The Star Wars (1977-2019) saga has been somewhat of a controversial subject since the first film’s release in 1977 and, with the explosion of the internet, has only stoked more arguments in recent years. Casually mention your Star Wars films ranking to your friends? Be prepared to have a list of bulletpoints to defend your choices. Tell someone that you’re a fan of the prequels trilogy (Episodes I-III, 1999-2005) and that your favorite character is Jar-Jar Binks (Ahmed Best)? Well, that could turn into a full-blown screaming match. Star Wars fans seem to have very strong opinions, especially those who actively participate in their fandom.
Fandom, in general, represents community and passion amongst people who share the same love for something, such as Star Wars, Star Trek, and Marvel, to name a few. Finding a community of people to talk non-stop with about the things that you love sounds like the ideal place. However, some factions of a fandom can feel entitled to their beloved franchise and turn their community into a source of toxicity. The most recent Star Wars trilogy (Episodes VII-IX, 2015-2019) has had to deal with this rise of toxic and entitled fandom throughout its run.
When The Walt Disney Company purchased Lucasfilm in 2012 and announced a new trilogy in the Skywalker saga, many fans were excited to hopefully see some more diverse, inclusive representation in the films. With the lineup of protagonists – Rey (Daisy Ridley) who ends up being the first female Jedi, Finn (John Boyega) who is first a Black stormtrooper, and Poe (Oscar Isaac) as a Latinx pilot for the Resistance – Disney and Lucasfilm seemed to deliver on that front. However, the discontent among some fans grew. Before the release of 2015’s Episode VII: The Force Awakens (dir. JJ Abrams), a small but loud faction of predominantly white, male Star Wars fans began to voice their unhappiness about Finn being a protagonist, with many angry social media posts that either alluded to their racist or were just plain racist. When the film was released and the audience saw Rey use the Force to defeat Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), that same small but loud faction of fans became enraged, calling the character a ‘Mary Sue’ (“a term used to describe a fictional character, usually female, who is seen as too perfect and almost boring for lack of flaws, originally written as an idealized version of an author in fanfiction,” according to Dictionary.com) and sending so much online criticism and hatred towards Daisy Ridley that she deleted her social media accounts. Most of the Star Wars fandom denounced this treatment and that small faction of fans and largely tried to ignore it.
All of this pales in comparison to the responses that Episode VIII: The Last Jedi (dir. Rian Johnson, 2017) and Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (dir. JJ Abrams, 2019) received.
After the success of The Force Awakens, many fans began to draw up theories about what could happen in The Last Jedi – mainly ideas about Rey’s parents and how Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) came into power (a personal favorite is the theory that Jar-Jar Binks is a Sith Lord and evolved into Snoke).
However, when The Last Jedi was released, the film did not confirm any of those theories and instead seemed to throw off the projected trajectory for the trilogy. It caused an even larger divide within the Star Wars fandom. That small but vocal, sexist, seemingly racist faction of fans? It became even more mad at The Last Jedi for prioritizing new female characters like Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), once again sending so much online hate towards Kelly Marie Tran that she, much like Daisy Ridley, deleted her social media accounts. Other fans hated the film because they thought the story seemed to have a dead end, instead of opening up more possibilities for its sequel. There were fans that loved the film – some loved how Johnson opened up the universe to more than just the Skywalkers and subverted audience expectations by revealing Rey’s parents to be nobodies. Some fans loved how Johnson alluded to the possibility of a relationship between Rey and Kylo, which first became a fandom subject after The Force Awakens, while other fans despised the hint of the relationship. The critical reception of the film was just as divided and, though the film was a box office success, the fandom was split on the future of Star Wars.
Catering to fandom desires can be a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation with the risk of alienating some fans. The Rise of Skywalker, in an attempt to re-unify the Star Wars fandom, basically retconned and rejected all of The Last Jedi when it was released. It reduced the screen time for Rose, it revealed that Rey was a descendent of Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid), it somehow brought Palpatine back to life even though he was killed in an earlier film, it promoted more of a connection between Rey and Kylo. However, this just enraged what seemed like the majority of the fandom. People were angry about the plot holes that the film created by retconning its predecessor, with even that small faction agreeing. People were mad about the Rey and Kylo pairing, mad about Kylo receiving a redemption arc and later dying, mad about the character development for both Poe and Finn. By looking at the reception of the film via social media, where the fandom is most active, it seemed like no fans were pleased with how the Skywalker saga ended.
A franchise’s fandom can make or break a film or show and oftentimes, fans know this and feel entitled to having their concerns and opinions influence the storylines. What starts as a small outlier faction of fandom can end up dividing a whole community, force a franchise to mediate this divide, and ruin the ending of an iconic film franchise. Star Wars, with its future sagas, will hopefully learn from its mistakes and hopefully its fandom can come to terms with the toxicity present in its fans.