The dark side of Star Wars fans

Angry fans turn online trolls, hurling sexist, racist abuse and issuing death threats

Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega have faced criticism from Stars Wars fans for starring in The Last Jedi.
Kelly Marie Tran and John Boyega have faced criticism from Stars Wars fans for starring in The Last Jedi. PHOTO: THE WALT DISNEY COMPANY

LOS ANGELES • Star Wars releases such as Rogue One (2016) and The Last Jedi (2017) made space for women and characters of colour like Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega), alongside the traditional male, white heroes.

But the inclusive Disney era ushered in by 2015's The Force Awakens has brought its own Dark Side - the vile online behaviour of a vocal minority offended that their sacred cow is being stolen.

"It would be unfair and too general to say that Star Wars has a fandom problem. What it has is a white male fandom problem," said film writer Kayleigh Donaldson.

This toxic subset of devotees - overlapping with elements of the far-right and the misogynist "incel" men's movement - are angry that the new films are no longer targeted solely at them.

Amid the vitriol about political correctness, it is still worth noting that Star Wars lacks gender parity and, even in the Disney era, has a long way to go before it can be a paragon of inclusiveness.

The most female-friendly release, The Last Jedi, features women during less than half the running time while men get two-thirds of the dialogue in The Force Awakens.

"Yet this is enough... for these toxic fans to cry propaganda and claim 'their Star Wars' is over," added Donaldson, in an essay for the SyFyWire entertainment website.

The Last Jedi, in particular, is accused of destroying the legacy of Star Wars by tearing up a decades-old mythology and promoting liberal identity politics.

While Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren) have avoided the slings and arrows, Kelly Marie Tran, an American cast member with Vietnamese roots, has been attacked.

Tran, who plays mechanic Rose Tico, wiped her Instagram account this month after sexist and racist abuse by a legion of trolls.

The movie's amiable, patient director Rian Johnson has faced death threats and endless abuse from those who seem to see him as more of an existential threat than Darth Vader.

A petition demanding the removal of The Last Jedi from the Star Wars canon has attracted 107,000 signatures.

It is not just The Last Jedi that has roused the mob.

Ridley deleted her Instagram after being hazed following the release of The Force Awakens and sought therapy to cope with the stress.

Her co-star Boyega has been fielding accusations of committing sacrilege since fans found out there was going to be a black Stormtrooper in the Star Wars universe.

The toxic fan culture surrounding Star Wars actually pre-dates the perceived political correctness of Disney, which bought Lucasfilm in 2012.

Child star Jake Lloyd and actor Hayden Christensen - both white and male - drifted out of Hollywood after relentless mockery for their performances in Star Wars creator George Lucas' prequel series.

Meanwhile, the people who hung Lucas out to dry for ruining their childhoods are part of the same movement clamouring now for him to save Star Wars from Disney.

While the trolls may not have come suddenly out of a clear blue sky, the toxicity of their obsession has been intensified by the megaphone of Twitter.

But there is no need to beat a retreat to the solitude of Luke Skywalker's ocean-bound sanctuary on Ahch-To, said David Opie of online lifestyle magazine Highsnobiety.

"Instead of fighting what we hate, the best way to win is by 'saving what we love'," he wrote, borrowing the powerful words of Rose in The Last Jedi.

"Nothing captures the Rebel spirit more than celebrating the things that matter to us most and treating others with respect.

"As long as we keep doing that, the Dark Side of the Star Wars fandom will forever be kept at bay."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2018, with the headline 'The dark side of Star Wars fans'. Subscribe