Star Wars Is Way Ahead Of Its Misbehaving Fans
Darth Vader has nothing on the dark side of the fandom.
When the actress who plays Resistance mechanic Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Kelly Marie Tran, deleted her Instagram account, the ugly side of the fandom was revealed.
Tran’s disappearance was allegedly a reaction to constant abuse she’d received from Star Wars fans over her role in the latest installment of the franchise.
The abuse was part of ongoing backlash to Star Wars:The Last Jedi, with fans unhappy with the latest story elements of the beloved film saga. The film’s director, Rian Johnson, has weathered the hate on Twitter since late last year, and fans have even called for the resignation of the head of LucasFilm, Kathleen Kennedy. The poor box office performance of the young Han Solo film, Solo, has been attributed to fans beginning to shun the saga. But what these fans want out of Star Wars is unfathomable, especially after a guy claimed to fix The Last Jedi by removing all the female characters.
But none of this bad behaviour from fans is new. Like many pockets of fandom in pop culture, Star Wars fans have been throwing tantrums for decades. Many childhoods were ruined when the franchise creator, George Lucas, released Episode 1: The Phantom Menace in 1999, and the trauma lasted for two more prequels. Back then you could leave a rant on a message board but you had to do a bulk of your complaining in person. The big difference now is that fans have the digital megaphone of social media and the benefit of anonymity. Fans can do a hit-and-run troll on anyone they don’t like and coordinate sustained harassment.
So what are Disney and LucasFilm doing to manage their unruly rans? Well, they’re already a little ahead of the problem. They took all the impulses of angry, irritable and entitled fans and rolled them into a villainous character: Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).
Star Wars has been reflecting fans back at themselves using Kylo Ren (first introduced in The Force Awakens), a fanboy of the force who obsesses over the glory days of his grandfather, Darth Vader. Kylo Ren keeps Vader’s melted helmet in his bedroom like a fan proudly displays a collection of action figures. Kylo Ren has a strict vision of what someone in control of the force should be like and is set on destroying anyone who thinks differently. And what does Kylo Ren do when he doesn’t get his way? He smashes whatever he can get his hands on. Sound familiar?
Kylo Ren is a running commentary on the dark side of the Star Wars fandom that focuses more on tearing down other people than sharing a communal love of something. Kylo Ren is the ultimate ‘gatekeeper’, a horrid form of moderation in pop culture where fans who think they are superior to others claim to take control of who can call themselves a true fan. Throughout The Force Awakens he’s condescending towards Rey (Daisy Ridley) because she has a connection to the force. Rey is told by Kylo Ren constantly, “you need a teacher,” and he gets furious when she takes ownership of a light sabre.
Like the trolls who harassed Tran, Kylo Ren can’t stand that there are other people interested in his passion. He has to be the biggest fan. It highlights the misguided competitive nature of modern fandom, which no doubt fuelled the harassment of Tran -- these people think their online harassment is part of proving why they’re bigger fans than everybody else.
It’s depressing the trolls skulking in Star Wars fandom don’t get it. All their worst impulses are being reflected back at them in the new saga, while the narrative is tied to letting go of the past and accepting new characters and adventures.
Star Wars has already made a bold statement about what it thinks about fans who are stuck in the past. Fans have become the villains of their own story.