It has not been a happy week to be a Star Wars fan.
I was just settling down to write quite an upbeat piece about Solo and what it tells us about the different generations of Star Wars fandom. I had a first sentence that quite amused me.
But then I looked at my Twitter feed and read that Kelly Marie Tran, who played Rose Tico in The Last Jedi, had deleted all her Instagram posts after months of racist and sexist abuse.
I think I now understand, at least a little, what life was like in the 1970s and 80s for many British soccer fans, who loved their teams but were disgusted by the violence and racism that tainted its support.
Star Wars fandom, it seems, has picked up its own hooligan element. And I’m baffled.
I get that some people disliked The Last Jedi – just as some fans have disliked every Star Wars movie, starting with (and including) The Empire Strikes Back. But the reaction to The Last Jedi – as I mentioned back in this post – contained a shocking streak of racism and misogyny.
Let me restate, though it shouldn’t really need restating: People are entitled to dislike The Last Jedi, or any other film. Dislike away. But what nobody should feel entitled to do is direct hate – not just ire, but real hate – at people who were in it.
Some have suggested that this nasty episode is not unprecedented, and that Kelly Marie Tran is just the latest figure in Star Wars to have felt the wrath of toxic fandom. Starting with The Phantom Menace in 1999, fans attacked child actor Jake Lloyd (young Anakin Skywalker), Ahmed Best (Jar-Jar Binks), Hayden Christensen (older Anakin) and, of course, George Lucas himself.
There certainly is a pattern of nasty, out-of-proportion behaviour there, but the leap into racial and sexual hatred is a giant one.
How did bigots come to follow Star Wars? How could people so full of prejudice and rage have somehow felt they were in tune with the spirit of the Rebel Alliance? I can’t imagine, but I suppose people can identify with some unlikely movies. After all, Kim Jong-Il was a big Rambo fan.
I’ve loved Star Wars for 40 years now, but I’d give it up rather than associate with people like these.
Fortunately, I don’t think I have to make that choice, because I don’t believe these people represent fandom.
In the offline world, I may have met some opinionated genre fans, but I don’t think I’ve ever come across the kind of unreasoning abuse that was directed at Ms Tran.
And when I searched Twitter for reaction to the Kelly Marie Tran episode, I was heartened. It was quite difficult to find the nasty messages, because they had been vastly outnumbered by positive ones. Some mocked the prejudices and immaturity of those abusive trolls, but many more simply voiced support for the actress and for the warmth and kindness she had always shown fans.
I hope those voices continue to dominate fan discourse.
The other kind of fan doesn’t deserve more movies in the franchise. If they really represented wider fandom, we could scarcely complain if Disney put Episode IX away on a high shelf and said: “That’s it! There’ll be no Star Wars for anyone until you learn to behave nicely.”