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Sunday, November 26, 2023

ReleaseTheJJCut Brings Conspiracy Theories to Star Wars

Everyone is looking for a #release. In the political Twittersphere, it’s usually about paperwork. #ReleaseTheReport on Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Or, conversely, #ReleaseTheMemo that supposedly damned the entire inquiry. In the portions of the internet most consumed by fandom—stan Twitter, niche subreddits, meme YouTube—the release that people are chasing is often an alternate, potentially fictional director’s cut of a middling movie. Especially if it’s a movie that was always doomed to sorely disappointed them.


The inevitably fan-disappointing film du jour is Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the final installment of the sequel trilogy helmed by director J. J. Abrams. Negative fan sentiment—mostly about the movie being overcrowded with characters, forced (sorry) full of Easter eggs, and emotionally unsatisfying—was at a steady digital murmur until an incendiary Reddit post went viral on January 2, 2020. The post was from user egoshoppe, a moderator of the r/saltierthancrait subreddit, which is, by its own description, “a community for those who are critical of the recent new Star Wars revival from Disney.” According to egoshoppe, the fans weren’t alone in finding Rise of Skywalker mediocre. Supposedly, J. J. Abrams didn’t like it either.

In the (extremely unverified) post, egoshoppe claims to have had contact with an unnamed source who worked on Rise of Skywalker. The source alleges that Abrams made a three-hour cut of the film that Disney and Lucasfilm edited and released without his permission or involvement. The “why” of it all gets a little hazy, though, since motives for the changes to the purported #JJCut range from appeasing parts of the fandom to making Abrams look bad as revenge for signing with Warner Bros.

“They don’t care about being believed or not,” egoshoppe says of their source. “I knew myself going in that I probably would also not be believed by most people, and I was OK with that.” Thing is, lots of fans did believe egoshoppe, and soon they were clamoring for Disney to #ReleaseTheJJCut. Between egoshoppe’s post, actor Dominic Monaghan’s statement that “there was so much stuff” left out of the theatrical cut, teased plotlines (like Finn’s origins) that were never resolved, and comments from Abrams himself that seemed to agree with the film’s critics, some fans were convinced that some glorious, unbesmirched version must exist.

Then came the backlash denouncing the #JJCut as an implausible bit of fantasy, a poorly conceived conspiracy theory with zero verification. (Admittedly, that Warner Bros. revenge angle does seem far-fetched, especially since the deal with WarnerMedia was signed with Abrams’ production company, Bad Robot, which has been working with Warner for years.) Egoshoppe asked to remain unnamed to avoid further scrutiny. The post’s virality was wholly unforeseen and unintended. “I’m just a geek and a Star Wars fan sharing what my source shared with me. I have never had media attention over a Reddit post,” they say. “The hashtag started organically while I was asleep. I’m not even on Twitter.”

While #ReleaseTheJJCut may have caught egoshoppe by surprise, it does fit neatly into online fandom tradition. It rhymes most closely with #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, which fans employed to call for an alternate, grittier cut of Justice League made by director Zack Snyder before he was replaced by Joss Whedon. (Their thirst is unquenched even two years later: Fans paid for a #ReleaseTheSnyderCut ad during an English soccer match just this week.) The phenomena isn’t specific to giant blockbusters, either. Any time a beloved television show or franchise is due to end, whether it’s Sherlock or Game of Thrones, some fans will develop and invest emotionally in how things “ought” to play out. If the story doesn’t bend their way, studios and production companies throttling art to fit their corporate will make fitting villains, ripe for conspiracy theorizing.

While Disney may not be enjoying the furor, it seems to be a unifying, almost cathartic experience for some Star Wars fans. “I think the most interesting part has been that different parts of the fandom have all caught glimpses of things in this movie that didn’t feel quite right, or that felt rushed or unfinished,” egoshoppe says. “So this idea of there being another cut out there has really resonated with a lot of different people.”

It’s easy to see why a #JJCut would appeal to more fans than Rise of Skywalker, which clearly grappled with many competing fan expectations. Having hypothetical director’s cuts and theories about why they’ve been locked away are a way for disappointed fans to maintain their headcanons—idealized, personalized, in-universe dreams, kept perfect by the fact that they’ll never have to exist.

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