The idea behind fan service is to put something into a work – say a movie – that would please the fans. However, lately it seems the term “fan service” is applied to any stupid shit that clueless, corporate stooges cram into a movie even though nobody wants it. My opinion, is that – broadly speaking – there is good fan service and bad fan service. The problem is that good fan service requires thought to be put into it, whereas any clueless, corporate stooge can cram in bad fan service. This is something that’s been in the back of my mind for some time now, but it really came to the head recently with The Rise of Skywalker, so I’ll use examples from Star Wars.
An example of good fan service – again, in my opinion – is the crumpled AT-AT where Rey lives in The Force Awakens. There’s the nostalgic “I remember those” which seems to be the foundation of modern fan service, but it’s also an element of world building. We had already seen a crashed Star Destroyer, but Rey’s AT-AT drives home that the galaxy is littered with the wreckage from the fall of the Empire. If they had better scripts – and a plan – that might have built to something, other than a McGuffin in the wreck of Death Star II.
While I could use the wreckage of the Death Star II as an example of bad fan service – “I remember that” – I’ll go to the Prequels instead. My example is Anakin building C-3PO. Why? To be perfectly honest, R2-D2 could have just shown up in Episode III in a cameo and that would have been fine, and would have fit in with that one line in A New Hope. There is no reason for C-3PO to be in the Prequels, let alone having been built by Anakin. Oh, it could have been fun to see how the two droids met if the giant shoehorn cramming them into the plot wasn’t so distracting. And that is the problem with bad fan service: the eye-rolling distraction of them outweigh any benefit to the story of having them there. Now, I remember at the time a friend going on about how R2-D2 and C-3PO were the only characters in all the movies, but there doesn’t seem to be a point to that. Especially with the latest trilogy. But the Prequels needed some nostalgia, since that’s easier to do than compelling stories.
I used to be a Star Wars fan. I gave it up in the Prequel days, but this latest trilogy didn’t do anything to change that. As a former Star Wars fan, I wanted good movies. That might have brought me back. But that requires actually writing good movies. I didn’t want just any random shit to remind me of the good movies thrown on screen as “fan service.” But what can we expect from clueless, corporate stooges who are more interested in making a quick buck than lasting art.