Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss will make the next Star Wars movie after Star Wars: Episode IX The Rise of Skywalker, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger confirmed Tuesday. Nothing else is known about the untitled Star Wars from the Game of Thrones creators, except for its pre-Christmas weekend, 2022 release date. This means Star Wars fans and Game of Thrones fans alike will have three full years to worry about their expectations and how they will be subverted.
The internet originally promised to destroy monoculture, replacing a top-down mainstream culture—determined by radio, television and Hollywood gatekeepers—with a populist paradise of niche communities and freethought promising a venue for every idea, creation and taste. Instead, thanks to social media platform monopolies and the cumulative peer pressure of all of humanity screaming at once, the mainstream is stronger than ever. Movie screens are dominated by sequels and franchises. Pop music anoints unimpeachable stars. Everyone watches the same television shows, often frantically, to avoid being spoiled on social media, where millions all discuss the same episode.
The same weight of minds leads to conformity in our critical language too, shrinking the range of reactions and filtering every critique through a handful of buzzwords: “plot armor,” “tropes,” “canon,” “fan service,” “plot holes.” One that has gotten a lot of play recently is the idea of a story “subverting expectations.”
Both Game of Thrones in its final season and Star Wars: The Last Jedi have been widely lambasted for subverting expectations. But what’s so strange about the idea of subverted expectations is its origins in the viewer before watching a movie or TV show. What is the actual content of a critique that amounts to a viewer not getting what they expected? More than an analysis of a specific story, the idea of subverted expectations emerges from before release. It is a complaint about the mismatch between a story and what has been built out of its marketing or its franchise by the fan community.
Viewers upset at subverted expectations get around this by arguing that directors and writers are keenly aware of the internet’s reaction to a previous movie or episode, including the predictions fans make for what will come next. The mistake, in this analysis, is intentionally defying those predictions, changing what “should” have happened to avoid following through on what the fans saw as the inevitable consequences. Once again, it’s a critique situated somewhere other than the movie or episode, this time in the minds and motives of creators.
But doesn’t it seem more likely that Rian Johnson killed Supreme Leader Snoke in The Last Jedi because it gratified the story he wanted to tell—about the relationship between the two poles of a new generation of Force users—rather than as a conscious effort to undermine what the fans wanted? Couldn’t dissatisfaction with Mad Queen Daenerys be more the fault of a rushed final season, than Benioff and Weiss intentionally juking what they thought the viewers wanted?
Complaints about subverting expectations are ultimately selfish—even to the point of projecting into the motives of complete strangers—though it’s not hard to see why. With so much of the pop culture dictated by corporate franchises, viewers feel exactly as invested as massive marketing machines want them to feel. Social media campaigns, ad buys, the deluge of press poring over every utterance from cast members—all of this is calculated to maximize a feeling of personal investment. But a sense of betrayal and outrage is an inevitable side effect.
The new Star Wars movie from the Game of Thrones creators has several advantages that might insulate it from complaints about subverted expectations. The three year gap between Star Wars movies is a big one; putting some distance between both The Rise of Skywalker and fan disappointment with Game of Thrones Season 8. Since it’s not part of the Skywalker Saga, it won’t have the decades of expectations fans had for legacy characters like Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. Especially if it were set in some other era, away from the Original or Sequel Trilogies, the Game of Thrones Star Wars could write its own expectations. We’ll still find a way to get mad about it, though.