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Despite toxic battles, the Star Wars fandom avoided the Dark Side at SDCC

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Dec 17, 2018, 6:00 PM EST (Updated)

We’ve heard a lot about the toxic fandom in Star Wars. It’s been covered by us here, and by just about everyone else. So as I traveled to San Diego to cover Star Wars for SYFY WIRE and my podcast, I wondered what the vibe would be. Star Wars fans would be crammed into the San Diego Convention Center like sardines -- in costume, on the floor, and in the panel rooms. Would fights break out? Would there be endless arguments about The Last Jedi before and after Star Wars panels? Would that spill out into the hallways?

Turns out, I was worried about a whole lot of nothing. 

I’m impossibly happy to report that the vibe of Star Wars fans in person is nothing like it has been online. Online, the vitriol is consistent and hard to deal with. It’s almost as if saying the words “like” and “The Last Jedi” in the same sentence on Twitter will summon a trollish demon as fast as Bloody Mary in a darkened mirror. Saying anything positive about the film activates a lot of people claiming to be Star Wars fans telling you how wrong you might be. Other pockets of fandom attack women or people of color who ask for better representation. Others attack the creators and employees (and even freelancers) behind Star Wars for daring to have an opinion about the toxicity. 

Just because they’re relentless doesn’t mean they’re the majority. Morten Bay is a PhD at UCLA and tweeted this out to Rian Johnson, and Johnson confirmed those proportions, at least anecdotally:

At San Diego Comic-Con, my experience led me to believe that in real life it was more like 0%. Sitting in the room for the Clone Wars panel where they announced new episodes of the long-canceled show, there was a collective jolt of emotional euphoria. There were get-togethers for fans to express their love of Star Wars together, and none of it was met with any of that vitriol.

Podcaster Steele Saunders, accused by some segments of fandom of fanning the flames of hatred on the other side, posted publicly about an open meet-up of Star Wars fans on Saturday night. 

If there was one place I figured malcontents would show up, it would be to confront Steele or any of the other podcasters there meeting up, but there wasn't a single one. Another place I thought they'd rear their ugly heads would have been the #RallyForRose:

Rose Tico cosplayers gathered to show their support of each other and the character that has been at the center of some of the ugliest parts of a piece of fandom. Racists and misogynists have used her gender and ethnicity as a reason to complain about the movie, and it’s gotten ugly. (Also important to note that some people didn’t like her character for reasons that had nothing to do with that.)

Rian Johnson even tweeted his approval of the #RallyForRose: 

But there was no trouble at all.

Thanks to the state of online fandom, Kai Charles, a Star Wars fan and independent book reviewer at Fiction State of Mind, was worried that the upcoming Star Wars Celebration - Chicago was going to be a problem, but the in-person experience at San Diego Comic-Con turned her around on that concern. “I had several conversations with Star Wars fans at the Star Wars pavilion [in the Exhibition Hall] and had nothing but positive conversations," she told me. "A group of us even had a discussion of the pros and cons of Reylo fandom and no feelings were hurt. I even stumbled upon the Rose Tico celebration outside and watched the group grow as people stopped by to take pics and join them in chanting Kelly Marie Tran’s name.”

Knowing that the toxic parts of fandom really are much smaller than we expected and aren’t large enough to disrupt the joy of others at a convention the size of San Diego Comic-Con is a pretty heartening thing. It’s good to know there isn’t that big of a problem in Star Wars fandom, the problem is more about the nature of social media and the ongoing problems in our culture than a massive wave of hatred against Star Wars or even The Last Jedi, specifically.

Only time will tell, but maybe the toxic nerds will move on sooner than later, and online fandom will be as back to normal as the convention circuit seems to be.