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Why a silly ‘Star Wars’ rumor means so much to its fans

A recent rumor about resetting the ‘Star Wars’ universe by erasing the sequel trilogy shows us that the ‘Star Wars’ universe is alive and well.

Daisy Ridley is Rey in “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.” One writer recently interviewed Daisy Ridley about ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ and a rumored ending where Ben Solo lives.
Daisy Ridley is Rey in “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker.”
Lucasfilm Ltd.

A new rumor about Disney set the “Star Wars” culture into chaos, raising questions about the future of the series and what it could mean for generations of “Star Wars” fans to come.

The rumor was simple — if not ridiculous. A YouTuber suggested that he had heard from inside sources that Disney planned to reboot the entire “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, erasing “The Force Awakens,” “The Last Jedi” and “The Rise of Skywalker” in one fell swoop.

Disney would use tactics seen in “Star Wars Rebels” to make it so that the sequel trilogy existed in an alternative timeline and did not represent the actual series of events that followed “Return of the Jedi.”

“Star Wars” has had a collection of novels, comics and video games that told of a post-“ROTJ” story — originally called the expanded universe but renamed “Star Wars Legends” — so there is precedent for such a move. It would totally reshape the story as we’ve known it, changing the way we look at “Star Wars.”

There’s been no word from Disney. There’s been no word from Lucasfilm. There’s been secondary reports that the rumor is slightly different (the sequel trilogy would be “ignored” and not “erased” as previously explained). It’s likely these are just ridiculous rumors to stir up interest in a YouTube channel, an article or whatever. Maybe “Star Wars” fans are just bored and seeking new content. We’re getting some, after all. Disney Plus announced a new animated show called “The Bad Batch” — a sequel series to “The Clone Wars” — would debut in 2021.

But still, the excitement around the recent sequel trilogy rumor raises questions about how fans influence their chosen pop culture franchise. A rumor could start. Fans could spread it. And soon enough, the franchise itself might change to appease the rumors.

But this shows us something important about “Star Wars” and community. The idea that a rumor like this could spread so widely and ignite such a reaction may be a sign that “Star Wars” isn’t dead and that the community might be in a strong place.

All the fear of “Star Wars” being out of ideas and losing its luster may not be how fans feel. If a rumor like this can ignite a fervor, it shows the “Star Wars” fan community is alive and well.

What rumors do to pop culture

Rumors are aplenty in the pop culture space. Sometimes — as improbable as they seem — they prove true. For example, there were rumors for years that the “Justice League” film wasn’t the complete version. The film had a so-called “Snyder cut” from director Zack Snyder, who had to leave the project early to deal with a family matter. Now, almost three years later, HBO has announced that the Snyder cut will air on HBO Max. The decision proves the Snyder Cut is real. And, because of fan energy, it’s going to be released.

Consider the rumor over Colin Trevorrow’s leaked “Episode IX” script. Trevorrow was originally slated to direct “Star Wars: Episode IX.” He allegedly wrote a script called “Duel of the Fates.” Details of the script leaked online, telling of a vastly different story to what we saw with “The Rise of Skywalker.”

Rumors and pop culture aren’t anything new, said Kendall Phillips, a pop culture professor at Syracuse University. Hollywood history is full of gossip, rumors and news about celebrities, movies, television and products.

There’s been no official confirmation on the rumor. But concept art from the film’s art designers came out soon after, suggesting that the script made its way to art designers — a sign that it was indeed real.

Surfing the internet for “Star Wars” rumors isn’t something surprising since these leaks and rumors are tailored to entice fans into the lore, said Andrew Peck who studies the internet and folklore as a professor at Miami University of Ohio.

“I think there’s a very sort of similar allure here between rumor and something like a conspiracy theory that maybe there’s a buy-in to something, like this idea of the sequels getting, you know, redacted or made non canonical,” he said. “Maybe there’s a buying into this idea because people really want it to be true.”

Some rumors take off. Others don’t. Entertainment websites are packed with news, reports and rumors of upcoming projects. But only certain ones stick and succeed beyond the daily grind of news.

People believe them because they want to be right about the news, Peck said.

He said it’s “alluring” to “buy into these early rumors thinking something before everyone else or you know the truth that other people don’t know yet.”

Of course, “the cost for being wrong just isn’t huge,” he said. “Honestly once these rumors, start gaining a critical mass, you get this kind of discourse about the rumor. It kind of creates a sort of extra textual interaction.”

Indeed, fans will start talking about the rumors with other fans. Debate ensues between each other.

And that’s where the beauty of community begins.

How the fan community thrives

Rumors amid pop culture franchises hit on a more popular topic — the push and pull between corporations, fans and artists. These rumors tell us about the state of our pop culture — the pulse of the nation when it comes to entertainment. And it shows us something about who has the true power when it comes to franchise.

According to Phillips, it’s not unlikely that Disney or other studios leak information on purpose, hoping it will get in the hands of journalists and content creators. Letting rumors float about the pop culture discussion help these corporations receive immediate feedback about what they’re working on.

“There’s no doubt that that’s possible,” he said. “There is no doubt that — not all the time but at least sometimes — that is a studio saying, ‘Is it worth trying to get you know Hugh Jackman to play this role? We’ll see what the fan reaction is.’”

Phillips said modern pop culture allows studios “to see kind of what’s hot, what’s getting attention, what’s attracting positive or negative conversation,” he said.

Phillips gave me an example. Say Amy Adams was rumored to be cast in a new “Austin Powers” flick. It probably wouldn’t create much discussion online because “Austin Powers” is a relatively dead franchise. But let’s say Amy Adams was tapped to lead a new “Star Wars” film. Instantly there would be discussions about whether or not she was fit for the role, how successful she’d be and what that meant for the “Star Wars” franchise as a whole.

That immediate discussion is a sign to experts — and corporations, studios and creators — that a franchise is alive and well. Rumors that don’t create widespread discussion among a group of fans means that fandom isn’t probably living too much longer, Phillips said.

“These rumors that you’re writing about, they become evidence” and “the clearest indication that a franchise is alive. It has not settled into some small corner where people are still talking about it on a Facebook friends group.”

The difference in 2020 is that someone can tweet out some rumor and watch hundreds of thousands of likes and retweets filter in.

“Star Wars” has nothing really going for it right now. The second season of “The Mandalorian” is still months away. A new movie won’t come out for at least two years, if not longer. There’s nothing really new on the horizon for the franchise. Things seem dormant.

But that’s why a rumor like this can grow and stretch. Fans want to talk about it. They want to lay down their opinions on the Sabaac table and see who picks them up.

The fact that a rumor like the Disney reset idea — something that literally has no basis in fact — stirs the community so much could be a sign that “Star Wars” isn’t dead after all.

Should fans avoid these rumors?

Say you’re watching a movie. Your friend texts you a link to an article about this rumor. You read the piece. It entertains you. Next time you’re on Google News, your feed is filled with “Star Wars” news and rumors.

Sometimes, these rumors are unavoidable.

Peck — who researches algorithms and internet folklore — said there’s a “sort of chain going on here.”

A YouTube vlogger shares a rumor. A “digital tabloid” picks it up, Peck said.

“And so they report on the rumor, and it becomes one level amplified and, in turn, one level divorced from its original context,” he said.

Mainstream sources pick up on the stories from there. It becomes a story about the controversy of the community, which amplifies things another level. Rumors that are amplified enough can make fans think it’s true.

Peck compared the “Star Wars” rumor run with the Tide Pod controversy. In the beginning, a few people here and there ate Tide Pods and issued a challenge. The news talked about it. More people picked up on it and started to do it.

“And it ends up basically turning the rumor into something that people are doing, or think is real. This is post-truth news. This is how fake news works.”

So there may be some indication here to avoid these “Star Wars” rumors. Yes, it can help you stay engaged with your community. But it could also make you believe something is true when it’s not.

Peck’s advice? Assume something is false until proven otherwise. That’s a general rule.

“But as a fan and as a ‘Star Wars’ fan, there’s a part of me that really wants rumors to be true,” he said. “So, the academic in me wants to say be skeptical, and the fan in me wants to say, you know, what’s the harm in believing for a little while.”