Star Wars Fandom

I love Star Wars.

In our current defensive, insular fandom climate, that’s a contentious thing to admit. But I love it still, and I love its fans, and I love the warmth the movies – all of them, even the bad ones – give me, and have always given me, and will continue to give me forevermore. I’ve always been a fan, but it reached a crescendo in 2015, when The Force Awakens resurrected what had sat dormant for more than a decade. A special, familial, dreamlike pleasantness that starts with a blue serif font before catapulting my heart and imagination into a galaxy beyond.

I’m speaking so romantically of Star Wars because it’s easy to forget what brought us to these movies in the first place. As the Twitter war machine loads another round of ammunition, as the new creators are forced to protect themselves and their talent from vitriolic personal attacks, as conversations about the brokenness of fandom poison our timelines – and our spirit – we slip further and further into an empty void of endless, cyclical diatribe. Nothing changes, nothing gets better, things just dredge on with a savage melancholy that clashes diametrically with the essence of the thing we’re fighting about.

It’s called Star Wars. It’s about love.

It’s not about piling hate on actors like Kelly Marie Tran, whose gleeful, infectious positivity was on full display in her character Rose Tico, and in her personal Instagram posts, which told her story bluntly, hilariously, and with love for a fandom that will never deserve her. It’s not about mercilessly attacking The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson when he tweets about shows he’s watching, movies he loves, his friends – things that have nothing to do with Star Wars, but that some still use as a battleground for needless debate. It’s not about assuming that we, as fans, are entitled to the direction of the films – because that’s not and never has been what art is about. It’s not about diluting the beautiful things in Star Wars – the characters, the motifs, the myths – to some grotesque bastard form to fire like bullets at other fans. It’s not about our own selfish will or our own heart’s desires, whatever the cost – that is the way of the Sith, and they are the bad guys.

Star Wars wants us to be the good guys. That is the principle element of every film in the canon. It presents this idea simply, sometimes archetypically, so as to be clear as possible. Luke Skywalker: guided by his heart, in search of deeper truths, fiercely protective of his friends and family, good. Darth Vader: selfishly motivated, prone to violence, employed by a hateful totalitarian government, bad. Of course, the original trilogy is also about finding the good inside of the hate, the love inside the rotten core.

Star Wars The Last Jedi

“That’s how we’re going to win. Not fighting what we hate. Saving what we love.”

That line is quintessential Star Wars. It is George Lucas’ Star Wars. It is Millennial Star Wars. It is Star Wars – plain and simple. It also comes nestled in the climax of the most controversial film in the saga, 2017’s The Last Jedi, a film so polarizing that it has already irrevocably altered the fandom. Not into disrepair, but into its current transitional stage. The division can be categorized in any number of ways – the toxic vs. the trepidatious, the devoted vs. the detractors – but, above all else, it has changed the way we, as Star Wars fans, consider one another. Our guards are fully up, on either side. It’s an understandable reaction; the film aims for grandeur, pillages our emotional core, and gores our sacred cows. It is a film that wants us to grow up and move on, and can feel forceful in its signaling.

That was never going to work for everyone. And it doesn’t have to. Because, at the end of the day, the art we consume is selective. It is not fact, but fiction, and therefore subject to our whims. If the direction of Luke Skywalker – who, after a flash-in-the-pan instinctual overcharge accidentally created the villain Kylo Ren, and grew disillusioned with the Force and with his place in its history as a result – rubbed you the wrong way, you are at perfect liberty to reject it. Don’t watch the film. Cling dearly to your own head-canon, to the expanded universe, to whatever you please – that is the beauty of fiction; its lack of perfect truth gives us, the consumers, a certain power.

But that power is for personal use only. Not public outcry. Not as a tool for abusive rhetoric. Not as a means of harassment. Not as a way to spitefully rewrite the series to your individual standards.

Star Wars The Last Jedi - Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker - Young Luke Skywalker Movie

“Let go of your hate.”

I know the Star Wars fandom will be just fine in the long run. Those vocal detractors – not the kindly contentious, but the cruel harassers – won’t show their faces where it matters; at Star Wars Celebration and other conventions, where love is the guiding force of participation. And they can’t silence positive efforts like #FanArtForRose, where fans showed their love and support for Kelly Marie Tran and Rose Tico by sharing art depicting her joyous spirit.

 

That is how we win. Saving what we love, and re-prioritizing the way we talk to one another about this special thing. Before you say something cruel to another person for the sake of being right, remember that these characters are just that: characters. But fans are real people. Kelly Marie Tran is a real person. Rian Johnson is a real person. Kathleen Kennedy is a real person. Alden Ehrenreich or whoever else you may not like for what they’ve done to Star Wars – all real people. It’s not worth the degradation to make a moot point. It’s worth shining your light elsewhere, on the things you do like. It doesn’t mean the critical conversation should go away, but save it for your own Twitter feed, for Reddit, for long car rides with your family. Don’t tag the creators and tell them you hate what they did. Because they did it. It’s done. And you can’t change that.

I may be naive in thinking this way. Maybe fandom is broken. Maybe the Star Wars brand is more damaged than I can see. But I don’t think it is. Because new Star Wars isn’t going away, and old Star Wars will always be there even if it does. And we’ll learn how to weed out the negative energy, via Twitter muting or our own willpower, as a means of carrying on and forging ahead. I still have faith in a galaxy far, far away.

And whenever it dims, I put on one of the films and remember what this all comes back to in the end. Art I love. Characters I love. Love.

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