Star Wars: The Toxic Fandom

By Kate Boyle

Anyone who uses social media to discuss their favourite tv shows or movies has probably run into a crazy fan or two. Most major franchises – Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Disney, etc- have a large following on social media that unfortunately includes some people whose goal is to make everyone else miserable.

These “Toxic Fans” (or “Toxic Fandoms” as a group) are defined as fans that are overly negative towards opposing opinions, are possessive, entitled, and/or abusive towards people they think are “ruining their franchise”. These groups of people have been in the spotlight recently for being so abusive they’ve made actors flee social media entirely. An example of this is with Rian Johnson‘s “Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi” (2017) and its character Rose Tico and actress Kelly Marie Tran.

Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico in “Star Wars Episode XIII: The Last Jedi” (2017)

Tran is the first Asian-American and first woman of colour to portray a lead role in a Star Wars film. Her character Rose is meant to be a personification of the Star Wars fandom in the film. She’s optimistic, a true believer in the cause always has hope, and genuinely loves being a part of the Rebellion. She’s not as complex as other lead characters, but I think she’s a positive addition to the film. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with me.

These “Toxic Fans” (or “Toxic Fandoms” as a group) are defined as fans that are overly negative towards opposing opinions, are possessive, entitled, and/or abusive towards people they think are “ruining their franchise”

For some unknown reason, some angry “fans” took to social media to blame Tran and Rose’s character for “ruining Star Wars”. There was even a petition to get “The Last Jedi” removed from canon and remade. I think it’s still going around the internet and has entirely too many signatures. Some people took it a step further to bombard Tran with racist, sexist, and other hateful comments to the point she suspended all her social media accounts. Director Rian Johnson has also been a target of these “fans” and has even received death threats.

This isn’t even the first time this kind of bullying has occurred within the Star Wars franchise. Toxic fans previously harassed Ahmed Best to the point he was contemplating suicide. Best is known for playing Jar Jar Binks in the prequels (Episodes 1-3). Those movies had plenty of issues, none of them being the fault of the actors. This behaviour is absolutely unacceptable, but all too common when it comes to larger franchises- especially with strong female characters or lead characters of colour. After the online abuse of Tran become public, many celebrities came to her defence. My favourite responses being from Mark Hamill and Cher.

So what was it about Kelly Marie Tran that triggered so many people? What about her character inspired so much hatred? I rummaged around the depths of the internet to find some of the horrible tweets, blog posts, and youtube videos in an attempt to understand where they were coming from and why.

My research tells me the hatred towards Rose can be split into three categories: General racism and bigotry, complaints that “she’s an annoying character”, and a ton of backlash towards the relationship between Rose and Finn. The bigotry and racism is something that is unfortunately all too common on the internet, especially towards women and people of colour in lead roles. I thought people would embrace seeing new faces in “Star Wars”- it’s a movie filled with aliens and beings from different planets, it’s only logical there would be some diversity.

“So what was it about Kelly Marie Tran that triggered so many people? What about her character inspired so much hatred…Why create such a negative and toxic environment around something they claim to love and cherish?”

In addition to the racism and bigotry, “fans” lashed out calling Rose “the most annoying character in Star Wars”. First, that is entirely untrue. There are at least a dozen other characters I would put in that category before Rose. Second, no one character is “ruining Star Wars”. The franchise is worth over $65 billion, it will take more than one unpopular character to do any permanent damage. If the franchise can survive the prequels unscathed, nothing can hurt it.

The last common complaint is about Rose and Finn, specifically the kiss at the end of Episode VIII. I think this is mostly from fans who wanted to see Finn and Rey end up together. Rey’s a Jedi (or will be soon) she’s not allowed to have relationships (watch the prequels to see how that ends up…) Also, I’m not sure if the kiss even meant anything, it was a “caught up in the moment, just crashed my speeder to save you, impulse thing”. We will have to wait until Episode IX to see if anything happens between them. Either way, the kiss, her race, her gender, and/or her character’s personality are not justifiable reasons to harass an actress to the point she felt it necessary to leave social media.

The only good I see in this horrific Kelly Marie Tran controversy is that is has made us more aware of virtual bullying and harassment.

So why do some supposed “fans” do this? Why create such a negative and toxic environment around something they claim to love and cherish? Do you really think spewing hatred at celebrities and strangers on the internet will make you feel better? Will being a bigot and a bully get your beloved film franchise or tv show remade? No, no it won’t. My advice for people that have the misfortune of becoming a target of these toxic fans; ignore them, block them. Unfortunately, engaging almost never helps the situation.

My first instinct is to jump in and defend myself or my friends, but you can’t reason with someone who is obsessed and driven by blind hatred. We all must do our best to be better people; in-person and behind a keyboard. I know what it’s like to be disappointed by the outcome of a tv series or a new addition to a franchise, but I don’t run around harassing people who aren’t to blame. Instead, I try to find the good in everything; yes, I may think a movie is bad but maybe I liked a certain scene or character. Dwell on the positives, not the negatives. The only good I see in this horrific Kelly Marie Tran controversy is that is has made us more aware of virtual bullying and harassment.

Ideally, people will learn from this and think before spewing hatred on social media, probably not, but one can hope. Even with all the negativity of “The Dark Side of Star Wars”, I’m still a huge fan and remain excited for “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker”(2019). I can’t wait to see what happens with Rose and the other new characters and am eager to see how they wrap up this saga.

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