This one is going to get very personal for me. Last week I wrote about "The Phantom Menace" and, while I didn't say it was a good film, I defended some of its aspects and felt that it doesn't deserve the level of hate that it still receives (almost 20 years later) to this day. However, over-the-top "Prequel Hate" isn't the only negative thing to have wormed its way into the fandom.
Over the last few years, I have noticed some severely negative behavior within the fandom ranging from the relatively minor (horrendous "gate-keeping" behavior) to the extreme and terrifying (straight up racism, sexism, and homophobia). What follows are some of the toxic behaviors I have witnessed from fans within the community. I hope to shed light on these problems, so we can fix them and (hopefully) make the "Star Wars" fandom a fun and welcoming place for everyone.
Here's something that almost everyone knows at this point; a plurality of "Star Wars" fans don't like the Prequels and that's fine. I'm not a huge fan of them either, I feel that they were wildly mediocre (except for "Attack of the Clones" which I consider straight up bad). I mostly just appreciate them for their visuals, world building, music, and the fact that two really good "Clone Wars" animated series spun off from them.
However, do you know what I also don't do? I don't use my feelings toward the Prequels to spew venom at the younger kids who did like the Prequels and I don't tell them that they aren't "real" Star Wars fans for it. First of all, no one should ever use the term "not a real fan". Who are you to say what does or doesn't make someone a fan? Second, what does make a "real fan"? What are the set guidelines needed to reach this ridiculously vague and abstract idea? Does one have to only love the Originals? Does one have to swear all of the other films and Expanded Universe (EU) material?
I bring this up because I have seen some fans try to convey they same behavior toward the still unfolding "Sequel Trilogy." While these fans aren't nearly as large in number as those who dismissed the "Prequel Trilogy", they are still there. I see many "click bait" videos on YouTube in bold attention getting letters titled "Why 'The Force Awakens' Sucks" or my favorite "Why 'The Force Awakens' is the Worst Movie Ever Made" (seriously, that last one actually exists on YouTube).
I know opinion is subjective and you can dislike films if you want to and all that, but "worst movie ever made"; really? I can see people having some issues with it (it's not a perfect film, but what is?) or think it's bad (Many "Star Wars" fans, myself included, think it's a good film), but to call it the "worst movie ever made" feels like an opinion that is far removed from reality.
If you do feel that way, I would like to know what makes it more unwatchable than things like "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," "The Last Airbender," "Disaster Movie," "Movie 43," "InAPPropriate Comedy," or even most of the recent Adam Sandler films.
It almost feels like certain fans are trying to turn "The Force Awakens" (which did receive critical and financial success) into another "Phantom Menace" level disappointment as a way to tell everyone how the "Original Trilogy" was so superior and how anyone who says that they genuinely think it's a good film are either stupid, lying, or are just saying they like it because they let nostalgia blind them, or just "slaves to the brand."
South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are prime examples of this whiny entitled fanboy (if you want evidence of this just watch episodes like "Free Hat," "The China Probrem," or all of Season 20). These are seriously possessive and entitled forms of "gate-keeping" in a fandom that can turn off many younger fans who grew up with the newer material and got them into loving the series in the first place.
You don't have to start liking the films (I'm still not fond of the "Prequel Trilogy"), but don't deprive someone else of their enjoyment of it and certainly don't claim they are "not a real fan" for it. If there was ever a reason to say someone "isn't a real fan" it would be for the following reasons.
The "gate-keeping" behaviors I mentioned in the previous paragraphs are pretty bad, but they don't compare to the absolutely vile act of attacking someone or attempting to keep them from getting into the fandom based solely on their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. I thought things like racism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia were beneath the "Star Wars" fan community (or any fan community; I'm looking at you, so-called "Ghostbusters" and "Mad Max" fans), but I guess I was wrong. I started to notice this when the first teaser trailer for "The Force Awakens" was released and it featured the character of Finn (John Boyega) in a stormtrooper outfit.
Shortly after racial slurs and hate speech were thrown at John (who is a British citizen of African descent) and at Disney/Lucasfilm for featuring many people of color (which includes Oscar Isaac) as leads in the film. Later, after the film was released, many threw sexist remarks toward Daisy Ridley after her character Rey was revealed to be the main protagonist (similar to Luke Skywalker) of this new trilogy.
Not only is this behavior uncalled for and just morally wrong, it doesn't make any logical sense coming from, supposed, fans of "Star Wars". Why was the inclusion of a black actor as one of the main heroes a problem? This isn't the first time "Star Wars" has had black actors within the main cast.
The "Original Trilogy" had the lovable and smooth talking leader of Cloud City Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). The "Prequel Trilogy" had the strong and skilled warrior Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson). We even have an African American man, James Earl Jones, to thank for bringing giving one of the most iconic film villains of all time, Darth Vader, his iconic and frightening voice. After saying all of this, I literally do not understand where this deep seeded racist reaction to John Boyega has come from considering the long spanning history of black characters and actors throughout the franchise.
I also can't believe the sexism angle, especially since the series gave us strong female characters, such as Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Padme Amidala (Natalie Portman), who were featured heavily as skilled fighters and great leaders (for Padme, these characteristics are shown more in the animated "Clone Wars" series than they are in the "Prequel Trilogy").
Over the last few months, I have witnessed the franchise receive Islamophobic slurs and hate speech from "fans," because the actor who portrayed Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) is of Middle Eastern and Islamic descent.
The novel Star Wars: Aftermath received hate due to the inclusion of a gay character. I guess all of this was a symptom of the current political climate we are in, but nothing justifies this level of racism, sexism, and overall hate speech. It has gotten so bad that these "fans" have started a boycott movement called #DumpStarWars over the inclusion of all of the characters that just happen to not be cisgender, heterosexual, white men (and if you've checked the box office returns from the newest "Star Wars" films, you can tell that the boycott is totally working... I hope you can imagine me saying that in a sarcastic tone).
These diverse and varied characters are good for the series, because they help bring in entirely different demographics and can inspire new fans and give them role models. A Muslim can see Bodhi and view him as a hero of the Rebellion, instead of the damaging image of seeing another Muslim depicted as a stereotypical terrorist or villain. A young girl can get into "Star Wars" by imagining herself as the main hero through Rey in the same way many boys saw themselves as the main hero through Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Many young black people, Asian people, and various people of color can see themselves as heroes who make up the important core protagonists of the film; not just as extras, villains, or one dimensional sidekicks to the white lead.
I wrote this because I love "Star Wars" and I love the fandom. Despite everything I just said, the fandom (like any) is mostly made up of good, well-mannered, and kind people. For a prime example of this, look no further than the cosplay group called the 501st Legion. They do amazing fundraisers and charity work for various communities.
Most of my closest friends are die-hard "Star Wars" fans as well, but they are also good people (accept for you, Robert! You know what you did!). That's the real reason I wrote this article. There are kind and tolerant people in the fandom who are necessary now more than ever. We need good people like this to drown out all of the ranting, gate-keeping, and straight up hate coming from certain fans. These "bad fans" are spoiled, entitled, and whiny "snowflakes" who want to force the series to serve them and only them.
If you want a better look at this entitled point of view I suggest you watch Bob Chipman's, a.k.a. "The Moviebob", video called "The Phantom Menace 13 Years Later" on YouTube; it's a really good video. They feel it belongs to them and enjoy hurting others and love the idea of keeping women, homosexuals, and people of color out of "their series."
They are wrong. "Star Wars" is a very human story about fighting for freedom and oppression. It's about the struggle against hatred and how it can cause pain to many innocent people. "Star Wars" is a series that brought me great joy as a child and I want to see the newer generations enjoy it.
I want all people, no matter your race or gender or sexual orientation, to see something important and personal. I want to see it improve their lives and bring them all joy. I want everyone to see these diverse people bring their diverse level of experiences to the franchise, so new and interesting stories can be told within this universe. This is the power that art like movies, books, and video games hold. They can inspire and influence our lives in ways we rarely expect. All I want is to see any human being receive the same experience I had with "Star Wars" and I hope I'm lucky enough to share my experiences with him or her. May the Force be with all of you!