Lessons from Star Wars & Fandom
Being a part of a fandom is one part excitement, one part second-hand embarrassment, and one part What the F**k. In no fandom is that experience truer than the Star Wars fandom. This past weekend, armed with smart devices and the ability to spew hate in 280 characters, internet trolls stormed the Twitterverse to declare war on New York Times bestselling author Rae Carson and her novelization of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker.
Warning: There’s going to be some spoilers for The Rise of Skywalker coming up in 3, 2, 1…
Feeling that the author “ruined” and “destroyed” the Ben and Rey kiss – according to these critics, minimizing it because the author referred to it as a “kiss of gratitude” – some fans took their fight to Twitter, tweeting their frustrations about Carson and anger over a storyline that she had little to no control over. Is the problem that these people had an opinion and wanted it to be known? Um, hello. No.
The problem is that they tagged Rae Carson, took their fight directly to the content creator, criticizing not only her work but the author herself.
Many SW fans came to the author’s defense, reminding those critics that there is something called human decency and perhaps they should in fact practice it. Eventually, Rae tweeted her gratitude:
Thank you to everyone who is being kind to me today. It means a lot.
— Rae Carson (@raecarson) February 29, 2020
Unfortunately, the harassment of Rae Carson is just one of the many instances when some in the Star Wars fandom forgot that content creators were actual human beings with actual emotions.
After the release of The Last Jedi, amid sexist and racist slurs about both her and her character Rose Tico, actress Kelly Marie Tran deleted her Instagram account. A few years ago, Ahmed Best – best known as the actor behind the totally CGI’d Jar Jar Binks – took to twitter to recount how the harassment by both many SW fans and media outlets drove him to the brink of suicide:
20 years next year I faced a media backlash that still affects my career today. This was the place I almost ended my life. It’s still hard to talk about. I survived and now this little guy is my gift for survival. Would this be a good story for my solo show? Lemme know. pic.twitter.com/NvVnImoJ7N
— Ahmed BEst (@ahmedbest) July 3, 2018
And then there’s George Lucas, the actual creator of Star Wars. After making the prequels, Lucas endured a barrage of fan hate, from those calling for his death to those comparing him to a rapist. Eventually, the filmmaker decided it was time to hang up his lightsaber – y’know, the lightsaber he imagined – and announced his retirement from the movie industry:
“Why would I make any more when everybody yells at you all the time and says what a terrible person you are?”
Driving out the own creator, whose imagination brought to life the galaxy far, far away and essentially birthed this fandom? This is not how to show appreciation, Star Wars fans.
Harassment is Not Constructive Criticism
Many Twitter critics of Rae Carson’s The Rise of Skywalker argued that they had every right to have an opinion, to voice their concerns about the novel and her vision. Here’s the harsh truth: they’re right.
As fans and those who love this universe, we’ve invested time, energy, money, and even our own emotions into this fandom. Yes, you have a right to express your opinion.
But the line needs to be drawn at harassment. Tagging an author in your tweet, accusing her of perpetuating self-harm, encouraging others to tweet their anger at her is not a construction criticism or “love” for this fandom. It’s hate, pure and simple. It’s a sense of entitlement that was neither bestowed nor earned.
Inundating a LucasFilm Twitter Q&A with hashtags like #BenSoloDeservesBetter and #ReyNoOne does not help your cause, unless your cause is to generate ire and hatred. If so, mission accomplished. For the record, I am a Reylo fan who believes that Ben Solo did deserve better and that Rey should have been a no-one, but I also understand appropriate context and timing.
Pushing Away Creators Shrinks the Galaxy
Being a content creator is an arduous task. Brainstorming for that perfect idea, finding the right material, putting it together in a way that is not only comprehensible but stimulating is a time consuming process. Now add a fandom built on decades of fervent following and worship, where even the slightest misstep will be torn apart, scrutinized, analyzed, and dissected bit by bit with little to no room for forgiveness.
With the attack on Rae Carson, many pondered the state of the Star Wars universe, questioning whether the online harassment of Carson and other creators would drive other creative forces, including fellow authors, away from the fandom. Is the opportunity to be a part of this universe greater than the rage and harassment you may receive?
I wish I could tell you that the intensity of #StarWars discourse or the way some readers feel it is appropriate to treat writers hasn't had an impact on finding new authors willing to write for Star Wars.
I wish I could tell you that. I really really do.
— Tom (@DarthInternous) March 1, 2020
Here’s the truth, when you attack content creators, you’re not just getting the attention of the creator, but others as well. The galaxy of Star Wars content that we devoured in movies, books, comics, and now television may not be as vast if harassment continues. Nevertheless, authors like Rae Carson persisted.
No one is telling you to change your opinion, censor it so other authors and storytellers can join the fandom. It’s all about rechanneling your passion for Star Wars.
Loathed the ending of The Rise of Skywalker? You can still feel that way but respect how Rae Carson expanded the story and gave you moments you wished you saw in the film. Miss Ben Solo? Use that energy for reading TROS Fix-It fics. Support positive content creators, like Girls With Sabers and Lipstick and Lightsabers, who still love this fandom no matter what. Start embracing creators rather than pushing them away, and you’ll see there is room in the galaxy for more amazing stories beyond the Skywalkers.
Better yet, make your own mark and add your story to a galaxy far, far away. I’ll be your first supporter.
Be Rose Tico
Bottom line, no one likes an asshole, especially an asshole armed with a Twitter account. Star Wars was built on the positive foundation of hope and love, and that anger only leads to the dark side.
When all else fails, remember the words of Rose Tico and throw it in those critics’ faces:
“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, but saving what we love.”
Support amazing Star Wars content creators and get your copy of Rae Carson’s The Rise of Skywalker!
Julie believes great books should be read more than once and prides herself on finding the "dirty part" in any romance novel under a minute. Loves red wine but loves it more when shared with friends. Has an (embarrassingly) extensive knowledge about all things Brooklyn Nine-Nine and New Girl. Is currently curating the perfect playlists that ALWAYS include a song from one of the Twilight soundtracks.