Star Wars is one of the world’s biggest media franchises. It has fans everywhere. There is a downside to this, though. Or, should I call it a dark side? The larger a group of fans gets, the more bad fans, who are toxic, aggressive, and chaotic, appear. This, in turn, gives the group as a whole a bad name and can ruin the experience for others. And, as of late, it seems like the group has hit a tipping point. Has Star Wars’ fandom become too toxic? Has the time come for people who love the series to take a stand against the worst members of its community?
This comes after a segment of the Star Wars community has broken one of Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s stars. Kelly Marie Tran played Rose Tico. While some people enjoyed her portrayal and felt like she provided a certain sort of balance, others felt her character was unneeded in the story and not a good fit. This disapproval led to harassment. Since the movie’s release, people have targeted not only the character, but Tran, the actress that portrayed her. They heaped harassment and hate on her, resulting in her deleting her Instagram account, a means of fans being able to interact and connect with her, at the beginning of June 2018.
Imagine being endlessly harassed for months at a time, all because you did your job. Not only that, but a job you loved. Let’s say you were cast in Star Wars: Episode IX. You find out you have a part that is not a main character, but is substantial. You do your best, perhaps having the role of a lifetime. Then, when the movie comes out, people dislike your character. Okay. Fine. It happens. But then, the thousands of people who disliked your character decide they dislike you. They target your performance, your gender, and your nationality using the most vile insults they can. They never stop. It is a living nightmare, and one no one should ever have to go to. Especially at the hands of “fans.”
Worse, this is no isolated incident. The tragedy befalling Tran has happened before in the Star Wars fandom. Anyone who would look at its history might question if its fans, as a whole, are the worst. All because of some bad seeds. Daisy Ridley, who played Rey, had to delete her Instagram long before Tran did, for the same reasons. People did not like the idea of Rey, so they took it out on the actress who played her. Maybe it was because a woman was one of the main characters. (Insert a sarcastic, “The horror!” here.) Probably, it was because they were bullies and awful. Jake Lloyd, a ten-year-old child hired to play young Anakin Skywalker, was harassed for years. And that was in-person, by classmates, and online, by faceless strangers. Even when it was discovered he was suffering from schizophrenia, people did not relent. He quit acting and has been going through basically hell for years because of his role.
Even George Lucas, the man who created this series, experiences all sorts of hate and vitriol. Because of the prequel trilogy, people started claiming he “ruined their childhood.” Even people who would qualify as good Star Wars fans level these accusations at him. Every single decision he made was questioned and criticized. People stalk and harass him. It became too much for him. In a Vanity Fair interview, he flat out admitted that was why he quit Star Wars. His exact quote was, You go to make a movie and all you do is get criticized. And it’s not much fun. You can’t experiment.” Imagine the very people you are making things for, who claim to love you, harassing you for over 16 years.
Maybe the real problem is social media in general, and the mask it gives terrible people. There are times when it can be a bane on society, allowing those who thrive on chaos and unpleasantness a way to spew hate and torment people for their own amusement. It gives bullies an anonymous voice.
In the case of Star Wars, it allows the fans who are toxic a way to easily throw highly visible temper tantrums that hurt people who are just trying to do their jobs or enjoy something they love. It gives people who like to rile up others and cause chaos an outlet, since they know they have a devoted, vocal group of people they can outrage. The result is the sort of harassment that can cause a good actress, someone who loves what she does and brings diversity to a franchise with fans worldwide, to have to isolate herself and leave a platform that would let her connect to people.
Maybe the time has come for the Star Wars community to fight back and take a little advice from Rose Tico. “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” Those who love the movies, books, and games need to show it. They need to protect the people who make and star in these endeavors. They should stand up for people like Kelly Marie Tran, Daisy Ridley, and Jake Lloyd, who are doing their jobs to the best of their abilities with the material they have. They should celebrate things they love about the series. Express more positivity. Love, not hate.