2015 was a great year to be a "Star Wars" fan. "The Force Awakens" was coming, and excitement was in the air. Our favorite smugglers and rebel princesses were teaming up with young, diverse new crew of heroes. But, that diversity was a thorn in the side of some. I distinctly remember a classmate of mine failing to wrap her head around the idea of a Black guy in a Stormtrooper outfit. Still, those voices were few and far between. For myself and my friends, "Star Wars" was back and we couldn't be happier.
Cut to 2017 and the tone of the conversation is decidedly more bitter. "The Last Jedi", the eighth installment of the saga, proved very polarizing indeed. So loved by its defenders and so despised by its detractors that it dominates talk on Twitter months after its theatrical release.
From those hating on the movie, we've seen racist comments, sexist remarks, even harassment of actors. From those defending it, we've seen them call anyone who doesn't like the movie a Nazi or a man-child.
In some respects, this is not new. Actors Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best have publicly stated that their lives became a living Hell due to fan backlash to Episodes I to III, collectively known as "The Prequels". This attitude from some fans was even cited by George Lucas as a major reason for selling the brand to Disney. But, those movies are widely panned, and the anger, while often extreme, was directed more so towards poor acting performances, sloppy direction, and bad writing.
Nowadays, fan outrage is often both much more toxic and much more factional, and I think blame for this can be put on, of all things, the 2016 Election.
Donald Trump normalized more than a few behaviors that were, and frankly should be, reprehensible. From sexual and racist remarks hurled at Senators to the defense of literal Nazis, the President has made the alt-right, the fringes, commonplace. In response, we have seen increased outcry and activism on the left. That's good when one is campaigning for civil rights, but it's not good when it leads to, for instance, a Congressman getting shot.
That polarization, that extremism and anger, spills into pretty much every piece of pop culture, even something as seemingly non-partisan and ubiquitous as "Star Wars". Because of that, the conversation isn't about what people did or didn't like about a movie, but rather agendas being pushed, and that just makes for a bitter, sad, miserable time for everyone who cares about this series.
Episode IX is a little over one year away, and I can only hope that we bring balance to the fandom, and not leave it in darkness.