Fandom Toxicity, and the New Hopeful Generation of Star Wars Fans

January 11, 2020



   

 43 years ago, Star Wars: A New Hope, came out. Since then it spanned 11 live-action movies, video games, and TV shows. It is not an understatement to imply that the Star Wars franchise has the largest and most dedicated fan base out there. While a huge fan-base is a big advantage to a movie studio, it can be dodgy when you don’t know how to treat and manage them. In an effort to appease a wide demographic of fans ranging from Boomers to Genz, Disney was left grasping at straws and the fandom turned more toxic than ever.

     The problem started when ‘The Force Awakens’ was first released. Older Star Wars fans protested the existence of a female protagonist as a lead. They used Rey’s characterization to criticize the creative choices made in the movie, and while it seemed harmless, it was anything but. The innocuous critique quickly turned sexist, going as far as insulting the actors personally. One Star Wars fan who I talked to recalled the treatment John Boyega was subjected to when The Force Awakens was announced “Some people started a campaign against John Boyega to boycott the movie because his character, Finn, has a main role in the sequel trilogy. They were racist towards him and harassed him even before the movie was out.”. The attacks didn’t stop after the first movie of the sequel trilogy came out, in fact, it reached its peak with the release of the Last Jedi. Almost everyone recalls the infamous female-absent version being spread online. The fan continued “Later, a group of people who called themselves “The Fandom Menace” turned their outrage mainly against Kelly Marie Tran, but also Daisy Ridley, Kathleen Kennedy and again John Boyega after the release of The Last Jedi and started a movement called “No More Force Diversity”, targeting the women and POC of Star Wars specifically.” .


     While generalization is often not accurate and misleading, it is fairly safe to presume that some of the older demographic of the fandom are the ones against diversity in the new Star Wars films, while the younger ones are championing it. After the backlash from the Last Jedi, Disney was left scrambling trying to please a fandom instead of focusing on producing a quality body of work. The fans took notice of the absence of Kelly Marie Tran’s Rose from the marketing of the Rise of Skywalker, and the reason was pretty clear when it premiered. Her character, Rose, was basically erased from existence due to the constant racist harassment the actress received on social media, which lead to her deleting her accounts on these platforms. A group of fans, more specifically ‘Reylos’, who describe themselves as a “diverse community of POC, women, lgbt+, disabled, Jewish and Muslim people among others, who dealt with harassment in real life or online before..” made a collection of fan art, cosplay pictures and fan letters into a scrapbook and gave it to Kelly Marie Tran.

     With the release of the Rise of Skywalker, we got to see the fans fighting back. The movements started with the Fundraiser for Adam Driver’s charity, that reached 70k and counting, to the ‘Saving What We Love’ fundraiser inspired by Kelly Marie Tran. The latter raised over 4k in a span of only hours and it is aimed towards ‘Cybersmile Foundation’, an international non-profit providing support for victims of cyberbullying and online hate campaigns. Twitter user @roguewn, who started ‘Saving What We Love’ explains her goal for the fundraiser “We hope that people will join us in trying to create a safer online space across all social platforms for everyone to enjoy and at the same time we’re raising funds for an organization that works every day to achieve exactly the same goal. It might seem like an impossible dream and we know it won’t happen in the span of a few days and because of a single campaign, but if Star Wars has taught us something, that is that we can be the spark that will light the fire.”



      It is quite expected to judge a movie based on our expectation of it instead of what it actually is. And that problem continues to be hazardous in big franchises. The bigger the fandom, the bigger the expectations. And with big expectations studios are left trying to please everybody while struggling to give creative control to filmmakers. Making movies is no longer a one-way street. When everyone wants to create universes instead of stand-alone films, you have to admit that the fans will have a say in the process. How big of a part can fans participate in? Do they get some fan service scenes, or will the entire creative process be dependent on their Reddit threads? Whatever the answer may be, it is unfair to turn a blind eye to the ray of light we’re seeing lately. From fundraisers to hashtags, the new generation of Star Wars fans is taking a stand against bullying and harassment. And while we still have a long way to go to eliminate fandom toxicity, hope is not yet lost.




Big Thanks to @roguewn for indulging me with an interview.   

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