Fan theories and fandoms can be incredible. The ability to nerd out with random strangers about something that you love is one of life’s great pleasures. I grew up along side the birth of internet fandom. Harry Potter was one of the first fandoms that took off online, primarily during the years-long gaps between books where readers were left to their own imaginations to fill in Harry’s story.
Fan theories have always existed, but the internet has given them an entirely new platform. I literally own a book published by the website MuggleNet called What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7. It’s fun to fantasize, to imagine, to piece together the clues that the author has left for you. It’s fun to have a community of people to theorize with, to share ideas with, to learn from, to debate with, to love with.
It’s fun and every bit an ego boost to have guessed the author’s intentions correctly.
LOST was the first time I noticed the dark side of fan theories, the ugly way that people get when their theories aren’t actualized. J.J. Abrams and Co. told us over and over that LOST was about the characters and not the answers to the island’s mysteries, but the finale still ripped a seam down the middle of the fandom – on one side are those who accept it, and on the other are the people who are pissed that they spent six years splicing clues together for nothing.
Game of Thrones is the fan-theory monster that I can’t quit. And Game of Thrones exhausts me. The seven weeks that the season aired this year were the most insane seven weeks of my life.
Every time I looked at my phone I had eighty (no exaggeration) new texts in my group chat about the week’s episode. I deep dived every night trying to find recap and theory articles. I re-watched the episode three times while I was on vacation just to make sure I didn’t miss a thing.
It’s obsessive and amazing, but most of all, it’s exhausting.
Because it sucks the enjoyment out of the show.
Do I really want to know what happens? Do I want to spoil it for myself? Do I want to be upset when what I thought was going to happen doesn’t happen? Do I want to be upset that I ruined the surprise if it does?
I have basically avoided everything Star Wars this year. I didn’t watch a full trailer, I didn’t read any articles or reviews or watch any cast interviews. During opening week, I skimmed past anything that looked like it might say Star Wars or The Last Jedi on my social media.
I didn’t want to know. I’m a huge Star Wars fan and I wanted to go into the movie without any context. I learned from the Harry Potter and Hunger Games franchises that expectations usually only dump me into a sea of disappointment. I recall with clarity the snotty, raging disappointment I had walking out of the theater after the first Hunger Games movie. I remember the fiery text I shot off to my friends:
“I’m so disappointed.”
I didn’t love The Force Awakens the first time I saw it for the same reason. My expectations were soaring. But then you watch it again and you see if for the things you couldn’t see it for before. You pick out the themes, the jokes, the character development. When you leave your expectations at home you get to live in the story like a kid wandering around in the snow for the first time.
You get to live in wonder.
Now I’m not trying to say that your expectations should be dirt so that nothing will ever disappoint you, but I am trying to say it’s time to let your fan theories chill in the back of the closet for a little bit. I know they’re fun, I know that they are often a badge of investment, proof of fan-ship, but they are ruining your movie-going experience. They are making you angry when the point of entertainment is to entertain. They cloud the way you watch, they blur the things you see.
Sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy the movies (and the world) for what it is instead of what you think it ought to be.