon to hear talk of attendees needing a “Star Wars break” afterward, lest they end up in a full-bore burnout.

With potentially fifteen years of Star Wars filmmaking coming down the pike (if not more), burnout is a very real concern for fans these days—for some of us, maybe for the first time ever. To those of you who were at SWCO, have you found your interest slipping in the month since? And to all of you, do you find your Star Wars attention span to be cyclical, with periodic rest periods, or does it depend more on what content is coming out at a given time? Can anyone honestly say they’ve never felt genuinely burned out on Star Wars, even for a little while? Alternately, what’s the longest you’ve ever consciously stepped away from it?

David: Yeah, I’m completely overwhelmed right now. Celebration, while an amazing experience for the most part, can become really tiring. You spend four whole days with all of your senses completely taken over by Star Wars material. You only hear the John Williams soundtrack, everyone seems to be dressed like a character out of movies, you see the flash of lightsabers everywhere, you hear the same quotes repeated over and over again, and even the food is Star Wars-themed, so it can end up being too much.

whowatchesthepoofAdd to this that I’ve had a pretty busy month, and I’ve basically taken a short Star Wars break for my own mental health and because I don’t want to end up hating something that I really enjoy. I still do something Star Wars-related every day (check my recast of Watchmen starring Yarael Poof!) but not as much as I did before SWCO. And yes, there’s also the fact that, with everything going on in the world, I feel guilty if I spend too long on something that after all should basically be mere escapism. I feel like I haven’t earned that privilege, but that’s probably just me being political and boring.

Regarding your second question: yes, I’ve been burned out on Star Wars before. I’ve mentioned before that Darksaber made me drop the EU for the first time, but I don’t know if that really counts as total burnout. The worse time was probably after the New Jedi Order series finished. The timing was perfect: I was profoundly disappointed in Attack of the Clones, my long-running RPG campaign had taken a hiatus as we didn’t enjoy the Wizards of the Coast edition of the Star Wars RPG, and The Unifying Force just seemed like a perfect endpoint for the whole Star Wars universe. Even though I was still a moderator on a Star Wars message board and I still attended Celebration VI (although I barely hit the con itself), I was just keeping up with the many friendships I had made in the fandom. It would take the announcement of the sequels to ignite my fandom again, so yeah, you could say that I was burned out for a full decade.

Ben W: I think the post-con burnout is a very real thing for me. Since coming back from Orlando, I read Guardians of the Whills and then got caught up on the billion other things that have been going on around me and just stopped paying attention to almost everything Star Wars-related. People have been asking me about what I saw and what I thought of the trailers and the news and everything else that’s been happening and been announced, and while I can summon up some academic thoughts, there’s not a lot of enthusiasm behind it.

Celebration was alternatively amazing and frustrating, but the slide down from the end makes the whole event feel more like a high than anything, a temporary thing that could never be sustained over the long term. After a point, even the convention itself started to burn out for me, it got too overwhelming for my brain to make sense of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. The con itself was such a rush—surrounded by Star Wars twenty-four hours a day, early mornings and late nights, surrounded by thousands of people all talking about and cheering and roaring for the same things—that going back to a “normal” life almost unavoidably feels like something lesser.

Maybe I’m just tired. It’s been a long month, I’ve had other stuff going on IRL anyway, and something had to get squeezed out of my mental rotation to keep me from going bonkers. But there is something to be said about fandom coming and going in waves. It’s especially easy for me to take breaks from my dedicated fandom over the summer when Rebels isn’t on and there isn’t a new movie coming out until the winter, to stop following and discussing as much about the day-to-day ups and downs of the fandom. There have been months and years that I’ve left Star Wars behind, not consciously so much as just having nothing going on that really interests me. I’m sure I’ll be right back in the swing of things once Rebels starts up again in the fall, but right now, I’ve got other things I’m more focused on.

Mark: I didn’t go to SWCO, but I was at SWCE last year, and it is an overwhelming experience. Even the short night’s sleep you get at the end of each day is filled with Star Wars-related dreams. I don’t remember feeling particularly burned out following it last year aside from being physically exhausted, but it was my first con so I suppose the novelty was still there. Even though I knew I’d only be watching SWCO via the livestream (which we had on all weekend), I did consciously take a break and read other things after Rogue One, and only picked up Star Wars books again after Celebration was over.

Between Revenge of the Sith and the start of the new canon books in 2014 I really did go through a huge hiatus. I’d never been drawn into the EU, and even during the prequels, there were things like new Harry Potter books and new Lord of the Rings films that were vying for my attention, so I’d naturally kind of flit from one of those fandoms to another depending on which release was most “current.” After Sith I drifted away from it, thinking Star Wars was basically finished, and didn’t even watch The Clone Wars (which I really regret now – if I’d known how involved Lucas was at the time, I’d probably have given it a try). I saw the “new canon” announcement in April 2014 as a chance to really get into it this time and try to keep up with the novels and comics, but I have consciously tried to take breaks, because I can see how easy it is to get burned out by all of this, and I think I’ll continue to do that.

I’m interested to see how the general public respond to getting new Star Wars movies so frequently, too – particularly when we get to the six month gap between The Last Jedi and the Han Solo movie. I’ve already seen a few “Disney is milking it!” articles, and by next summer I imagine we’ll be into a full blown “superhero fatigue!”-style narrative (which I’m a victim of, having not seen a superhero movie at the cinema since Man of Steel, but which doesn’t seem to have affected the box office). Variety will probably be key to keeping it fresh – slowly start to move away from the traditional Star Wars characters, eras and genres and expand the universe into a sandbox in which to tell all kinds of stories. And taking a break from the Skywalker saga after Episode IX to keep it generational is probably a good idea. That’s assuming they even want to continue the episode-numbered Skywalker saga at all – Kathleen Kennedy has hinted they might not, in which case standalone adventures starring Rey, Finn and Poe might be the way to go. Keep it fresh and keep it moving forward.

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Nicole: When I think about fandom burnout, emotional disconnect is the first concept that comes to mind. It is hard for me to care about a certain title in retrospect unless I can participate in an enthusiastic community, even if it’s very small with just a handful of other fans.

The only time I experienced true Star Wars burnout was in the year leading up to the Disney buyout. I dreaded every new book that was announced because once it arrived, so would the (both warranted and eyebrow-raising) criticism and negativity from my area of fandom. I read my way through Fate of the Jedi like it was a chore, and as messy and grueling as it could be at times, it was a chore that needed to be done; after all, there was no other new post-RotJ content to consume about my favorite characters. The exception was the few and far-between comics like the New Jedi Order era’s Invasion, but they didn’t get enough attention and fizzled away. I started spending a lot of time in the BBC Sherlock fandom.

Today, I have no fears about burnout because the vast amount of Star Wars content available means that somewhere, at any given moment, there are others who are going just as wild as I am about something or another — from a cozy five-person pocket of Evaan x Leia shippers to the generous amount of Star Wars Rebels fans to my thousands of extended family members freaking out about The Last Jedi. When I get tired or bored with one part of Star Wars, there is now a feeling of relaxation that overcomes me that wasn’t there prior to 2013 because I can retreat to greener pastures and still be active in fandom. Remember, kids: Bob Iger isn’t going to put a gun to your head and force you to buy tickets to a Star Wars movie you don’t care about — at least, not until the 2020 election. So, have fun, and let’s enjoy the next three and a half years of voluntary Star Wars consumption.

Ben C: Is there a difference between burnout and simply really disagreeing with the direction of a franchise, to the degree of not buying the material anymore? Maybe not, but it’s the more accurate description. My first real point of wavering in this area was the New Jedi Order, which marketed itself as one thing but then tended to deliver something else. I did make it to the end of that, made it through Dark Nest too, then read the first Legacy of the Force book and opted for the ‘screw this for a lark’ and bailed on that era. I did continue with Dark Horse Comics and other era material from Del Rey, but it definitely became more of an effort.

Second point of disagreement: The Great Reboot. Yeah, this was never going to go down well, logic be damned. The only reason I gave the new stuff a chance is the first book had three magic words: John. Jackson. Miller. Well, fine then, I have to give it a chance now.

Third point: The TFA bomb. Aye, a bomb, for it did detonate loud and wide across cyberspace igniting a conflagration still ongoing. The jury is out for me on The Force Awakens, dependent on whether The Last Jedi and Episode IX can salvage its excesses. Let’s say the two films to come do one hell of a salvage job, will it make up for TFA? Ask me in three years; seriously, it’s all part of a plan. And if I decided against it? Well, there is a neat, handy excision point – Return of the Jedi.

All in all, I don’t really hit burnout because SW, for me, is one story among a multitude. If it stops being enjoyable I have many alternatives, across the mediums of TV, film, audio drama, comics and books to seek solace in. On the anthology films I’ll continue a case by case approach. I didn’t care about Rogue One until I saw the teaser trailer. Right now, I’d be more interested in an Obi-Wan film than Han Solo but that might change when a trailer becomes available. A film a year isn’t overkill, so long as they keep the quality consistent, so stealing a trick of Marvel Studios’.

Mike: Like Ben (okay, not remotely like Ben), I’ve never truly felt burned out on Star Wars, or felt the need to consciously step away from it. With this and most other things, my motto is “everything in moderation”—by the time I even got into this franchise there were already scores of books and comics available so I’ve never been subject to the expectation that I could keep up with everything. There are still late Legends books I want to read, in fact, but haven’t gotten around to. If it takes me a decade? So be it.

Since I’m a slow reader, just keeping up with the Star Wars books I choose to read can monopolize around two-thirds of my year, meaning that I will make a point of reading a couple other things whenever a publishing gap does come along, but that’s more about balancing my other interests than feeling burned out. Even back during the “dry” years between the prequels and the reboot, as I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with the flagship novels, there was always something going on I was excited about, like the Knights of the Old Republic comics or Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor or what have you. Looking back on that period from where we are now, I feel much more enthusiasm about the general state and direction of the franchise but at the same time I don’t think I was less of a fan then, or that it took up less of my attention. As I suggested at the top, my brain will organically turn to other things when other things present themselves, but not to the point that I don’t, as David said, do something Star Wars-y every day, even if it’s just a few tweets or a few pages of Rebel Rising.

The way I see it, getting periodically burned out on something means you were maybe overdoing it to begin with (except you, Ben, keep writing those Rebels Revisiteds). If you maintain a moderate level of attention (relatively speaking, of course) at all times, and remain realistic about both what truly interests you and what you can keep up with logistically, then there should be no need to ever flip the table and walk away, even if—especially if—you know you’ll come crawling back eventually.

Jay: Nah, I’m not burned out. Not yet. I’m just keeping things at a low simmer. My Star Wars fandom has never been all-consuming anyway: I have plenty of other things going on that I can worry about, when SW feels like it’s losing interest. The only real burnout I had was during the late New Jedi Order/late prequel era — basically somewhere around 2004 or so, I sort of lost interest in the films and the books. But even then, I still saw RotS, still attended my first two Celebrations, and still lotf-betrayalkept up with the fandom and read books and the like. I just lost interest in the mainline movie/TV/big novel series.

I stopped reading the main novels during Legacy of the Force. It just wasn’t for me. And I never wanted to be one of those people who endlessly griped about things or hate-read books, so once I decided they weren’t for me, I let it be and just didn’t talk about them. But I still picked up the non-series novels, still read some comics, et cetera. I was a part-time SW fan, who still visited a SW message board daily. Can you really call that burnout, or just a change in focus?

Celebration VI brought me back to the main fold, and the Disney sale added some interesting aspects to that. Add the new canon to that and the new films, and it seems like the old glory days of the early EU to me once more. Everything is new and exciting, and it seems very much a back to basics. I don’t love everything, much like I didn’t hate everything back during my quasi-burnout. But overall, my engagement with SW is much more positive than it was previously.

I don’t anticipate future burnout. I think there may be a withdrawal, an easing back at some point — I may no longer feel the need to read every single thing as soon as it comes out, or at all. But it’s still early days to be quite honest. And who knows what TLJ or Star Wars land or the next anthology film will bring.

8 comments

  1. chriswerms says:

    Mike,

    I really liked your point that you can avoid burnout by not being all-in all of the time anyway. I feel like I would have burnt out sooner not having been working on my degree for so long. I feel like at times when I am ahead on my course work, or if its slow this side of the publishing world, my mind instantly needs new Star Wars material to occupy my time.

    Thanks for sharing, everybody. Interesting to see how many bowed out around the same time.

    • chriswerms says:

      You know, reading this post – I have to ask: were the Legacy of the Force and Fate of the Jedi series just prolonging the inevitable death Legends would have faced anyway? Could the franchise have survived without the reboot?

      I mean, I know we had the upcoming Sword of the Jedi series, and they had finally moved the Big Three out, but still. I wonder if we would have really had the material between FotJ and Legacy. Would we still make compulsory purchases? It doesn’t sound like that would be the case. Would sales have declined enough to push the franchise down?

      • Mike Cooper Mike Cooper says:

        For Star Wars just “surviving” isn’t an issue I don’t think. While I was thrilled to finally see an apparent moving-on from the Big Three (and skeptical that it’d stick) I think unless SotJ happened to be an amazing runaway success SW would probably have just settled into a period of diminished returns with no end in sight. And DHC may not have been selling the way Marvel is now but they had a solid enough readership (and more consistent quality than the novels tbh) that I don’t think they’d have gone kaput either. No, the worst-case scenario in my view would be if SotJ had sold poorly enough that by now we’d be back to getting ever-more-insane Big Three stories in ever-more-desperate attempts to keep sales up. But even then the franchise is “surviving”.

  2. Pearlann says:

    I’ve never felt burned-out, but after RotS, I thought the story felt concluded (enough) so I just let a sense of completed satisfaction set in. I would always still be a fan, but not seeking anything new. The saga was over. There was no indication that there would ever be anything else. I even distinctly remember feeling sad in the last minutes of the movie knowing this would be the last new SW I would ever see.

    This new surge has reignited a fascination I haven’t felt in a long time. Even with the prequels, we basically knew what was going to happen, so it was a limited speculation. This is totally open ended, and if there’s one thing it has reminded me that SW does so brilliantly is stir and let the imagination run wild. For my entire childhood, I wondered what the “Clone Wars” were like just from a simple one-off line from Obi Wan. This feels like that again. Endless “what if”s, and as long as there’s questions, I don’t think I’ll ever get burnt out on it.

    I agree with the new direction. I love the new yet-classic feel of it all. My imagination is running wild again. I’m happy.

  3. Master Ki-Aaron-Mundi says:

    Solid reflections. It’s intriguing to me that so many of you experienced burnout around the same time–post-AOTC up until the announcement of the new trilogy. Nicole’s comments resonated the most with me; if there’s an engaged community present, I’ve avoided burnout. The events that most led my fandom to lie fallow for a time were the shutting down of the official StarWars.com message boards and the subsequent shutdown of the official site’s blogs section. It’s been the community-killers for me that have most led me into the fandom wilderness.

  4. Eric Brown says:

    I was just pondering yesterday my burnout on SWTOR – and I realized it happened when they moved to their new expansions with this other mysterious empire — and I lost interest because it just didn’t feel like Star Wars anymore.

    The other times where my interest waned in the EU had this theme too – it didn’t feel like Star Wars. The New Jedi Order — it didn’t feel like Star Wars to me. So much of the Fate of the Jedi series didn’t feel like Star Wars to me.

    I’d suggest (at least for me) that the heart of Star Wars has always been a bit of a call to personal reflection – will you take a stand against the seduction of evil (an evil it would be easier to go along with)? Will you fight down your own inner demons and serve others? Follow the light or fall to the dark?

    Han faces that in ANH. It’s a major theme of Empire. It’s the climax for Vader in ROTJ. Even as I didn’t like parts of the prequels, that focus on personal reflection and actions was still there.

    The New Jedi Order – the enemy was too alien and evil. Who was going to be seduced to the space-masochists? In the Fate of the Jedi – everyone stinks. In fact, in the past decades whenever the stories have gone gritty or grey (oh, please no more grey jedi!) it has clouded that examination of morality, that story that brings up self-reflection and affirms that yes, it is good to strive after goodness and to love and serve… even at a cost to yourself.

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