The fandom menace: Star Wars trolls don’t deserve so much attention

To our surprise and delight, the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker first impressions video we made last Friday did pretty well on YouTube — but holy snap is the comments section underneath ever a predictable cesspool of typos and overt hatred, the kind where you feel genuine concern for the worst offenders.

A friend of mine (who invented and designed Bejeweled) soon asked on Facebook, “At what point did Star Wars fans turn into whiny bitches?”

Funny thing is, most of them really aren’t.

And as much as I think the media too often focuses on trolls (yes, including me, right here), it’s interesting to note a recent study enumerated what it labelled “toxic” responses in online discussions of Star Wars, widely sampling various forms of social media since 2017. It found that only about 13 per cent of comments were vicious, especially when discussing the new, more diverse cast, where so much of the anger unfortunately seems to be aimed.

So what we’re really talking about over and over again in all these semi-paradoxical “Star Wars fans hate Star Wars” stories — and you might consider the gigantic box office success and positive media reviews of the films as part of the overall picture — is an ongoing obsession with a slim minority of people saying as terrible a thing as they can muster, clearly motivated by their holy quest for attention (again, these mushrooms are certainly helped along by the media giving them all the water they can drink).

But if you look at just about any subject of discussion online, those are actually not bad odds, hater-wise.

That said, when Disney declared decades of expanded universe material including thousands of spinoff comics and novels published since 1977 were no longer “real,” (ie., canon) so that the company could tell new stories without worrying about stepping on — let’s face it — a minority of the overall global fandom’s concerns about how many bandoliers Chewbacca has back home, they definitely picked a fight with the most passionate.

Because in an instant, Star Wars’ new owners vanished and in an odd sense emasculated the expertise of tens of thousands of loyal fans — fans who even liked the prequels — and the less fulfilling their lives were outside Star Wars monomania, I hate to say, the worse the damage hurt. Trust me, though I always knew any new movie might come along and contradict anything on paper, seeing as that’s exactly what happened to the very first Star Wars novel, I sympathize with these fans’ pain.

But it doesn’t excuse wretched behaviour — especially all that vicious sexism and racism, which I’m sensing comes from elsewhere, anyway, seeing as any longtime Star Wars fan is pretty likely to have lots of affection for both tough-as-nails Princess Leia and Lando Calrissian, diversity-wise, never mind all the other aliens and outsiders up against the armies of rather vanilla space Nazis.

But open the doors to the general trolliness on social media where people get their rocks off hoping to hurt anyone they disagree with, and dinner is served.

The other, happier side of this story was apparent on the faces of all those fans at the Chicago Star Wars convention last weekend, hoisting up their laser swords and Mandalorian masks the whole time Jon Favreau was speaking about his upcoming Star Wars spinoff TV series, The Mandalorian.

As far back as George Lucas’ understandably controversial “special edition” edits of the first three films, I started to notice a new breed of “nerd pride” fan who didn’t just love and overanalyse the material, but hoped to roleplay the characters at any public event — to be seen and reported on in the media sometimes seemingly above other concerns. It was a new wave of keeners which literally created fan armies.

Jon Favreau is bringing The Mandalorian into the Star Wars universe.

This noted, Favreau’s story of L.A.’s local 501 stormtrooper cosplay garrison coming down to set because the production didn’t have enough troopers in the shot — who subsequently actually got into the TV footage of The Mandalorian — I found immensely sweet. Their dedication earned them literally a place in the canon, and it seriously warmed my heart — I couldn’t be happier for them.

The larger point being, whatever missteps it might occasionally make, whatever legitimate criticisms are applicable — and there are some — Star Wars is in no danger whatsoever of losing its dedicated fan base. And the last few movies were at the very least each pretty entertaining, and personally I’d say a lot better than that.

Meanwhile, my friend Curtis Ross who was in that Rise of Skywalker video with me noted Tuesday, “All the hater comments made me think — what kind of person wants things they haven’t seen or experienced to be bad? To seethe with anger over a trailer for a movie they haven’t seen, it’s a really awful outlook on life to have.”

Quite true, and it feels like there’s perhaps some other pain there, and maybe this is their only way to express it, to try and make others hurt.

It’s a bummer — but as we’ve seen here a little, it’s not even the main part of the overall picture.

Still, a healthy takeaway is if you can help it, don’t engage with clearly attention-craving trolls who are hoping to drag you into a place where they hope to hurt you — and not just when it comes to Star Wars, incidentally.

If someone needs to burp-fart in your social media streams, so be it. But instead of them, when you focus your attention on the people you like, you’ll always feel way better.

fgriwkowsky@postmedia.com

@fisheyefoto

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