Rian Johnson Kelly Marie Tran Star Wars

Opinion: The State of the Star Wars fandom in 2018

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

Since the new era of Star Wars began, the franchise has been in a constant state of flux, but, for the first time in a long time, we have a minute to catch our collective breath. With Solo in the rearview mirror, there are more than 500 days between now and the next film. We have an animated television show arriving in the fall about which there are scant details available and a live action show coming sometime about which we know even less.

Of course, there are fans and dissenters on all sides of these projects, so we'll take a look at them one by one and see where the rifts in fandom are in hopes that we can better understand the state of things.

Star Wars is no stranger to detractors and defenders. Ever since The Empire Strikes Back came out, there have been these divisions between fans. And you remember the prequels, right? Not everyone loved those movies.

Two factors contribute to the current perception that Star Wars is being torn apart more effectively than the soul of Anakin Skywalker. First, there's so much content coming out; second, the internet. New stories leave different tastes in people's mouths, and the internet gives them the ability to complain about it ad nauseum.

By way of a recent history lesson, though, the largest overarching factions of fandom in the new era arrived in 2014 when Lucasfilm announced that the expanded universe (or EU) would be made "Legends" and no more new stories would be made in that timeline. Before then, everyone had pretty much adopted a "wait and see" attitude toward the company with Kathleen Kennedy at the helm and Disney as the owner. This erupted into a war amongst fandom with more militant fans of the EU creating petitions, harassing creatives, hiring out billboards, and doing anything they could to plead their case. Some resorted to terror tactics, learning spoilers in advance of The Force Awakens and spreading them online to unsuspecting fans in a bid to ruin their experience.

It got ugly, but not as ugly as things to come.

The Force Awakens was met with nearly universal fanfare. It was fun. People overwhelmingly liked it and it became the highest grossing film of all time. Sure, some argued that it was a "rehash" of A New Hope, not realizing that The Phantom Menace was, too, and that's just the way opening chapters of Star Wars trilogies in the Skywalker saga went. There were a few though who didn't like a film led by a woman, and you get situations like this:

Though Daisy Ridley left social media, things seemed to get better for a while. Anxiety hit with news of reshoots and troubled productions for Rogue One, but the movie came and went and fans were pretty pleased with the final product. Though it didn't make as much money as The Force Awakens, Rogue One was a solid hit with few detractors.

The real fireworks in fandom that would bring out the worst people wouldn't come until the release of Rian Johnson's masterpiece, The Last Jedi.

The Last Jedi split off a piece of the fandom that might have been the most toxic. I'd like to preface this by saying: some fans have had issues with the film and have been respectful in their critiques and are not racists or misogynists. Unfortunately for these more respectful Star Wars fans, a small, but an even louder group of racist and misogynist Star Wars fans have made life a nightmare for fans of The Last Jedi, as well as the cast and crew. In fact, despite my impressive block and mute lists these days, I can't tweet the words "The Last Jedi" without getting one of these fans, frothing at the mouth about how Rian Johnson somehow ruined Star Wars forever, in my mentions.

The film was lambasted as being "against men" because Admiral Holdo was right and Poe Dameron was wrong, and then mental gymnastics were done to try to say up was down and Poe was right and Holdo was wrong. But that's not the way it works, especially in a set command structure. They didn't like seeing the male hero emasculated by a purple-haired commanding officer who happened to be female.

Then, the attacks against Kelly Marie Tran started. As a new player in Star Wars and the first female Asian lead, this particular subset of fans didn't take kindly to her presence. They let their racism and misogyny affect their view of the film and somehow interpreted her great performance in a way that made them hate the film. And they set out to attack her almost immediately. The Wookieepedia page for her character, Rose Tico, was vandalized by these racists. When I pointed it out and posted a screenshot of this shameful behavior, Newsweek even picked up the story. Other formerly prominent voices in fandom took this as a conspiracy, accusing me of vandalizing the page myself and running to Newsweek for attention.

But the abuse toward Kelly Marie Tran didn't cease, nor was it planted. Her Instagram feed was a daily exercise in witnessing what horrible thing a "fan" might say to her. Though she offered no direct explanation for her departure from the platform a couple of weeks ago, it didn't take long for people to do the math and her friends from the Star Wars production, including Rian Johnson and John Boyega, to confirm that it was definitely a factor.

Star Wars author Chuck Wendig dared to speak out against the abuse of Tran (as well as the abuse he suffered over his novels) and referred to the fans perpetrating this toxic behavior as "shitty." And that didn't sit well with pockets of fandom who felt called out. They didn't want to cop to their toxic behavior and, instead, attacked Wendig. Requests to Lucasfilm were made to somehow put the cast and crew and authors and anyone tangentially related to Star Wars in check because, after all, they were paying customers and, in their minds, the customer is always right, even when they're toxic racists attacking people. My hope is that requests to "reign in" these voices in fandom were met with derisive laughter.

Wendig also found that the boycott organized in the wake of him calling out these fans had the opposite effect:

I'll take this as good news.

The fallout from this rabid sector of fandom over The Last Jedi continues to spread. Though as these toxic voices make themselves known and the sensible voices block them from the conversation, fans in it to enjoy Star Wars are close to reclaiming all of that territory.

But that brings us to Solo.

Loud voices of the right wing like former comics star Ethan Van Sciver and the YouTube channel Geeks + Gamers began decrying Solo. In their mind, a young Han Solo surrounded by a diverse cast was "SJW propaganda." They started calling him a "soy boy" and encouraged their followers to call the film "Soylo." Some encouraged a boycott, obliquely or otherwise, and the boycott failed miserably. This thread from Bobby Roberts breaks down some back of the envelope calculations:

Solo hasn't been the runaway success that a movie as fun as Solo is deserved to be, but as of June 17, it's pulled in almost $200 million at the box office domestically and almost $350 million worldwide. It's not doing too bad and it's still chugging along. Personally, I'll be seeing it a tenth time this weekend.

With so much more Star Wars to look forward to, people who actually enjoy the franchise have a lot to look forward to. But, unfortunately, I don't see the "man-babies" and "s***ty" Star Wars fans going away soon. The best we can do is hope they watch the Star Wars films again and understand that they would be aligned with the Empire in that universe and they've missed every lesson, personal, political, and spiritual, the films have tried to teach since 1977. We can hope one day it sinks in. In the meantime, we can mute and block the toxic fans, correct and educate the ones that can learn, and spend our time focusing on the positive.

Obi-Wan warned Anakin in Attack of the Clones about focusing on the negative and we saw how well that worked out for Anakin. Let's, instead, focus on the positive. We've had our failures, but, like Master Yoda says, "the greatest teacher failure is."

Fandom can be fun again. We'll get there.