The Dark Side of Fandom

The Dark Side of Fandom

This past weekend (as I write this) my husband and I saw Solo: A Star Wars Story. It was always a given we would go, even though the trailers didn’t catch my attention. But we were both shocked to find that only a week after opening, it had been shoved into the smallest theater in town. Nor were there signs all over the door proclaiming every show had sold out as there were when we went to see Deadpool 2.

I will admit, I had personal misgivings about Solo, mostly because the trailers struck me as bland and uninteresting. That happened with The Dark Tower movie and we won’t discuss how that turned out. But I’ve also noticed a disturbing trend lately where Hollywood trailers utterly fail to convey what a movie is actually about. The Star Trek; Beyond trailer made it look like a generic action flick, yet the movie is among my top favorites, right along side Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country.

There were also mixed feelings in our household about The Last Jedi. We have instituted a complete media blackout surrounding Star Wars movies, so we read and watch next to nothing prior to a viewing (lest anyone think we were swayed by critics or fans). Without going too deeply down the rabbit hole, we both felt The Last Jedi was a different kind of Star Wars movie, a more Disney-fied type of movie, perhaps designed for a different type of audience than the originals, perhaps a little too eager to recapture the atmosphere of The Empire Strikes Back, and perhaps a little too focus-grouped for our taste.

So it was with distinct, and somewhat determined, neutral expectations that we entered the theater.

Neither of us understood the hate leveled at this movie

My husband walked out of the theater in love with Solo. It took me a couple hours to come around, but we both concluded that Solo is an underappreciated gem. It definitely doesn’t deserve the hate it’s getting. We’re both willing to wager lots of people haven’t given it a fair chance because they’re mad about The Last Jedi, which is a shame because it deserves to be judged on its own merits.

We’re both familiar with the dark side of fandom. I watched the fallout after the Steven Universe fandom nearly drove an artist to commit suicide on tumblr, which included an attack against the show’s creators. And let’s be honest, the dark side of the Star Wars fandom melted out of the woodwork when Phantom Menace released and has never quieted down. They even wrote a letter to J.J. Abrams when Episode Seven was announced informing him of what was important about the Star Wars franchise so that he couldn’t somehow mess it up. And yes, telling a creator what to do with their art is bad, whether or not your intentions are good; I could write a whole blog post on that topic.

I’m not going to defend The Phantom Menace. I agree it’s rubbish. But I don’t harbor the same ill-will towards Episodes Two or Three, which have been unfairly criticized for their cheesy dialogue and change of backdrop. I think the defining difference here isn’t that I have an opinion, and am willing to talk reasonably and critically about it, but that I don’t go storming the gates to abuse George Lucas, or anyone else who has worked on a Star Wars movie, for ruining something I grew up loving.

True fans love something. Full stop.

I write this post the same week Kelly Marie Tran deleted her Instagram account after being harassed by angry Star Wars fans. It breaks my heart to see people who claim to be fans of something forming a hateful swarm they apparently believe will save their beloved thing.

I also hate the term true fan. It’s become a weapon angry people level at those who disagree with them in an attempt to make fandoms less inclusive. The most important thing about being a geek is loving something so much that you just want to share that love with the world. And this is where I think it’s all gone wrong. Because I want to believe the people who harass an actress, or a director, or even the creator of their beloved Star Wars, are doing this out of some misguided attempt to prove that Star Wars matters to them. It matters to them so much they’re willing to go on a crusade to protect it.

Star Wars doesn’t need a pitchfork wielding mob. That isn’t going to save it.

I’m not saying people shouldn’t have opinions and shouldn’t express them. They should. But not in vitriolic calls to arms, or hate-filled comments directed at people who are only trying to do their job, and maybe get a little enjoyment out of making an installment of a beloved franchise. Let’s not forget that criticizing something we love because we want to see it improve is a perfectly reasonable exercise. But the key words here are criticize the work, not the artist, not the actors or directors. Go ahead and say what you think the movie got wrong, I might even agree with you. But stop acting like that gives you a right to abuse and harass anyone. It doesn’t.

Don’t let anyone steal your love

At the end of the day, the fanbase may not be able to control the Star Wars franchise’s fate. If it transforms into a bloated cash cow, I will be one of the saddest people out there. But it won’t stop me from loving the movies I grew up with, or reading the books that have now become non-canon, or deciding for myself the ideal outcome for my favorite characters. That’s a right every fan has. No one can take it from you. And instead of screaming from the mountaintop that everything is awful, I would rather talk about why I fell in love with Star Wars in the first place. I want to celebrate the pieces that are still amazing and worthy of praise.

Because I know this for sure; angry fans might not be able to save the Star Wars franchise, but they can sure as shit ruin it for everyone.

I started this post with Solo and that’s where I’ll end it. Solo was made at a time when the Star Wars fanbase had strong feelings about its current incarnations and future directions. And that’s a shame. Because that made Solo the fall guy for the studio’s mistakes. Solo has a lot of heart. It’s a fun, funny movie. My husband and I both agree that someday people will look back and wonder why Solo was so underappreciated. I rather think it’s going to turn out to be one of the better side stories, though I’m not sure what that means for the movies that come next.

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