When Star Wars returned to this galaxy in 2015, the impact it made on the culture rivaled that of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. So, Lucasfilm, J.J. Abrams, and Star Wars skipping Comic-Con this year is a surprise in advance of the debut of the final film in the original saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. On paper, this decision makes sense. The film debuted its first teaser trailer at the fan convention dedicated to Star Wars alone, Star Wars Celebration. The Episode IX panel introduced fans to new cast members, offered up details about when the movie will take place in the timeline, and brought back the Emperor himself. Next month, Star Wars will surely make a huge show of the D23 Expo fan convention, a Comic-Con clone that celebrates only Disney properties.
However, given recent developments in the box office and cultural dominance of America’s first feature film franchise, this may be a mistake. Those who follow the events of Star Wars Celebration or the D23 Expo all probably will buy tickets for this film. Sure, the trailers make headlines and people flock to see them online, but is it the same? Holding back big reveals and hype-building events for people who are already super-fans doesn’t do much beyond preach to the converted. If Star Wars had a presence at the San Diego Comic-Con could have done a lot to gain ground back from fans incredibly angry about the last entries in the Skywalker saga. Skipping Comic-Con might be a huge mistake for Star Wars and Disney.
The History of Star Wars and Comic-Con
The history of Comic-Con is an interesting tale, and the event aimed to celebrate more than comics from its inception. (Thanks, Jack Kirby!) Maybe the first major studio film to make an appearance at the event was Star Wars. In 1976, Marvel comics editors working on the Star Wars tie-in comic held a panel and the stars of the film, relative unknowns at the time, showed up to sign autographs. Mark Hamill often says that he was part of convention culture “long before” he became a slightly whiny farmboy who just wanted to pick-up power converters. A fan of comic books, toys, and creature features, Hamill would never dream of skipping Comic-Con. In fact, while there promoting Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, he won an icon award for being such a beloved part of the culture.
Star Wars skipping Comic-Con is anathema, but save for some publishing announcements and toy vendors, it was nowhere to be found at this event. The biggest splash Star Wars ever made at Comic-Con came in 2015, when J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and the cast—new and old members—showed up at SDCC. The place went crazy when Harrison Ford, who’d broken his leg on set, showed up for the panel to join Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher on the stage. The featurette they released at Comic-Con became so instantly iconic that the Tina Fey, Amy Poehler film Sisters parodied it. (Both films released the same week, and the video ended with the plea “You can see them both.”) Star Wars could have gotten away with skipping Comic-Con that year, probably. But because they didn’t the hype-train for that film reached mag-lev speeds.
Star Wars Skipping Comic-Con Starts With The Last Jedi
Fans first heard about Star Wars skipping Comic-Con when two years later the minds behind the Rian Johnson written and directed sequel chose to stay away. Had Star Wars: The Last Jedi made an appearance at Comic-Con, would the controversy surrounding the film been so, pardon the pun, rancorous? It’s impossible to say one way or the other. Given the choices made about Luke Skywalker and Supreme Leader Snoke and Rey’s parents, angering fans seemed unavoidable. But instead of skipping Comic-Con, the Star Wars team could have perhaps better prepared fans for the film they got. Sure, filmmakers want to preserve the surprise elements of the story. An appearance at Comic-Con also might have earned the filmmaker some goodwill amongst casual Star Wars fans. Those who watched The Last Jedi’s Star Wars Celebration panel knew they were making a different movie than before. Those who didn’t were blindsided.
Star Wars skipping Comic-Con that year also meant that super-fans starved for content about the upcoming film turned to spoilers, leaks, or, worst of all, their own head-canon. J.J. Abrams famously gave a TED talk about the joys of “the mystery box.” His thesis boiled down to the idea that the answers to certain mysteries are never as satisfying as the ones fans come up with themselves. So, people envisioned what kind of badass Jedi Master Luke would be, only to be summarily disappointed in the Luke they got. Now, this story was a good one and fit with the larger themes at play. And attending Comic-Con that year could have helped soften those emotional blows by better setting up the goal of the film.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Skipping Comic-Con Sets Up the Same Scenario
So far, the best promotion Star Wars got from Comic-Con this year came from, of all people, Kevin Smith. While promoting the release of the trailer for Jay and Silent Bob Reboot, he spoke about visiting J.J. Abrams on the set after suffering a near-fatal heart attack. In his own Smith-ian way, he made the mystery box argument for his friend. He told a story about how during his visit, the crew told him to check out a set that would “melt your mind.” When he asked J.J. about it, the director cautioned him from seeing it, suggesting he wait for the film because it was for the last shot of the movie. He joked that only made him want to see it more. Then, he got serious.
A filmmaker himself, Smith said that it’s most impressive when another director can “trick” him. Smith knows how movies are made, and by seeing that set, he’d undo some of the magic of the moment in the cinema. Calling J.J. an exemplary “magician,” Smith said he decided to save the surprise for when he sees the film. Hearing Smith talk about the movie and the filmmaker with such affection stirs the same feelings in those who hear it. Star Wars skipping Comic-Con means that fewer people are doing what Smith is. If they showed up this year, the stars, other celebrities, and the fans themselves essentially promote the movie by talking about it that kind of love. And Star Wars could use that kind of love.
Comic-Con Can Help ‘Save’ Star Wars
If one takes social media and entertainment headlines as gospel, Star Wars has a problem right now that skipping Comic-Con doesn’t help. As with a lot of fandoms right now, the vociferous criticism from so-called fans is often steeped in misogyny and political ire. In reality, Star Wars is just as popular as it ever was. It faces serious competition for attention from franchises like Marvel Studios and others, but the nostalgia and love remain. From vendors to cosplayers, the galaxy far, far away still carries a lot of clout with super-fans. Showing up at SDCC feels like a gift to those people when, in fact, these excited fans who love geek culture are doing them a favor. It shows that the so-called “anger” in the fandom is much smaller than it seems in the echo chamber of Twitter, Reddit, and article comment sections.
Star Wars skipping Comic-Con gives the “haters” out there ammunition to attack them. Like when the Game of Thrones show creators skipped the event, it makes it seem like they are afraid of backlash. At best, it showcases arrogance on the part of the studio in thinking that with all this competition for eyeballs and box office dollars that Star Wars doesn’t have to do work to hype people up. This is the final film for the Skywalker saga, at least the one generational fans grew up loving. Lucasfilm and Disney should use Comic-Con, and anything else they can, to build up hype for this. At the very least, Star Wars showing up at Comic-Con would be a great way for fans to celebrate the end of things right where they all began.
Featured image via screengrab
Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.