I’m sure it varies by country and by region, state, age group, etc. For me, for a time, Star Wars was something magical, something that was familiar, comfortable, that was appealing and hard to refuse. Now it seems more like a relic of the past, a cool piece of history wrapped up in nostalgia. My views may be just my own, but I can articulate my perception.
I was a baby in the 70’s. In the 80’s, Star Wars was a blockbuster franchise (I was 5 when ROTJ came out), and if you were a kid, it was all about the toys and make-believe. It was awesome. By 1985, I remember seeing the toys in the stores and walking right by, without the interest I once had. Yes, ROTJ was back in theaters that year, but we didn’t go see it (if I had my way, we would have, but we taped it off TV the first chance we got). So I think Star Wars wasn’t that big for me or other kids I knew by the late 80’s. By high school I discovered the Zahn books existed, and a couple of friends (who were nerdy super fans) got me interested in it again. The general view seemed to be that these were some old cheesy movies made for kids… until the special editions came out, then people caught the nostalgia bug. “I remember these movies when I was a kid!” teenagers were saying. Everybody acknowledges that Star Wars was a popular franchise in its time, regardless of whether they personally cared for it. It has had more lasting power in peoples imaginations than say, Indiana Jones, or American Graffiti (or even E.T.), and it has almost had the dedicated following of Star Trek (I feel like Trek fans have had to put up with mixed quality product for a lot longer, forcing them to weather a lot of storms and struggle as fans perceived as defending a shoddy franchise). I should pause there, because Trek has always been seen as a cult thing (since the original series was cancelled after only three seasons and stayed alive only on fan goodwill for some time). Star Wars kind of blows everything up, and then goes away, repeat.
I credit this popularity with the movies. I doubt many people became Star Wars fans because of a novel or a comic book, those things cater to people who already are into the franchise.
That hype ramped up to the release of Episode I and then I remember a lot of people kind of losing interest, thinking it kind of sucked, and collecting wasn’t what it used to be, etc. My superfan friends and I kept up with it, but the rest of the public seems to have lost interest once a movie left theaters. I stayed a fan through the video games (much less the EU of the 2000s, I had lost interest in most of the EU by the late 90s). Then it seemed like people got interested again with the Force Awakens, and while the hype continued through the Disney movies, I soured a lot on Star Wars in general. I had been losing interest in the EU by the late 90s and while I was hoping for it to reset, I didn’t quite like what we got.
This negative attitude of mine can be exaggerated, I really don’t hate Star Wars, I just don’t have the superfan (fanboy) attitude that some of my friends had, where they would find the good in every product, any excuse to justify buying it and pretending to like it. I wasn’t ashamed to be a fan, but I wanted to clarify to people that I didn’t like “all of it.” The sad part is the poor quality (IMHO) of some of the Star Wars product turned me off from the franchise for awhile. I had to cleanse my pallet by watching the despecialized editions again. I am far more interested in going back to some of the early EU and the old games, than checking out the latest thing that says “Star Wars” on it.
As for the people I know, they seem to be mostly casual fans “Oh I remember that was fun when I was a kid” who are curious and will check out a new movie, but generally won’t stick around for a trilogy unless they are dragged to it. Contradictions in the lore don’t bother them because they don’t pay that close attention or don’t really remember it very well. The superfans I know have been tested, most of them are still fans, but they have a harder time defending the new stuff. I can’t speak for everyone. I know that there are forums that are packed with people, there are conventions full of people (well there were, before the pandemic). To me, in my life, Star Wars seems to have been a fad that comes and goes. That doesn’t diminish the importance to film, or the merchandising empire it built, or my personal love of it.
Star Wars is part of the culture, but that doesn’t mean everybody has seen the movies and likes them. But they know what you are referencing when you use a catch phrase, just like if you pulled something from Star Trek or WWF, across multiple generations.
I never stopped liking Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, or the Jedi Knight video games. I just no longer feel obligated to “stick up for” heavily criticized new episodes. I thought the Mandalorian was okay. I still haven’t finished the second season of Clone Wars since it began. I’ve never seen rebels. I get more excited about fan edits than about new official releases. Still, if one day we got the original 1977 Star Wars (Or the original Empire or Jedi) on blu-ray in decent quality, I’d buy it, for more than a dollar. MTFBWY