Star Wars Fandom Survey, Part 4: Age and Nostalgia

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Welcome from Part 1, where I talked mainly about methods; Part 2, where I discussed the three major types of Star Wars fans; and Part 3, where I discussed sexism and political attitudes. In this part, I will focus on age and nostalgia. As always, email [email protected] with questions about analyses, methods, results, and so on.

Star Wars was a big part of many fans’ childhoods. In 2005, George Lucas told BBC News that the Star Wars “movies are for children but [fans] don’t want to admit that.” Star Wars has a massive adult fanbase, but my survey’s sample of over five thousand fans suggests that these fans largely became such as children. The median age when first watching a Star Wars film was six, 90% of respondents watched one for the first time before the age of 13, and 96% of the current sample did so before the age of 18.


I also wanted to know if fans felt particularly warm toward the movies that came out when they were children. I looked at this by plotting participants birth year against how favorably they reported feeling toward each of the trilogies. I averaged scores for movies within trilogies to get this overall favorability score.

I did not, however, draw a typical, straight regression line. Instead, I drew what are known as “cubic regression splines.” Put simply, the lines try to be more flexible to the data than typical regression lines. They allow more bends in the line, while still being smooth so as to not read too much into noise.


In the left panel, we see that people who feel most favorably toward the originals are the people who were children when they first released. The same thing is in the middle panel: A bump in favorability for the prequels for people born in 1990 and afterward, since they grew up with these movies (whereas older generations did not). The right panel shows that those who were born around the time of the original trilogy dislike the sequels the most. We are still a decade or two from getting good data on the kids who grew up during the sequel trilogy, but I hypothesize that they will feel more positively toward it than the other age groups.

I interpret this as a sign of nostalgia for participants’ childhoods. Nostalgia is a “sentimental longing or affection for the past” (Baldwin, Biernat, & Landau, 2015). As mentioned in Part 1, I asked respondents how much they “feel a nostalgic and warm feeling” for things from their personal past: friends, family, pets, toys, TV shows, movies, and music. Unfortunately, since these questions did not form a cohesive scale together, I looked at each separately. As many people told me at the end of the survey, one cannot feel nostalgic for pets if they did not have pets; for that reason, I do not include that item here.

In the figure below, I show the correlations between favorability for each of the trilogies and how nostalgic people are. Each box represents a correlation, which can range from -1 (an exact, negative relationship) to +1 (an exact, positive relationship). Empty tiles represent correlations that were not significant, p > .01.


Many of these are considered “small” correlations (< .10) in psychology, so I focus on the larger correlations. In general, we see that nostalgia is correlated with how favorably one sees the originals, while the relationship between the prequels and nostalgia is smaller. The only negative correlation is between the sequels and nostalgia toward toys. Many of the survey’s respondents were referred from toy collectors’ websites, so it makes some intuitive sense that nostalgia in this domain would be powerful. The more nostalgic one reports being toward the toys from their past, the less they like the sequel trilogy. This again shows how the sequel trilogy—particularly The Last Jedi—have broken with tradition, to the chagrin of some nostalgic fans.

I also wanted to compare those born before 1990 and those born in and after 1990, since that is when we see positive attitudes toward the prequels start to increase in the age plot above. The two panels of this plot are mostly the same; it seems like the nostalgia for the original trilogy carried over to the prequels for those born before 1989, even though they were largely adults upon those movie’s releases.

The biggest difference again shows the polarization of the sequel trilogy. Nostalgia is largely unrelated to the sequel trilogy for those born in and after 1990; the negative correlation between toy nostalgia and sequel-trilogy favorability is only present for those born before 1990. It seems the nostalgia that carried over from the original trilogy to the prequel trilogy has not also carried over to the sequel trilogy, which does not directly involve George Lucas and has broken with tradition in casting and narrative decisions.


Many Star Wars fans start young, as did the majority in this sample. This allows nostalgia to be a powerful lens through which people perceive these movies. The more nostalgic people report being, the more they enjoy the Star Wars films. The only exception to this is older fans and the sequel trilogy. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren implores Rey to, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” This line had some meta-contextual meaning: many unexpected narrative choices in The Last Jedi made it break from what one might expect from a Star Wars film. These data suggest some older, nostalgic fans would rather not kill the past.

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