This should be the Golden Age for Star Wars fans, of any caliber.
There are lines of award-winning novels and comic books. Sourcebooks, with the same absurd attention to detail, are attached to each film release. Television shows, both animated and live-action, are streaming and in production. And of course, there are films coming every year. All of this is tied together into the most complex web of canon ever created.
Talks of “boycotts” against Solo: A Star Wars Story were plentiful ahead of its release. President of Lucasfilm Kathleen Kennedy is the continued target of #firekathleenkennedy, due to the belief that she has “ruined” Star Wars. Disney has “handed Star Wars to the SJWs” with their casting of Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Felicity Jones, and Laura Dern.
On Tuesday, Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Resistance engineer Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, left Instagram. At present, she has not commented on why she left.
It doesn’t take a PR expert to speculate why. Since The Last Jedi‘s December release, Tran has suffered through an endless barrage of harassment over her character, because she is the first Asian-American woman to have a leading role in the series, and/or simply being a woman.
This is far from the first time that supposed “Real Star Wars fans” have instigated this reaction, or caused similar harm.
“You go to make a movie and all you do is get criticized, and people try to make decisions about what you’re going to do before you do it. You know, it’s not much fun. You can’t experiment.” – George Lucas
Ridley received a slew of harassment on Instagram and Facebook after she posted support for ending gun violence. It is still difficult, three years after her debut in The Force Awakens, to avoid conversations about Rey being a “Mary Sue.”
Boyega, has spoken out about the kind of bullying targeted toward him, his co-star Ridley, and friend Leslie Jones, after she left Twitter because of constant harassment.
In a 2017 interview, Ahmed Best, who portrayed Jar-Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequels, told Wired, “I had death threats through the internet. I had people come to me and say, ‘You destroyed my childhood.’ That’s difficult for a 25-year-old to hear.”
Mark Hamill spoke out angrily last year about the treatment Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace, received from “fans.” Lloyd, who was 10 years old during filming, has said in previous interviews that his life was a “living hell” post-Phantom.
“I had death threats through the internet. I had people come to me and say, ‘You destroyed my childhood.’ That’s difficult for a 25-year-old to hear.” – Ahmed Best
And of course, most bafflingly, the creator of it all, George Lucas himself, on the endless criticism he received:
“You go to make a movie and all you do is get criticized, and people try to make decisions about what you’re going to do before you do it. You know, it’s not much fun. You can’t experiment.”
Given the sheer size and scope of the Star Wars franchise, along with its multi-generational fandom, these toxic “fans” represent a small minority. Unfortunately, they are very loud, and their negativity has the propensity to spoil the whole barrel of apples, as it were.
Yet, to lay it all at the feet of a small contingent is to ignore the roots of this toxicity. Racism and sexism, in the cases of Ridley and Tran, are undoubtedly present. This side of the harassment ties directly into a topic talked about more and more of late: gatekeeping, and how it excludes “the wrong” fans.
But the source of Star Wars‘ gatekeeping seems unique, especially when compared to other pop culture juggernauts like the superhero franchises or Harry Potter. While they certainly have their share of awful folks, it never appears quite as public, nor personal.
For Star Wars, the issue lies with the idea of ownership. It’s worth exploring, however briefly, how this idea took root with this specific franchise if for no other reason than to make it very clear that these “fans” aren’t misunderstood.
The actual harm they have placed on others does not come from a place that is so personal, unique, or otherwise special that any semblance of justification could be put forth.
To translate it into words that these “hardcore” Star Wars might understand, we’ll use a simple and easy to follow path, first posited by everyone’s favorite green swamp puppet.
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – Yoda
Well, sort of.
By 1997, it had been fourteen years since Star Wars released in theaters. For those obsessed enough to care, there was a new line of comics, and an increasing series of books, both of which continued off of the original trilogy. It would have to tide them over until the new trilogy, announced four years prior.
But fans were experiencing their first steps toward the dark side: fear. First was the fear that there would never be more Star Wars. Then, post-announcement was the fear that it wouldn’t be the right Star Wars. The Ewoks had caused a moment of hesitation in the older fans. The 1997 theatrical re-releases instilled trepidation, with new CGI technology slapped on, and most damning, Han no longer shoots first.
Along comes The Phantom Menace, with incredibly advanced CGI and motion capture work, and two characters aimed heavily at kids.
That fear that existed from a lack of content now became anger, with death threats leveled at Lloyd and Best, and of course, Lucas himself. That anger grew over the years, with Hayden Christiansen swept into the wake after Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.
The most prominent message? The prequels had “killed my childhood.” Translated: They spent so long wishing for another entry in this story, that they had to either make them up themselves or go to the books and comics. The prequels were not matching either.
In 2008, three years after Revenge of the Sith, The Clone Wars animated film is released and kicks off a celebrated six-season television show. So far as anyone knew, this would be the future of Star Wars for quite some time.
Until 2012, that is, when Disney purchased Lucasfilm, and the news broke of a new television show (Star Wars: Rebels) and a new trilogy of films.
On the surface, Rebels and what would be The Force Awakens should’ve thrilled those fans who were angry post-Prequels. Rebels would focus on the Rebellion and the Empire yet again, while The Force Awakens would bring back Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher.
Alas, that was not the case. You’ve seen the reasons, regardless of if you wanted to: Disney dumbed it down for kids, Rey is a Mary Sue, it’s too much like the originals, it’s not enough like them, and more contradictions that go on and on. The most confusing complaint: “They should’ve brought back Lucas.”
After Rogue One and the animated-shorts series Forces of Destiny, both of which focused heavily on their women protagonists, the anger turned to hate. These still weren’t the stories the “fans” had made up in their heads, nor read in their books, the oldest of which were 20-some-years-old. The stories lacked the characters these “fans,” who are most certainly men, connected to. That is, these stories lacked men. Or, perhaps, the reverse: they had too many women.
This hate finally unleashed after The Last Jedi, which had the audacity to go where no film had gone before: it made the argument that we should probably let go of the Original films.
And so, the final step was achieved. Their hatred had led to suffering, not for the “fans,” but for those who were easy to target with vitriol, racism, and sexism.
Because they hate that these stories are no longer about them. Because they are angry that these stories still aren’t like the ones inside their heads. Because they are afraid of “losing” this story to someone else.
So, to these “fans,” if you have sat through this without closing your tab in a rage, then I implore you to consider the following:
- This story spans four decades. You were, most likely, under the age of twenty years old when you first watched these movies. Star Wars is, and always has been, for kids.
- Kids don’t all look like you did. They don’t all think like you did. And if any kids are made happy by seeing an Asian-American actress flying a starship for the Resistance? Then the film has done its job.
- These stories have never been perfect. The dialogue has always been clunky, the rules have always been silly. You got to love them because no one ruined it for you. Pass that on.
These “fans” probably aren’t going to change. Luckily, there are legions of good-hearted folks, who truly deserve to be called fans, willing to act as a counterbalance.
— Jen Bartel (@heyjenbartel) June 5, 2018
Legions of fans have taken to Twitter to post fan art in support of Tran, labeled with #fanartforrose. Mark Hamill and Rian Johnson have also made their support clear.
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) June 6, 2018
On social media a few unhealthy people can cast a big shadow on the wall, but over the past 4 years I’ve met lots of real fellow SW fans. We like & dislike stuff but we do it with humor, love & respect. We’re the VAST majority, we’re having fun & doing just fine. https://t.co/yhcShg5vdJ
— Rian Johnson (@rianjohnson) June 5, 2018
Hopefully, Disney and Lucasfilm will make a statement as well.
The best that can be hoped for is that the toxic “fans” are drowned out. At the very least, they can follow the lead of the hero that they so desperately connected with, so many years ago.
“Let go of your hate.” – Luke Skywalker