“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”
Obi-Wan Kenobi said that to Luke Skywalker while looking down on the Mos Eisley spaceport in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope. Well, then it was just Star Wars but, like with everything else in Star Wars’ now-40-year history, that movie’s title has changed. After the debut of Star Wars, fans were elated and ecstatic just to be able to go to the toy store and buy action figures of all of the characters and vehicles they had been fantasizing about. They could also buy Halloween costumes, bed sheets, and model starships and, by the time the sequel, Empire Strikes Back, came out, fans hungrily kept on buying and consuming more and more Star Wars merchandise until it all ended shortly after Return of the Jedi. As many reading this site will know, Star Wars nearly died in the late 80s and, until a renaissance in the 90s that culminated in the release of The Phantom Menace, Star Wars fandom was considered, alongside Trekkies, to be a cult group of hobbyists.
When the prequels arrived, they revealed a pent-up demand for the type of serial storytelling that Star Wars was originally based on but had only been lightly seen in long-running horror series and — perhaps, depending on whom you ask – the James Bond and Star Trek movie series. The prequels exploded to such financial gain and cultural renown that it launched Star Wars to the top of the cultural zeitgeist, the ravenous fandom of the day, one might say. But while technology had helped the Star Wars prequels to achieve new feats of special effects wizardry, it was ironically technology which brought something else to life that the original Star Wars trilogy never had to truly deal with — an angry segment of the fan base that could easily find each other. Once again, to state the obvious, the prequels were divisive, infamous, and — even among their fans — not well loved.
That brings me to the present. Despite the prequels engendering so much ill will, Star Wars fandom exploded and that technology which helped all of those prequel haters find each other and amplify their nerd-raging voices — I’m talking about the internet here — has only helped those voices become entrenched in fan circles. Star Wars, more than any other obsessed-over property, is a curious mix of wide-eyed, hopeful loyalists, original trilogy puritans, and, unavoidable in this day and age, a legion of trolls. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Facebook group, STAR WARS: Anything & Everything.
On any given day, were you to slip into this group’s feed, you will find pretty typical fan exercises: fan art, ponderings on issues such as canon vs non-canon sources, rumors and leaks, and such exciting topics as, “If you were to pick a team of characters to defend you in a fight, who would it be?” But you’ll also quickly find things that tend to test the limits of what’s acceptable on Facebook. There are fangirls posting cosplay images in what amounts to basic nudity with a lightsaber covering just enough.
Then there are pornographic descriptions of intimate acts named after Star Wars characters. Today as I write this, there’s a post from a guy named Kyle who writes, “Adam Driver isn’t disproportional you dumbasses, it was the f**king bootleg shots and their perspectives.” And that’s a fairly tame post. If you’re in the group and you don’t like any of this, the page’s admin, Steve Sabbai, posts these options: 1. Disagree in a civil manner. 2. Keep scrolling. 3. Block that member. 4. Leave the group.
I don’t write any of this in an attempt to disparage Steve, the members of the group, nor anyone else. Facebook is a platform and STAR WARS: Anything & Everything is a group that people are free to join, leave and ignore. Still, members regularly cite some common complaints. For one, kids of any age can join the group and be exposed to what’s mostly PG-13-level content and definitely the occasional piece which tilts into R territory. Second, the group’s open invitation to one and all brings out the trolls and others who readily embrace the free speech aspect of the group.
In one instance, a female member of the group posted a selfie, to which one commenter quickly replied, “Click whore,” and was soon accompanied by numerous other sexual innuendos. Meanwhile, a male member posts an image of a woman in a Star Wars outfit that reveals, as a commenter called it, her “exhaust port” and nobody bats an eye. The post that lately has been riling people up, though, is a now-well-circulated video recasting the original Star Wars with women and minorities. The rapid inclusion of minorities in recent Star Wars films, in fact, is one of the hottest topics in the group, with many posters railing against it with such fervor that the diversification of the series has become seen as a deeply dreaded, if unavoidable, result of Disney’s purchase of the franchise.
If it seems like I’m attacking the group simply by bringing some attention to its goings-on, I’ll state again that this isn’t my intention. This is a fervent group of fans (85,000 of them!) who post regularly and constantly and clearly love Star Wars. This rowdy group, in fact, is — I think — the best representation of Star Wars fandom right now. Because Star Wars has gone through a metamorphosis, from the cool sci-fi/fantasy films of the New Wave era of movie-making to the kid-friendly prequels, to the even-more-kid-friendly Disney era, the movie series holds sway with a HUGE swath of fans. And though Disney has done much to step away from it, Star Wars certainly courted a certain type of fan for years with images of a chained-up slave Leia. That group is quite different than the ones who catch Rebels on Disney XD.
So here we are with 50-year olds who grew up loving the original trilogy, millennials who either enjoyed or suffered through the prequels, and teens who are loving the modern look and appeal of the threequel series. Oh, and the trolls, one of whom asked recently, “I don’t get it. Why do people hate Jar Jar?” (That guy has to be a troll, right?) And they are all hanging out in this one group on Facebook, STAR WARS: Anything & Everything.
Most, if not all, long-running series struggle with consistency. Star Trek fans deride roughly half of the films that have come out under that banner. Not many James Bond loyalists would point to the Pierce Brosnan era as a high point. Outside of movies, Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario fans have all played games which haven’t met expectations. Star Wars fans seem to take their disappointments especially hard, first during the prequel era, and now with the recent release of The Last Jedi. And in a community as diverse as Star Wars fandom, different voices battle to be the loudest. Predictably, STAR WARS: Anything & Everything temporarily went off the rails.
Shortly after the Thursday night showings began letting out, messages of delight began to pepper the board. These were immediately shown alongside competing expressions of utter disappointment. The mix was volatile as the haters began picking the film apart and its defenders rushed in to call them trolls or, more often, that those who disliked the film “just didn’t get it.” The debate fueled long Facebook threads which then drew in even more fans which led to even more name calling. Angry at being called idiots, the film’s haters kept piling on and it soon was difficult to parse real critiques of the movie from the troll attacks. The favorite targets? Minority cast members, particularly Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose in the film. In response, members posted requests to Steve Sabbai, the page’s only moderator, to ban people or at least delete the racist content. But it was difficult to tell if he acceded to the requests; most such posts remained trending in the site’s news feed until eventually dying down. That didn’t stop several members from rage quitting — they posted profanity-laced goodbyes to the other members, wishing the others anything but “May the Force be with you.”
As with all things internet related, the furor died down over the course of a couple weeks. Solo, the next Star Wars film, became a new target and, with barely any information on the film, doesn’t have the defenders to cause a new row. Ewan McGregor sporting a beard at the Golden Globes caused excitement over the possibility of an Obi-Wan Kenobi-focused spinoff film. (As a side note, a weird side effect of all of this is that many fans are embracing the prequel films now just to spite the newer Disney movies. So, why *do* people hate Jar Jar?) Rage quitting the group has ceased. All is calm.
But in the wake of the turmoil, I can’t help wondering what this may mean for Star Wars fandom going forward, and for fandom in general. Will creators become less inclined to work on such films, knowing there is a loud segment of the audience who will only demean them for their efforts? Or will studios such as Disney acquiesce to the noisiest fans and only produce re-hashed plot points, the same characters, and ultimately, the same films over and over (although many would say this is exactly what we have now). Will newness and experimentation dry up and will the love we have for a franchise mean that the franchise is also cemented in stone, never to change, never to yield to creativity again?
Alternately, maybe fan bases and studios grow to accept each other. Disney can accept that the Star Wars fan base is fractured and it can produce a variety of products to appease them all. Fans can yell at and debate each other online, knowing things will come down and eventually they’ll all exist side by side until the next movie divides them. I’m not sure which force will prevail here, but maybe you do, so hit us up in the comments below!